Tuckers girls squad reaches new heights

We probably can expect some tall tales emanating out of the Mattituck High School gymnasium this winter.

Not any made-up stories, of course, just ones based on reality.

Translation: the Tuckers’ girls basketball team will deploy quite a tall squad this season.

“We have a lot of tall girls,” senior center Caroline Little said. “No one is really short. Even if they aren’t tall in height, they definitely can jump up there and get the ball.”

Little sets the pace at just under 6 feet, followed by senior guard Sofia Knudsen at 5-foot-11, junior forward Jashlin Castaneda at 5-foot-10, and sophomore point guard Claire McKenzie also at 5-foot-10.

“Some coaches say ‘speed over height,’ but in this instance, the girls are pretty tall and pretty fast, so I think we got a little of both,” head coach Steve Van Dood said. “And it is intimidating. You can set up different zone presses, different zone defenses and have a hard time making that pass over a player and throw lollipop passes.”

Knudsen and Little, who played for the volleyball team this fall, showed up to hoops practice already in shape.

“I don’t need to get my stamina back up,” Knudsen said.

While players in both volleyball and basketball use their hands, different skills are involved.

“It’s obviously a lot more running on a basketball court, but I’m already there with my hand-eye coordination and all that,” Little said. “There’s a little bit of difference in spacing and timing. It being physical with other girls. That’s a big difference.”

The team is optimistic.

“I feel like everyone has improved from last year and the girls that came up [from junior varsity] are very skilled and worked well together,” Knudsen said. “We could do pretty well this year.”

Castaneda added that the Tuckers’ “chemistry is a lot stronger. I feel like I’m going put a lot of pressure on myself to do better.”

Mattituck lost its leading scorer, Abby Woods (16.2 points per game), to graduation. Van Dood hopes that he will get a chunk of the team’s points this year from Claire McKenzie (6.6 ppg), Knudsen (4.9), Little (4.4) and Castaneda (2.8).

Even though she is a sophomore, Van Dood said that he is expecting big things out of McKenzie.

“She will be our primary shooter this year,” he said. “I forget how young she is. I treat her like a senior. Sometimes I’ve got to take a step back and say she’s still young. She does a lot of good things.”

McKenzie sounds ready for more responsibility.

“My goal is to lead the team,” she said. “Even as just a sophomore I think that it’s really important to be a leader. I just want to help us win as many games as possible.”

The Tuckers will play in six non-league games before they begin their Suffolk County League VII campaign at Pierson/Bridgehampton on Jan. 4.

That should be plenty of time to work out any problems they might have before also taking on Greenport/Southold, Port Jefferson, Babylon, Shelter Island and Smithtown Christian.

Van Dood is optimistic.

“With their size, we definitely are going to have a good season within the league, and we should be in the playoffs,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re going be in the county final. That would be nice.”

The first goal is to have a winning season and reach the Class B playoffs and go further this time around. Last year Mattituck (12-7, 11-3) was eliminated by Greenport, 47-41, in the semifinals.

East Hampton, a Class AA team, will also compete in the league, making for an unusual scenario. The team has struggled at the upper levels in recent years, and county basketball officials decided to place East Hampton in a league with Class B, C and D schools.

“They’re not eligible for [the Class B] playoffs,” Van Dood said. “But unfortunately, they can knock people out of the playoffs.”

Regardless of how they fare, the Tuckers are ready for a memorable season.

“I’m just really happy I get to finish out my high school basketball experience with these people that I love to spend time with,” Little said. “They’re all so kind and uplifting to each other. We’re going to have a great time, win or lose.”