Ten Pierson/Bridgehampton seniors know this season is their last chance to make something happen.
Last year, the Whalers went 11-8 and were upset at home in a first-round playoff loss to Stony Brook. Pierson graduated three seniors, but only one started a handful of games. With eight returning, and two new upperclassmen joining the team, the girls seem primed for success.
“We’ve got a lot of girls that have been playing together for a while,” head coach Kevin Barron said. “These girls know that they have a big opportunity. With 10 seniors, they know this is their last shot.”
The League VI returners can shoot, according to their coach. The team brings back top scorers in senior shooting guard Katie Kneeland (267 points last season), and junior point guard Chastin Giles (231 points).
While the girls have been playing together for years, changes across the court have forced the Whalers to find new synergy.
“We’ve changed our offense to be more of a spread-type offense compared to previous years,” Barron said. “It’s difficult when you’re asking girls to step outside their comfort zone. We put the girls in different positions. Since we have a lot of height, we think we can make some mismatches that way.”
Two girls were also pulled up from the junior varsity team, including freshman Sofia Mancino, who had some success on the 10-3 girls volleyball team that fell to Mattituck in the Suffolk County championship.
“We really like what she’s doing right now,” Barron said. “She’s another girl that can handle the ball.”
The coach is unsure what to expect when facing Southampton and Hampton Bays, because the teams haven’t competed against one another in a few years. He said he especially can’t judge them based of their records from last season, because they were up against stiffer competition. Barron said facing Mattituck will continue to be a challenge, despite the Tuckers graduating all five starters. Mattituck’s junior varsity team had a strong season last year, so the Tuckers’ “rebuild” might be more of a reload.
“They may not lose a beat,” Barron said. “We’re expecting them to be one of the top teams in what I think is going to be a competitive league. It’ll be up for grabs.”
Southold/Greenport (4-12 last season) also returns to the league. The Settlers lost five and returned six, including freshman Adrine Demirciyan, who scored 106 points as an eighth-grader.
Head coach Skip Gehring said earlier this year that Greenport coaches had tipped him off to his young talent.
“The coaches at Greenport were saying, ‘Don’t let her play JV. Get her right on your varsity team,’” he recalled of his five-foot-five point guard, adding she could be a 2000-point scorer by the time she graduates.
Mattituck head coach Steve Van Dood said playing a Class B/C schedule will help his young team. Two of the girls returning, senior center Julie Seifert (66 points) and junior guard Mackenzie Hoeg (90 points), came off the bench and closed out games for the Tuckers last season.
“Mackenzie Hoeg is a very good ball handler and has a good court presence. She moves the ball well, distributes,” Van Dood said. “Julie Seifert is a good rebounder and has a good inside presence. She’s a leader, both on and off the court. She does a good job for us.”
The Tuckers (19-4 last season) took a big blow in the scoring department, when their all-time scoring leader for both boys and girls, Liz Dwyer, graduated.
“We need girls to step up to the basket and break down defenders and make other people play them,” Van Dood said. “I’m hoping players step up and do that.”
Helping to fill that void for the defending Suffolk County champions will be freshman Emily Nicholson.
“She has a knack for getting to the basket and she’s learning to shoot,” the coach said. “She’s working on getting shots off quicker and getting stronger with the ball and off the ball. She’s progressing quickly, and I think she’s going to do well for us.”
Van Dood sees the team’s toughness and defense making up for the lack of consistent buckets, but said he sees his Tuckers boasting an even bigger strength.
“Our willingness to learn,” he said. “The way they listen and take what we’re teaching them and incorporate it into practice. They work hard. They’re going to get better and better as the season progresses.”
The coach sees Babylon being tough because the Panthers are also a Class B school. Van Dood is also unsure of Southampton and Hampton Bays, but said he sees Pierson as being Mattituck’s biggest league rival.
“There’s a lot of leadership here,” Barron said. “I said to them they all have a lot of experience in different areas of athletics, especially being in the postseason against major competition. We have girls that have played on the championship field hockey team, girls that have played on the championship volleyball team, cross country team, a lot of them have been to states — and they can really make something happen.”
This version was updated to correctly identify the team that Pierson/Bridgehampton lost to in the first round of last year’s playoffs.