Jane DiGregorio is a bubbly, happy person. It shows with her ever-present smile — even while playing in a basketball game.
DiGregorio can be seen wearing a grin on her face during the heat of a game. She can be making a layup, snapping a pass or playing pressure defense, grinning the whole time.
“Any time I usually have a smile on my face,” said the Mattituck High School guard.
No wonder. DiGregorio has good cause to smile. As a sophomore, she is a starter for a strong Tuckers team that has its sights set on League VII and Suffolk County Class B championships.
To hear DiGregorio describe her ride this season, it has been somewhat unexpected — and a little intimidating at first.
“I was expecting to play JV this year, but when [coach Steve Van Dood] asked me to move up, I took the opportunity and it ended up working out,” she said.
Another one of the team’s three starting sophomores, forward Liz Dwyer, foresaw DiGregorio’s emergence on the varsity scene, perhaps even before DiGregorio did. “I knew she was coming,” Dwyer said. “She didn’t want to but I’m like, ‘It’s going to happen.’ ”
DiGregorio has started in 12 of the 13 games the Tuckers (12-1, 10-1) have played so far. Her value is her defense, which in turn not infrequently leads to steals and easy layups.
“I told her all along that it’s her defense that we were after,” Van Dood said. He added, “Everything else was the icing on the cake.”
Mattituck’s pressing defense has been critical to the team’s fine run. Van Dood said DiGregorio’s work, like that of teammate Corinne Reda, isn’t reflected in point totals.
“To Reda, too, I say the same thing,” Van Dood said. “I go: ‘Don’t worry about the points. What you’re doing doesn’t show up in the scorebook, but we see it in your hustle, your rebounds, your athleticism, your steals, your stops, your bounce passes. All of that stuff, it equates to the win.’ ”
Appropriately, it is defense and steals that DiGregorio finds to be the most enjoyable part of the game.
“She’s just really quick,” Dwyer said. “Her feet are quick and her hands. So, once she’s on you, she’s like crazy.”
The fast-paced game suits DiGregorio well. She has grown more confident over time.
“On JV it was a much slower game, and the first [varsity] game was kind of frazzling, getting out there with a much faster pace, but I’ve kind of settled in and definitely gotten better,” she said.
The Tuckers can count on strong all-around games from Dwyer and Katie Hoeg. The rest of the roster offers capable role players who bring something to the table like DiGregorio, Reda and Mackenzie Daly, another starting sophomore guard.
In recent games, DiGregorio put up 9 points in a 21-point win over Pierson/Bridgehampton last Wednesday. She assisted on five baskets in a 15-point non-league victory over Shoreham-Wading River on Monday.
“She’s really made a name for herself,” Van Dood said. He continued: “I think her work [speaks for itself], you know. She does a very good job. Actually, at times in practice, watching her play defensively, I just watch her and sometimes I don’t see the whole game because of her footwork. She’s so good at stopping the ball. … She does a very good job of making girls pick up their dribble and then she puts them on the defensive. She’s like a bulldog.”
Dwyer knows DiGregorio well. The two started playing basketball together for a Catholic Youth Organization team when they were in third grade. Dwyer can tell you that DiGregorio doesn’t stress out over being assigned a lot of homework and enjoys eating sushi. She also knows that DiGregorio doesn’t like missing layups.
“I don’t know if anybody knows this, but if she misses the layup, she cringes,” Dwyer said. “She like puts her shoulders in, like hides, so nobody sees her. I’m like: ‘You can’t rewind it. We saw.’ ”
DiGregorio indicated she is enjoying her introduction to varsity basketball.
“It’s been a good season,” she said. “I’m excited for what’s to come.”
More smiles, undoubtedly.
Photo credit: Mattituck sophomore guard Jane DiGregorio, contesting Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Isabel Peters for the ball, is valued for her defense. (Credit: Garret Meade)