One can’t help but sense that Steve Van Dood takes special pleasure in coaching this season’s Mattituck High School girls basketball team. The Tuckers will play in a different mode this season, at a faster pace. That means steals, a variety of pressing defenses and transition basketball.
“It’s an exciting game to watch,” said Van Dood.
So, why not play it? The Tuckers have the speed, they have the athleticism. A new rule requiring teams to advance the ball beyond the half-court line within 10 seconds suits Mattituck (11-8 last season) just fine.
The Tuckers have two returning starters in senior forward/center Shannon Dwyer and sophomore point guard Katie Hoeg. Dwyer was an All-League player last season, not to mention The Suffolk Times’ Mattituck Female Athlete of the Year. She finished 14th in Suffolk County in scoring, averaging about 14 points a game.
“I think everything’s falling into place for her,” Van Dood said. “The confidence is there and she is playing really, really hard.”
With the graduation of Allie Wilcenski, though, Dwyer is being asked to help out on the boards, something she is certainly capable of doing with her jumping ability.
Starting as a freshman last season, Hoeg didn’t play like a freshman. She continues to play older than her years.
“Katie Hoeg is as steady as they come,” Van Dood said. “She doesn’t turn the ball over. She just has a poise out there that’s not common in a 10th grader.”
Those two are joined by veteran forwards Molly Kowalski and Courtney Murphy, and returning guards Christine Bieber and Sam Perino.
The other half of the roster consists of newcomers: forward Colby Prokop and guards Liz Wilcenski, Lisa Angell, Madison Kent, Tiana Baker and Liz Dwyer. Baker was the junior varsity team’s leading scorer last season. Wilcenski is assistant coach Don Wilcenski’s daughter, and Dwyer, an eighth grader, is Shannon’s younger sister.
“They all bring their own nice flavor to the team,” said Van Dood. He added: “They’re a good group. They listen well. They’re playing hard. A lot can happen with a team like that.”
“They play together as a team,” Van Dood said. “They move the ball well. We finally have some outside shooting. That’s a big key for us.”
That should come in handy since the Tuckers, by Van Dood’s estimate, lost about 60 percent of their scoring to graduation. Mattituck had the third-ranked offense in Suffolk last season.
It is safe to say that Cari Gehring is a difference-maker. Of course, just how much of a difference the senior transfer from Bishop McGann-Mercy will make for Southold/Greenport remains to be seen, but the Clippers (10-7) are counting on good things.
“Teams have to pay attention to her, so hopefully they’ll pay attention to her and that will help us attack in other places,” coach Joe Read said. “It’s nice to know that you have a person who can score points. I expect each team to try their best to stop her. That’s where I expect other people to pick up the slack.”
With the addition of McGann-Mercy, Read expects the competition in League VIII to be a little tougher, but he envisions the Clippers returning to the Suffolk County Class C final, the point where their season came to an end last season with a loss to The Stony Brook School.
Gehring, a guard who played for the United States in the United World Games this past summer, has signed a national letter of intent to play for Chestnut Hill College, an NCAA Division II team in Philadelphia. She gives a boost to the Clippers’ credibility.
As it is, the Clippers return four starters — all seniors — from last season, including two All-League selections, forward Abby Scharadin and point guard Justina Babcock. The other two starters are forward Cindy Van Bourgondien and guard Shannon Smith.
In addition, two other seniors, guard Jessica Rizzo and forward Shannon Quinn, offer varsity experience as well for a team that is built to win this season.
Read said he doesn’t know how long it will take for him to work the team’s younger players into the rotation, but he likes what he has seen from them.
Kenya Sanders, a junior forward, played for the junior varsity team last season. Sarah Tuthill, a sophomore, is an all-purpose player. Three freshmen should make their mark: guards Madison Tabor and Toni Esposito and forward Kathleen Tuthill.
“I look to be very aggressive in the back court,” Read said. “Tabor and Esposito, they’re as good as anybody defensively, and [Sarah] Tuthill, too. I think when you play us you’re going to know it.”
What the Clippers lack in height, they plan to make up for in speed.
“We’re definitely going to run,” Read said. “We want to run and wear teams down. We’re going to go full court all game.”