A feisty pair has returned to Pierson’s basketball court.
Senior point guard Chastin Giles and sophomore guard Sofia Mancino bring back all the grit that first-year head coach Woody Kneeland will be looking for after the Whalers graduated 10 seniors from last year’s squad, including his niece, Katie Kneeland, who led the team in points (377).
“Chastin is tough as nails, so is Sofia,” Kneeland said. “Sofia is a vocal leader where Chastin leads by her play. Both make their teammates better.”
The pair will steer a 10-girl roster, but Kneeland said he looks at it as he’s 10 players deep, knowing the girls who returned and many of the younger ones joining having coached the junior varsity team while being an assistant on varsity under former head coach Kevin Barron the last two seasons. His brother George, Katie’s father, who has worked with the basketball teams at Pierson at different levels over the last 18 years, also returns as an assistant.
“There’s a lot of new kids coming up and there’s definitely an inexperienced factor, but they’re all great players,” Kneeland said. “I’ve been putting them through the ringer with the best of the Class A school during the nonleague games (0-3 against Eastport-South Manor, Westhampton Beach, and Sayville). I’m making it tough for them because I want them to learn quickly.”
The Whalers JV team, along with the varsity girls, finished their league schedules undefeated last season. From his old team he’ll be looking for Grace Perello, who the coach said has a “scorer’s mentality,” to contribute some of what was lost with the departure of his niece, but said he sees all the girls being big contributors on either side of the court down the line. Heidi Wilson replaces Kneeland as the JV coach.
“We’re more balanced than last year,” he said. “Once we get rolling and get some confidence, we’ll be there.”
The coach said if any opponent thinks taking Giles (287 points last season) out of the game is an automatic win, he’d ask them to think again.
“It’s not going to work,” Kneeland said.
He’ll still be looking to her tremendously though.
“Chastin is a college-level basketball player,” he said. “She helps the other girls get easier baskets too because she gets them in the right spots.”
Senior guard and forward Mahlia Hemby is also returning, along with classmates Kathryn Powell, a center, and Kneeland’s daughter, Halle, a guard, both of whom rejoin the Whalers after not playing last season.
“Kathryn is strong on offense and defense. Halle adds to the defensive side,” Kneeland said. “They’re going to play.”
There’s been a consistent basketball culture in Pierson as of late, with the teams making the postseason the last six seasons, and Kneeland is hoping this year is no different. The Whalers are looking to defend their Suffolk County title won last year while going 17-3 overall.
“They’re a fast, tough bunch. They’re some of the fastest kids I’ve seen,” Kneeland said, laughing. “The athleticism is there. They also play great defense. These girls are going to have a complete game soon and I’m excited about it.”
Pierson will play Hampton Bays on the road in the Whalers’ first League VII game of the season on Wednesday, December 11, at 5:45 PM. The team travels to Port Jefferson December 16 for a 4:30 PM matchup.
Hurricanes Have Room To Grow
Although losing just one senior to graduation, Westhampton head coach Katie Peters says the absence of center/forward Lindsay Rongo creates a completely different dynamic within her team.
“Lindsay Rongo was big for us,” she said. “She was a strong defensive player, was a leader both on and off the court. She was also good for putting in eight to 12 points when we needed it. She was a spark when we needed it, and would recognize that.”
That’s not to say she doesn’t think she has the talent to fill her shoes.
Peters thinks returning juniors Molly Skorobohaty and Caroline Henke could do just that.
“They play strong defense. They hustle,” the coach said. “And they have experience with valuable game minutes.”
Young returners with lots of playing time are Rongo’s younger sister Olivia (132 points last season), a guard, who started multiple games as a freshman, and sophomore guard Molly McCarthy (180 points), who the coach said is more confident this season.
She expects big things from both girls, but will be leaning on seniors Belle Smith (453 points last season) and Layla Mendoza (132 points) to lead the way.
Smith, an All-American lacrosse standout and All-County volleyball player surpassed 1300 points last season to break the Hurricanes’ scoring record. Smith has a good on-court chemistry with Mendoza, who missed the second half of the 2018-19 season with a torn ACL.
“They’re picking up right where they left off,” Peters said. “Layla has a strong interior post game. She’s fast, she’s athletic, she can jump. She and Belle are a dynamic duo. It’s tough to stop both of them.”
Junior Amanda White, who played at St. Anthony’s the last two seasons, will be added value at guard, classmate Ella Donneson will aid under the boards, and sophomore Molly Mensch will add points fighting from the post. Donneson and Mensch are both up from the JV team.
“There’s a lot of room for us to grow in a lot of ways on both ends of the court,” Peters said. “We’ve talked about getting back to where we were, but understand there’s a lot of games to play. We’re going to take it game by game. We can’t overlook anybody. Each day we’ll try to play our best and be our best and let the chips fall where they will.”
Mendoza finished Westhampton’s League VI-opening 50-39 win over Elwood-John Glenn December 6 with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Smith had 13 points, 10 steals, and six rebounds. The Hurricanes traveled to Bayport-Blue Point December 10, but results were not available by press time.
Southampton Also Replacing Key Player
Southampton will be without Taylor Pike, the Mariners’ primary ball hander in 2018, who scored 256 points last season.
The team fell one win short of making the playoffs, and Pike’s 13.5 points-per-game average was a major contributing factor in that. But there is talent returning to this League VII team, too.
Sophomore point guard Madison Taylor is a travel basketball player who finished with 142 points last season; sophomore Gabby Arnold will continue guarding against opponent’s toughest competitors (75 points); and junior guard/forward Cristine Delgado led the team in minutes last season and is a strong defender who stays out of foul trouble (109). Back on the team is Ishanti Gumbs. She played for Riverhead last season and finished the season with 150 points as a junior.
Senior Alysha Thomas (68 points), captains this Mariners team with classmate Caraline Oakley (60). Thomas competed on the same Amateur Athletic Union team during the offseason as Gumbs and Taylor.
Sophomore Carli Cameron, from the soccer team, is up from JV, and juniors Riley Zorko and Bimela Ramkhelawan are also new additions.
The Mariners started the season with a 71-36 win over Smithtown Christian December 6. Delgado had 15 points, five steals, and three assists; Taylor scored 11 points; Oakley had eight points and 15 rebounds; and Thomas added eight points and 12 rebounds.
East Hampton Looking To Build
East Hampton is hoping to improve upon its one-win 2018-19 season, but will have to do so while also bumping up to face new League V opponents.
As with other schools, just one player, Connie Chan, graduated from last year’s team.
Seniors Emma Silvera (98 points), Alden Powers (14), Tia Weiss (41), Emily Brewer (53), and Kailey Marmeno (31) have returned along with juniors Paige Cardone (74) and Eva Wojtusiak (19). Ashley Peters and Armani Gordon are new seniors joining the varsity squad with freshmen Baye Bogetti, Caroline DiSunno, and Claire McGovern.
The Bonackers host their first league opponent, Islip, Thursday, December 12, at 4:30 PM.