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Young athletes learning life lessons: Girls basketball team plays with poise and spirit

Makayla Cronin or Natalie Mamisashvili had never played school team sports before they took the court for Shelter Island wearing the white and blue uniforms of the basketball team on Valentine’s Day for a home game against Center Moriches.

Both had run cross country, but coordinating with other athletes to win is, well, a whole different ball game. They joined a group of five other 7th graders who had just completed their volleyball season. The basketball team is composed of only first-year players with no 8th graders on the squad.

This means that the team has a steep learning curve as they compete against teams who can start both 7th and 8th graders. But they are rising to the challenge. Their youth showed early on, but as the game went on their confidence and teamwork continued to improve.

The Center Moriches Red Devils were quick, aggressive and very good shooters. Basketball is a game where physical contact and fierceness is rewarded, and the Islanders looked a bit taken aback by the aggressive nature of the Red Devils’ play.

Parents and classmates cheered loudly as the team gamely hustled up and down the hardwood. Coach Kristen Andrejack encouraged the young squad from the sideline, reminding them of their positions and responsibilities.

Lily Brigham, Lexi Bartilucci and Kylie Kuhr acted as the main ball handlers against the Devils. Lexi also moved well off the ball, getting open for teammates to pass to her.

Makayla Cronin is a fast runner and her ability to chase down loose balls was very helpful. Danielle Rasmussen was able to snag several rebounds and also scored a basket. Kylie Kuhr is aggressive and enthusiastic, unafraid to dribble, shoot or get into the thick of things.

Lily Potter, accompanied by a pair of crutches, watched from the sidelines. Recovering from an injury, she will be rejoining the squad soon to shore up the thin roster. In the meanwhile, the athletes get plenty of playing time, but not much rest.

Sportsmanship is very important at all levels, and Coach Andrejack focused on that in the post-game huddle. She praised the young team for maintaining their cool when hit by flying elbows and moves that sometimes resembled football instead of basketball. Notably, the team never stopped trying, even as the gap in the score continued to widen.

Nearly two weeks later on February 27, the first day back from the mid-winter break, the Islanders faced the Southold Red team. The junior high season features only eight games, but on only their third game, this group of athletes is already showing signs of marked improvement.

There was also a familiar face in stripes: Jack Reardon, the former tech teacher at Shelter Island, was one of the refs. He and his officiating partner would give occasional advice to the athletes, reminding them of rules, or explaining an infraction.

This aspect of the junior high game is especially helpful for the athletes who are just learning the rules of the game.

With Potter still on the sidelines, all remaining six players got in on the rebounding. Southold held a distinct height advantage, with at least one player literally a head taller than anyone on the Island squad. Mamisashvili led the team with six rebounds, with Kuhr and Cronin chipping in two apiece.

Kuhr, Bartilucci and Rasmussen each also had a steal. The team’s passing is looking crisper, with players moving to help their teammates who get caught in a defensive bind.

In a heads-up move, Bartilucci, who was trapped on the floor, pushed the ball through a defender’s legs in a move similar to a soccer nutmeg to get it to a teammate. Bounce passes are beginning to be used, which will reduce the chance that a ball will be stolen.

The young athletes are learning their roles, and beginning to understand what shots are possible.

While overall the offense needs to be more aggressive and take more shots, it is great to see the girls looking for their teammates and coordinating with one another.

Coach Andrejack complimented the team for executing the plays they had practiced and noted that both teams played with class and exhibited good sportsmanship. She encouraged the team to play from the heart, and to allow themselves to be aggressive and intense on the court.

At the end of the post-game huddle, the team agreed that the Word of the Day was “growth.” Very apt for a young team just starting on their basketball careers, and headed in the right direction.

The team’s next home game is March 2 at 4 p.m. against Greenport. March 9 is the last home game against Mattituck before they finish the season on the road against two Southold squads.

Come on down and cheer on our young athletes!