Girls Basketball: Three ex-players enjoy the coaching game

Mount Sinai's Julia Golina and Victoria Johnson (14) try to stop Mattituck's Liz Dwyer, who produced 15 points and 11 rebounds. (Credit: Garret Meade)
Mount Sinai’s Julia Golina and Victoria Johnson (14) try to stop Mattituck’s Liz Dwyer, who produced 15 points and 11 rebounds in Monday’s game. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Nowadays, perhaps more than ever before, the words of their past coaches echo in the minds of Alex, Alexa and Allie, the three A’s who constitute the new coaching troika for the Mattituck girls basketball summer team.

Alex Berkoski, Alexa Orlando and Allie Wilcenski, all members of the Mattituck High School Class of 2013 and former prominent players for the Tuckers, are the new coaches for the summer league team and they laugh when recounting how they find themselves repeating what their coaches told them when they were players.

“We started saying things that we heard my dad say for years and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, now I finally understand,’ ” said Wilcenski, whose father, Don, is an assistant coach for the Mattituck High School varsity team. “You understand where they were coming from and … I keep hearing myself say things that my dad has said to me for like years. … It’s like having people say you start sounding like your mom.”

To help out the Mattituck varsity coach, Steve Van Dood, the threesome volunteered to run the team for him, and the results have been eye-opening. The three young women, who are all new to coaching, and their team are 4-1 in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League. Not bad. Not bad at all.

“We’ve been doing pretty well, I guess,” said Orlando.

The Brookhaven Summer League provides opportunities for young coaches as well as young players, and the Mattituck trio seems to be enjoying their foray into coaching. It gives them a glimpse of what life is like on the other side of the clipboard.

Wilcenski, who attends Indiana University and plays club ball, said she never thought about coaching before but was excited about the opportunity. She said she has found that it can sometimes be just as much fun as playing. Berkoski and Wilcenski also get to coach their younger sisters, Taylor Berkoski and Liz Wilcenski.

“It’s pretty rewarding,” said Orlando. She continued: “You get to look at [basketball] from a different view, but I would say, honestly, it’s almost the same. You just have to pretend you’re out there playing and tell [the players] what you would do if you were out there.”

Alex Berkoski said: “It’s almost as exciting as playing on the court. I think it’s more stressful but it feels just as good to win.”

That’s a feeling the three have experienced more often than not this summer. Following a season-opening loss to Shoreham-Wading River, the Tuckers have run off wins over Port Jefferson, Islip, Bayport-Blue Point and, most recently, Mount Sinai.

Monday evening’s game presented a challenge for the Tuckers, who had the odds stacked against them. They had only five players and no substitutes. That meant that Liz Dwyer, Hannah Fitzgerald, Courtney Murphy, Courtney Penny and Sam Smilovitch had to play the whole game, all 44 minutes (42 on running time), without a breather, except for halftime and timeouts. They played in a steamy Patchogue-Medford High School gym that felt like a sauna against a Mount Sinai team that pressed the whole way with 12 players. On top of all that, Mount Sinai shot out to an early 8-0 lead.

To their credit, though, the Tuckers pressed back, stayed in the game and pulled out a 31-30 triumph.

“You could call it a mini-miracle, for sure,” said Wilcenski.

It wasn’t a pretty game (the teams combined for, gulp, 41 turnovers), but the Tuckers showed intestinal fortitude in persevering under trying conditions.

Successive baskets by Dwyer, Fitzgerald, Murphy and Dwyer again made it 31-30. Dwyer’s running bank shot with 2 minutes 44 seconds left proved to be the game’s final points. The Tuckers missed three free throws down the stretch and Mount Sinai’s Victoria Johnson clanked two foul shots with 7.9 seconds to go.

Dwyer, who hit two 3-point shots, finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds while Penny and Smilovitch came down with 8 rebounds each.

Johnson had an impressive game for Mount Sinai (3-2) with 12 points, 9 steals and 7 rebounds, all team-high figures.

The game marked another step in this new journey for the Mattituck coaches. They indicated that their experience so far has been positive.

Said Alex Berkoski, “No clipboards were broken so far.”

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