This may be Steve Van Dood’s favorite time of the year. When November comes around and it’s time to roll the basketballs out of the equipment room, Van Dood is in his element.
“I love it,” the Mattituck High School girls basketball coach said while his players ran drills during a recent practice. “It’s like Christmas. This is great. The most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes.”
Just how wonderful Mattituck’s season will be remains to be seen. The Tuckers (13-7 last season), who lost to Hampton Bays in the Suffolk County Class B final in February, have to compensate for a couple of big losses. Those would be all-conference players Shannon Dwyer and Tiana Baker. Dwyer graduated and Baker, a sophomore shooting guard, transferred to St. Anthony’s High School.
Those two and another graduated player, Christine Bieber, amount to the loss of 38 of the 64 points per game that the team averaged. That’s a huge chunk of offense.
“We lost a lot,” said Van Dood.
Van Dood said his biggest concern is replacing those lost points, but he has faith that the Tuckers will be able to do it.
It’s not like the Tuckers are bereft of talent. Far from it. They have an all-league junior forward in Katie Hoeg and freshman forward Liz Dwyer was the League VII rookie of the year last season.
The team is short on varsity experience, though. Its only two seniors, Lisa Angell and Courtney Murphy, are the only other two returning players.
Hoeg, who was the team’s most valuable player, and Murphy are entering their fourth varsity season.
Four juniors from last season’s junior varsity team — Courtney Penny, Hannah Fitzgerald, Phurlamu Sherpa and Brianna Perino — have made the big team along with a sophomore, Alya Ayoub. Freshmen Chelsea Marlborough, McKenzie Daly and Alex Beebe are making the jump from junior high school basketball to varsity.
Van Dood enters his ninth season coaching the Tuckers with an 89-81 record. They have made the playoffs in seven of the past eight years, reaching two county finals during that time.
“There’s a lot of good athletes on the floor right now, and that’s going to be the future of our team,” Van Dood said. He continued: “I think our strength is we really don’t have one player and we do get a lot out of being a team, playing as five girls instead of one, and I think that’s going to be our strength.”
Southold/Greenport has a tough non-league schedule, and it’s not by accident. The Clippers’ new coach, Howie Geismar, purposefully set up non-league games against Mattituck, Comsewogue, Hampton Bays, Southampton and East Hampton.
“It can only help,” he said. “You got to play [good teams] to get better.”
The Clippers (5-13) are clearly in the rebuilding stage, and the job of putting the pieces of the puzzle together falls to Geismer, who succeeds Joe Read. Read went 15-20 in his two seasons with the Clippers, twice taking them to Suffolk Class C finals.
Last season’s championship-game loss was particularly tough for the Clippers to take. Although they led by as many as 12 points on three occasions, they missed their final 19 field-goal attempts, made some costly turnovers down the stretch and watched Pierson/Bridgehampton walk away a 54-49 winner.
The Clippers are starting fresh, with Geismar, their fifth coach in five years. He had coached Shoreham-Wading River middle school and junior varsity teams before, but this is his first varsity girls basketball team.
With his team light on experience, Geismar is looking at multiple sophomores in his starting lineup. Forward Angelica Klavas, center Jamie Molnar, forward Grace Syron, guard Madison Tabor and guard Toni Esposito are all expected to see a good deal of playing time along with senior center Kenya Sanders.
Tabor was the League VIII rookie of the year last season. “She’s a good player and she really sparks the team with her speed and her toughness,” Geismar said. “She works. She can run all the time.”
One of the team’s few returning players, sophomore forward Katie Tuthill, has been sidelined since September with a concussion.
Geismar has other players to choose from as well: Nicole McDaniels, Raeann Berry, Angela Bucci, Masha Winkler, Rosario Rodriguez and Ali Cardi.
“It’s going to take some time, but I think we’ll be O.K.,” Geismar said. “I think we got to get some leadership and some good play out of a couple of seniors that we have, and a couple of juniors. I’m looking for somebody to step up.”
Geismar likes his team’s speed and attitude, which he said is “very upbeat. They’re looking to go out there and compete. I have some athletes. I have some decent athletes, they’re just young and inexperienced.”