Girls Basketball: ‘Big Al’ provides presence at point guard

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck’s point guard, Alex Berkoski, was the Suffolk County League VII rookie of the year this past season.

In one sense, the nickname doesn’t match, but then again, that was the point.

Back when she was in junior high school, Alex Berkoski was the smallest player on the basketball teams she played for. In a twist of logic, she was dubbed “Big Al.”

By the time Berkoski was a freshman, she had grown a couple of inches — and one might have thought outgrown the nickname — but it has stuck. Now, it may be a more appropriate reference to her impact on the Mattituck High School team than to her physical stature. The 5-foot-7 Berkoski brings athleticism and intelligence to the point guard position that the Tuckers rely on.

Berkoski sat out her sophomore season because of back surgery. That was a blow to the Tuckers, who were counting on her to make her varsity debut that season as the team’s point guard.

Instead, Berkoski had to wait until last season for her introduction to the varsity level. She responded with the sort of season that earned her the Suffolk County League VII rookie of the year award.

Although other guards such as Alexa Orlando, Katie Hoeg and Nicole Murphy rotated into the back court, Berkoski was the constant, running the offense and regulating traffic.

“I think she filled the spot really well, allowing everyone else to score,” Orlando said. “She had a bunch of big games herself, too, and she’s gotten even better.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Katie Hoeg of Mattituck splitting a pair of Islip players while attacking the basket in a summer league game on Monday evening.

Playing point guard is second nature to Berkoski, who has a smooth playing style. “Since I was always small, I always got put up top, and I just got better at it,” she said.

Even so, Berkoski said she surprised herself at how she played in her first varsity season. “We got along really well, and I connected with everyone,” she said.

That augurs well for her upcoming senior season.

“She’s really tough,” said Orlando, a fellow incoming senior who has played on teams with Berkoski since they were in fifth grade. “She never gives up, but she’s also really versatile. She’ll do whatever you need in that game. If you’re trying to steal the ball, she’ll steal it. If you’re trying to make a two-pointer, she’ll do it. She steps up.”

Berkoski gives the Tuckers an outside presence to complement their inside game. Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood said he expects her to shoot three-pointers more often this year.

“I think she does a good job of distributing the ball, and she’s a good outside threat,” he said. “You can see she can hit the three-pointer.”

Berkoski is expected to be part of an influential senior class for the Tuckers that should include Allie Wilcenski, Lauren Guja, Orlando and Murphy. Hoeg, an athletic guard who will be a freshman this fall, has encouraged Van Dood with her recent play for Mattituck in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League.

The Tuckers are 2-1 in the summer league, their most recent game being a 47-39 loss to Islip on Monday night at Patchogue-Medford High School. Berkoski led the Tuckers with 10 points. She hit a three-point shot and also had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal. Orlando chipped in 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block.

Islip (2-1) played most of the game in the hot, sticky gym with only five players available before a sixth arrived about midway through the second half. But Mattituck was without three of its first-string players: Shannon Dwyer, Wilcenski and Guja, who is not playing basketball this summer.

Van Dood said one of the things Mattituck needs to do is to identify who the first three players coming off the bench will be in the upcoming school season. He expects the Tuckers, who made it to the playoffs this past season, to be in a better position this coming winter. He said, “The future’s pretty bright for the year coming up.”

“Big Al” has something to do with that.

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