Winter means basketball and the Shelter Island School girls varsity team is embracing the change of seasons and getting better each day.
As is often the case, losses to graduation and players that choose another sport can leave a team with a lot of new or less experienced athletes. Coach Erin Mulrain calls it “fresh talent” and “a good challenge.”
She acknowledges that the program is still one of rebuilding. After the extremely short season in 2021 due to COVID, the boys and girls basketball programs shrank, leading to a combined boys and girls JV program in 2022. Last year, in a return to normalcy, the teams each fielded their own squads.
The 2023-2024 team is composed of 10 athletes, four seniors and six sophomores.
Seniors Sophie Clark and Kaitlyn Gulluscio are co-captains and the most experienced players. They provide positive leadership, pushing others to get better and leading by example. Kat Austin, also a senior, is playing her first season of organized basketball. Her height and jumping ability are quickly making her a top rebounder. Susie Kane, a track and cross country athlete, is new to basketball but has a great attitude and endurance.
The sophomores are a mix of those who played last year, some with junior high experience, or athletes new to the game. Quinn Sobejana and Keili Osorio Lopez both played last season. Lili Kuhr played in the past, while Grace Catherine-Gray, Mary Kate Labrozzi and Victoria Hernandez are all suiting up for the first time.
The group is hard working, and fully half of them (Gulluscio, Kane, Sobejana, Osorio Lopez, and Kuhr) also run winter track. Coach Mulrain expressed her admiration for the current team, saying, “They are the sweetest group. They are kind to one another, and really want to improve.”
The team also has three managers: Miranda Marcello, Lexi Jernick and Lauren Gibbs. They assist at the score table while supporting the team and sharpening their basketball knowledge.
On Friday, Jan. 12, the team had their first home game against a tall and strong Babylon team. Only six players were available. Sobejana, the starting point guard, was out with an ankle injury. Catherine-Gray, Labrozzi, and Hernandez were sick or unavailable.
The shorthanded team played hard, switching roles as necessary as the one player on the bench took a breather. Clark took the most shots and was the high scorer for the Islanders. Her no-holds-barred play provides physicality and a spark for the team. Gulluscio paired with Clark, moving to get open and communicating on plays. She is enjoying her role as an outside shooter, and she normally scores at last one 3-pointer per game.
Austin and Clark tied for the number of rebounds, seven each, no small feat against the seasoned and tall Panthers. Austin is also becoming more comfortable in handling the ball. In the fourth quarter she stole the ball, hustled down the court and laid it up for two points.
Osorio Lopez isn’t tall, but she is feisty and hauled down four rebounds of her own. Kuhr is quite active on defense, aggressively sticking with opponents and actively communicating that she is “on the ball.”
Although not dressed for the game, Sobejana provided coaching assistance from the bench, reminding players of their defensive responsibilities.
Coach Mulrain sets small, achievable goals for each game: Keep your head up and see the court, look for a steal, keep moving to get to your spot. She says the pieces are coming together and that during this early phase of the season the players are learning to be a team.
Babylon walked away with the win 50-13, but the team realizes that tough games are just a way to see what needs work. Facing a three-day weekend to rest and recover, the team will soon be back in the gym continuing to learn, helping one another and growing their confidence.
The team’s schedule is front-loaded with away games — six of the seven first contests are on the road. The next home game will be against East Hampton on January 26 at 4 p.m. Come support your local athletes!