It wasn’t the loss itself that brought on the emotion, but the ending, the conclusion to a wonderful season.
“It’s over,” said Lauren Ficurilli.
Katie Hennes, the coach of the Southold girls basketball team, must have seen the writing on the wall. Before her team’s Southeast Region Class C final against John A. Coleman Catholic on Saturday, she told Ficurilli and the rest of her players that she didn’t want to see tears after the game, only smiles.
By the time the shellacking at Farmingdale State College had ended, with Coleman a resounding 66-25 winner, there were tears on the Southold side. Of course, that’s only understandable given the end to the team’s dream season. But, truthfully, the First Settlers have a lot to smile about, not only for what they have done, but also for what they may do next season.
What made this season so intriguing was how Southold overcame one obstacle after another. “We’ve been through so much as a team,” said forward Nicole Busso.
For one thing, the First Settlers played in a weak Suffolk County League VIII that did them no favors in terms of preparation for the playoffs.
They overcame that. They still got the job done, winning all 12 of their league games for the league crown.
But there was more. A succession of injuries struck hard.
“We had injury after injury,” Ficurilli said. “Things definitely were tough at times, and it seemed like we might not end up getting here.”
They overcame that.
Then there was a coaching change late in the regular season when the team’s rookie coach, Amanda Barrilo, accepted a job in North Carolina. The junior varsity coach, Hennes, took over. Her first official game in charge was the final regular-season game that capped the perfect league season.
Things continued to run smoothly, and they overcame the possible disruption of a coaching turnover.
One thing they couldn’t overcome, however, was Coleman, and there’s no shame in that. No team has been able to overcome undefeated Coleman this season. The Stateswomen have played 23 games, won 23 games, and extended a winning streak that started last season to 27 games.
With its fifth straight regional title in the bag, Coleman will be seeking a third state championship in four years.
“We have a great coach and it’s a great program and system,” said Makenzie Burud, the senior guard who is a big reason for Coleman’s unbeaten streak.
Speaking of Burud, Coleman coach Guy Leonard said: “She’s a stud. She’s the best player in our section.”
Coleman is the sort of team Southold can strive to be. While the First Settlers have quite a way to go to reach that level, they are headed in the right direction.
Southold should be a better team next season. Of the three seniors it will lose to graduation, Ficurilli is the only one of them who was a starter.
“Lauren’s been one of those kids that you can put a lot of pressure on and she just doesn’t crumble,” Hennes said. “We’re definitely going to miss her.”
Still, the players who remain should be a year wiser.
“I have every starter but one coming back next year, so we’ll be a force to be reckoned with next year,” Hennes said. “We can do this again next year. Why not?”
And perhaps Hennes will be back coaching the team again. She said she would like to.
It has been a wild ride for Hennes, a rookie coach herself, who went from coaching the JV team to capping an unbeaten league season with the varsity team, winning a county championship, a Suffolk Class C-D final and a Long Island crown.
“I haven’t slept in four months,” Hennes, who was losing her voice, told reporters. “It’s been crazy.”
One thing Hennes kept reiterating during her postgame interview was how, even in defeat, the First Settlers had so much to feel good about.
“I am so proud of every one of these kids,” she said. “I mean, Southold hasn’t done something like this for a very long time, and I keep telling all these kids, ‘This is something that you should be really proud of.’ We hung with some of the best teams in the state, so these girls have no reason to hang their heads low at all.”
Southold guard Carley Staples said: “We had an amazing season, and that’s all that matters to us. We made it this far. That’s such a great accomplishment for us.”
Ficurilli appreciated the experience of this, her final playoff run. She said, “This team has meant so much to me and … it’s something that I’ll always remember.”