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Shelter Island girls basketball team facing challenges with pride

Because basketball is classified as a “high-risk” sport (to spread the COVID-19 virus) play didn’t start until Feb. 1. With only five games on the girls basketball team’s docket, they are making the best of a short season. The season will only last until Feb. 28, with fall sports (AKA season 2) starting March 1.

This season is a challenge for a couple of reasons: with COVID-19 putting sports on hold for so long, some of the athletes haven’t had a chance to ramp up their conditioning. The other challenge is that Shelter Island girls basketball took the leap to varsity this year. Second- year Coach Brian Springer acknowledged that it will be a growth year, focusing on playing as a unit.

There are 11 athletes on the squad, several playing two sports. Lydia Shepherd who also cheers, is the only senior.

The first home game was played on Monday, Presidents Day, against the visiting Greenport/Southold squad. The starting five took the court with passion. Captain Valeria Reyes and her sister Dayla are the main ball handlers, with Angelina Rice also able to make quick decisions and pin-point passes. Bella and Madison Springer are another sister act, and tend to be under the basketball scooping up rebounds.

The first quarter showed that the team came to play, with six different players grabbing rebounds, while Rice, B. Springer and V. Reyes each had a steal.

In the second quarter Kaitlyn Gullusico got onto the floor early, and channeling her track training, sprinted down the floor, getting back quickly on defense. Sophie Clark made her presence known by outreaching a taller Greenport/Southold player and hauling down a rebound. While the Porters built a lead, the Islanders kept shooting. Sophomore Mary Gennari added a basket. B. Springer handled a quick pass from D. Reyes, spun around and hit a bucket at the buzzer, to the delight of her team.

The third quarter was tough. The Island’s  scoring faltered, while the Porters’ pressed their advantage. Without fans in the gym due to COVID protocols, encouragement from the bench was vital. “Way to be aggressive, Dayla —I love it!” called a teammate. And as the shot clock expired on the Porters, an exuberant “good defense, SI!” was heard.

Ninth grader Mackenzie Speece-Langendal got a chance to get on the court in her first high school appearance, gaining confidence.

At the start of the fourth quarter, the cheerleaders encouraged the team to “Get tough,” beating out the rhythm on the bleachers, and the players took the message to heart. All players got time on the court, and Rice sparked a happy cheer from the team as she put up a 3-point shot in the final seconds. The final score was 63-25, but the team is undeterred. After the game, the players happily grabbed slices of pizza, celebrating the long-awaited return to the court.

Top scorers were V. Reyes with 8 points, D. Reyes with 7 while B. Springer added 5. B. Springer was the top rebounder with 5, with V. Reyes and Rice each hauling down 4 apiece.

Coach Springer put things into perspective: “For our team this year it has been all about building the true qualities of any sport and life. Hard work, determination, resiliency, honor, courage and being there for one another when we have fallen, to lend a hand or with a positive word. That’s what this game or life is about. This past year has dug a hole for most of us and watching this and other teams battle through it gives great hope for the future, and I am proud to be able to be a part of that.”

The next home game for the girls team will be Friday, Feb. 19 at 10 a.m. While no fans are allowed in the gym at this time, the game can be watched on the NFHS live stream service. Shelter Island invested in the system last year, and it’s proving beneficial for local fans as well as grandparents and friends who don’t live in the area.

To find out more about watching any competitions in our home gym — boys or girls, basketball or volleyball — go to the Shelter Island School website (shelterisland.k12.ny.us/) under the athletic department.