GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: No stars, but Tuckers have size, speed

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Morgan Zuhoski is one of three senior guards who play for defending League VII champion Mattituck.

It may sound strange to say, with the Mattituck High School girls basketball team having lost its all-time leading scorer with Stephenie Pisacano’s graduation in June, but the Tuckers could be in an even better situation this season.

Defending League VII champion Mattituck (14-4 last season) looks well-positioned to return to the Suffolk County Class B final, the stage it reached last season before losing by three points to the Center Moriches Red Devils.

True enough, the Tuckers may not have any genuine star players, but they may have more than that in the form of experience, role players and a deep bench. That will help the team absorb the loss of Pisacano, who scored a school-record 1,465 points during her time in Mattituck.

“There are no egos, there are no superstars,” Mattituck Coach Steve Van Dood said. “Everybody wants to have fun and win.”

It looks as if the Tuckers should be able to do both.

Considering that Mattituck lost two of its starters — Katherine Wilcenski and Stefanie Loverde — to torn anterior cruciate ligaments last season (Wilcenski went down in the middle of the season, and Loverde was hurt early in the season), it’s extraordinary that the team fared as well as it did. “It did say a lot,” Van Dood said. “It just seemed like every girl stepped up.”

Now Wilcenski and Loverde are back, healthy and ready to play their senior season. They join six other returners, including junior guard Liz Lasota, who saw significant playing time, and Claire Finnican, a 6-foot 1-inch junior center who was the League VII rookie of the year. Three senior guards — Jackie Berkoski, Morgan Zuhoski and Jessica Boomer — are also back along with sophomore forward Lauren Guja.

Two young guards, Alexa Orlando and Shannon Dwyer, bring the team ball-handling ability and are new to the varsity level as are power forwards Allie Wilcenski (Katherine’s sister) and Catherine Connelly.

Van Dood said his team has size that it hasn’t seen in a long time with five legitimate bigs. “I don’t think many teams will be able to match up with us size-wise,” he said.

Because of that, the Tuckers can enjoy the best of both worlds, going with a lineup that features size or one that emphasizes speed.

Said Van Dood, “I think the girls now just have to believe that they can do it.”

Like someone walking into an unknown dark room, Dennis Reilly doesn’t know what to expect. The coach doesn’t know what his second season in charge of the Southold Clippers (10-10) will bring. The reason for the mystery is the uncertainty surrounding how his younger players will adapt to the faster, more physical brand of varsity basketball they will see as compared to the junior varsity game they were accustomed to.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Southold Coach Dennis Reilly spoke to his players during a timeout in the county final against The Stony Brook School in February.

“We’re going to really be relying on a lot of young girls with not a lot of experience at the varsity level,” said Reilly, who has seven sophomores, three juniors and two seniors on his roster.

On the plus side, Southold has two returning starters in sophomore forward Melissa Rogers and junior forward/guard Lauren Ficurilli from last season’s team, which lost to The Stony Brook School Bears in the Suffolk County Class C final.

In addition, senior guard Sarah Smith has some experience as a starter, and junior guards Sarah Manfredi and Kelly Bosco are back as well.

Three sophomores — guards Sydney Campbell, forward Nicole Busso and guard Michaela Christman — have been brought up from a junior varsity team that went 16-2 last season. Christman sat out the entire season with a knee injury.

“It’s going to be a learning experience,” Reilly said. “We’re progressing along nicely. We’re a young team with a lot to work on.”

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