Mendoza Makes Short Work Of SWR

Desirée Keegan

Westhampton wants to prove a point.

The girls basketball team wasn’t listed in preseason rankings as a team to make the playoffs, but so far, has gone 4-1 overall and 3-0 in League V with some statement wins, including a 60-47 one over visiting Shoreham-Wading River December 14.

“What’s different this year is we have confidence every time we walk out on the court,” junior guard Belle Smith said. “We’ve been working hard, and it’s a different team this year — it’s a whole new energy and a whole new dynamic that I think has been leading us to a lot of our success.”

Smith finished with 22 points and seven steals, and was quick in transition, converting all of her possession swipes to points.

“That’s the defense we run,” she said. “You have to trust every girl out on the court to do their job, and that just happens to be mine. I couldn’t do it without the other girls contending and pushing the girls they’re blocking to make a quick pass.”

Smith scored eight points early to help Westhampton to a 16-13 lead at the end of the first quarter, and tallied four more in the second, connecting with junior Layla Mendoza for several more buckets on the way to a 33-26 halftime advantage.

“It’s so awesome to have someone opposite you who looks to you just as much as you look to them,” Smith said. “Layla’s awesome. She’s a really good player. I know every time I get the ball up if I miss she’s going to get the rebound and put it right back up.”

Mendoza was a dominating force under the basket, grabbing 10 rebounds and putting away 16 first-half points on her way to a game-high 29 points despite sitting out the end of the third quarter part of the fourth with some leg cramping.

“We were looking to pressure first, because we know they don’t shoot a lot, so we were making them drive more so we can grab rebounds and get fast breaks,” Mendoza said. “Once you score a couple you get to feel the motion, get in a rhythm to keep going. We have a good team this year and everyone’s been a lot more positive.”

The forward touted herself, Smith and senior center Lindsay Rongo as a trio to be reckoned with. Head coach Katie Peters called Rongo her “unsung hero.”

“Lindsay Rongo does a lot of things that aren’t always the flashy things, but she does the nitty gritty work. Without her, I don’t think anyone would be shining the way that they do,” Peters said. “We turned the ball over a lot, but Shoreham is athletic, they play tough defense, they’re in your face, and my girls did a good job adjusting to taking that pressure. They showed some resiliency and toughness.”

What the coach said she liked most is every girl used each other for her strength. Because of that, the Hurricanes seem well on their way to improving on their 8-12 record from last season.

“We’ve been practicing really hard to be a unit on the court, getting everyone involved,” Smith said. “So we’re swinging the ball quickly and having everyone be a threat. Every time one of us gets the ball our first thought is to pass to the open girl, so doing that and having the chemistry we have out on the court makes us unstoppable.”

Point proven? Seems like it so far.

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