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Middle School basketball girls show heart and hustle

The junior high Mattituck Gold basketball squad visited Shelter Island on Thursday, March 9, for the Islanders’ last home game of the season.

The visiting Tuckers were taller and had more players, but there was no doubt that the Islanders were the ones who showed the most heart and hustle.

For those of us who have been following this intrepid band, the growth the girls have undergone is amazing. With only six athletes available to play, the team has an incredible ability to just keep going. Red cheeks and sweaty brows confirm the effort these athletes are putting in, showing great hustle for a team with only one sub.

Natalie Mamishavili pushing the ball upcourt, with Lily Brigham in support.(Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

The number of shots taken, the confidence and movement, and the ability to read the court has really improved. Those athletes who were reluctant to start a new sport are now eager to be on the floor.

While scoring remains a challenge for the team, the players were far more assertive in getting into position and putting up shots in this game. The athletes are also looking so much more confident in dribbling and in court awareness.

Lexi Bartilucci is one of the main ball handlers on the team, and unafraid to face down the defense and dish the ball. Protecting the ball is becoming more second nature.

Makayla Cronin playing strong defense against a Mattituck opponent. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

When Bartilucci caught an inbounds pass, she smartly turned her back to the defending Mattituck player, effectively shielding the ball. Her animated defense on a Tucker’s inbound play at end of the game showed that the Islanders simply would not give up.

Natalie Mamisashvili has developed a nice aggressive dribble and is moving the ball with purpose. She is one of the most confident players, and had a crowd-pleasing basket in the fourth quarter. She showed growth as a player as she wisely allowed a defender to jump, then come down before she took a shot.

Makayla Cronin now is confident in initiating inbounding plays from the sidelines. Cronin is a fast runner and is making increasingly smart heads-up moves to stay with and cover even the quickest players.

The team has consistently had supportive fans at the game. There is definitely no lack of enthusiasm from the stands as family and friends cheer on the hard-working squad.

Danielle Rasmussen had her own cheering section at the Mattituck game. Little Kolina Reiter got in on the action as she watched her role model, shouting “Go, Danielle!” Rasmussen is also developing a nice sense on the court, making a crisp pass to Mamisashvili to get out of a tight spot under the basket following a rebound.

Kylie Kuhr loves to be on the court. She had a great read on a pass to steal the ball. Her quick hands snatched seven steals, and she also took some shots, with one dropping through the hoop in the 4th quarter. The smile on her and the Islanders’ faces was terrific, with Coach Kristin Andrejack noting, “Scoring isn’t everything, but it helps spark the team. You girls really picked up your energy after we scored baskets.”

Lily Brigham also loves to dribble the ball and move around the court. She is the player most likely to rebound and then move quickly with the ball, foiling the opponent’s attempt to move in for a jump ball. In the case where they do get their hands on the ball, Brigham’s determination shines, holding on tight with a strength that belies her slight frame.

Lily Potter was suited up for this game, but still is on the injured reserve. Her patience and role as a bench coach and team supporter will pay dividends in the future.

The team is really working hard on offense. Every player took at least one shot, a huge change from the beginning of the season. They are also staying tough after the shot — once again every player hauled down at least one rebound, most with two or three.

After the game, Coach Andrejack praised the squad. “When given feedback, you say, ‘Got it,’ and you go do it,” the coach said. “You scored the most baskets and got the most steals at the end of the game, even though you’ve been playing hard and are tired.”

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

Coach Andrejack noted that this team’s effort and growth has been really fun and rewarding to watch.

These girls have come together as a team, and with their work ethic and spirit I’m looking forward to seeing them grow and succeed in the years to come.

Working hard and playing hard and keeping it fun. Standing, from left Lily Potter and Danielle Rasmussen. On floor, from left, Lexi Bartilucci, Natalie Mamisashvili, Lily Brigham, Makayla Cronin and Kylie Kuhr. (Credit: Cindy Belt)