In back-to-back games at the end of January, the Shelter Island junior varsity girls basketball team met or exceeded its goals.
With only a few games left in the season, the team is really beginning to fire on all cylinders. The Pierson Whalers visited on January 31. In their first meeting, the talented Whalers outscored the Blue and Gray by more than 3 to 1.
In a never-give-up effort, the athletes really showed their poise. The Whalers played full-court defense for most of the game, giving the Islanders lots of practice in breaking the press, something they are doing increasingly well.
When Shelter Island went on a 9-0 scoring run in the third quarter, the undefeated Whalers had to call a timeout and reinstate the press. While Pierson ultimately won the game 44-21, the vast improvement in the Islanders’ play was definitely a win.
On January 30 the visiting Hampton Bays team had their hands full with a revved-up Island offense. In a game where every athlete scored, the home team jumped out to a 12-0 start.
Communication was a highlight. Isabelle Topliff often is at point guard, quarterbacking the offense. The team is focusing on running plays on each trip down the floor.
When Coach Laura Mayo was momentarily distracted talking to a player taking a well-deserved rest on the bench, Topliff called out “Babylon?” A quick affirmative reply confirmed the query, and the team went into action setting up screens and cutting into position.
In the second quarter, as Topliff sped down the court on a fast break, Lyng Coyne raced with her calling “I’m with you” allowing the possibility of a quick pass, and dividing the defense.
Shelter Island held a 27-8 lead at the half.
Ball handling is also improving. Grace Olinkiewicz, who is tall and often tasked with matching up with the big girls in the middle, loves to dribble. She moves well with the ball, occasionally incorporating a nice move to spin away from defenders. Bella Springer is strong, and with the Hampton Bays defense crowding her to the sideline, she stubbornly held her ground, passing the ball to a waiting teammate.
Overall passes are getting smarter. Coyne, Dayla Reyes and Topliff are steadily increasing their number of assists, the passes that lead directly to baskets. In the third quarter, Topliff dished the ball out of a jungle of arms and hands beneath the basket to an alert D. Reyes who went up for 2 to extend the lead to 37-8.
Defensively, the team is moving as a unit, while individual efforts also spark the team. Valeria Reyes is a dynamo on the court, and perhaps channeling her volleyball skills, reliably blocks multiple balls each game. Steals are not uncommon. Audrey Wood added a takeaway to her four rebounds and 3 points during the game.
The well balanced 49-18 win had everyone scoring: Topliff and D. Reyes were top point-getters with 16 and 12. V. Reyes and Topliff each hauled down five rebounds.
As the team gathered after the game to recap the excellent effort, the beaming coach and players all nodded enthusiastically, as one athlete put into words what they were all feeling: “I’m just so proud of us!”