GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, one of Southold’s five seniors, shooting over Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Holly Zappola.
Instead of hearing the cheers of their friends, classmates and families, the five seniors on the Southold High School girls basketball team practiced in an empty gymnasium on Tuesday.
The First Settlers were denied the moments of glory countless high school seniors receive on Senior Night after Smithtown Christian forfeited Tuesday’s scheduled game.
Needless to say, the Southold players had mixed emotions as they prepared for Wednesday’s 5 p.m. encounter at Port Jefferson in a Suffolk County Class C semifinal.
“It definitely would have been nice to have our friends, family and teachers around because they helped us grow our lives and flourish and grow into the people we are today, to celebrate with the people who built you up and the people that made you the person you are today,” senior forward Melissa Rogers said. “It’s upsetting that we could not do that.”
Her senior teammates agreed.
“It was depressing, but in a way it saves the tears that would have to be dropped,” guard Carley Staples said. “It’s sad that I’ll never play another game in this gym. It’s like a second home. It’s tough.”
Added forward Nicole Busso: “It is pretty hard. We know the five of us that have grown up together playing basketball. This is our court. This court defines us. Whether we have a ceremony in front off a crowd or just with each other, it’s still our night, it’s still our year.”
And there is another game to play.
Instead of playing a game 24 hours before an important playoff game and worrying about injuries, the First Settlers were allowed to focus on the task at hand. At the start of practice, the team had its own ceremony as flowers and presents were handed out to the five seniors.
“It was cute and it was meaningful,” guard/forward Michaela Christman said. “I think we were all right with that.”
Christman, for example, received Sour Patch kids, Skittles and Starbursts in her gift basket.
“They know they’re my favorite,” she said. “We each got individual baskets, little balloons. They customized them to look like us and gift certificates and stuff like that.”
At the Southold boys game against Smithtown Christian later that night, the members of the girls team in attendance were recognized.
Sydney Campbell, a guard who sat out practice due to an illness, sang the national anthem, as she has done in prior games.
“It’s sad … but we all know how we feel about each other,” she said. “We know how we feel about the game. Basketball is our sport. We are going to play it no matter what. We don’t need an ending game because we’re not going to stop.”
Originally scheduled for last Friday, the game was postponed due to the blizzard. Southold wanted to move up the game to Thursday, but Smithtown Christian couldn’t.
Southold coach Joe Read put his team through a 90-minute workout.
“It was a good practice for a day before the game,” Staples said. “We practiced what we need to know for tomorrow. We didn’t work ourselves to the point where we’re going to be sore tomorrow. We worked hard mentally. So that’s what you need to do to be a good team.”
Except for a newspaper reporter watching from the stands, the gymnasium was empty.
Read saw the forfeit as motivation. He said the First Settlers (10-6 overall) wound up as the third seed in the tournament because they had an 8-3 league record at the time of the seeding, behind No. 2 seed Port Jefferson (10-7, 9-3). He added that the forfeit boosted the mark to 9-3, but it was too late to help.
“It’s really bad for the seniors,” he said of postponed Senior Night. “I feel bad for them. On top of that, we don’t get the home game the next day. It was a double whammy. It’s been that kind of a season, but hopefully this next season, which is the playoffs, is going to be more. … We’re playing pretty good. I hope we put it together and score points.”
Southold and Port Jefferson split their games. The Royals won at their place, 57-53, on Jan. 3, the First Settlers avenging the loss with a 63-55 home victory on Jan. 30.
“The first time we weren’t prepared for what they had to bring for us,” Busso said. “That was a very disappointing loss. It was our first loss of the season. It was our personal first loss in two years, considering we went undefeated last season until the [Southeast Region final]. It was kind of a wake-up call.”
Read said that he planned to use Southold’s height advantage.
“They’re a little scrappy team,” Read said. “They’re small, but they full-court press the whole game. They are tough.
“So what we want to do is use our height and dictate how the style of game is going to go. The first time we lost to them we were ahead except for the last minute. We had trouble. The second game was not a problem. … We’re looking to be calm with the ball and use our advantages, which is our height and experience.”