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Shelter Island junior high girls basketball team takes on Tuckers: Key skills matching spirit of players

Coming back from the winter break can be a challenge for students.

When the Shelter Island School 7th and 8th grade girls basketball team entered the gym on Tuesday, Feb. 27, to face the Mattituck Blue squad, they had had only one practice since the 10-day vacation.

Additionally, they were down two athletes: Danielle Rasmussen was out sick and Elizabeth Weslek had an injured ankle. With only seven athletes suited up against the 13 opponents, they were a bit nervous, but in classic Islander fashion — despite fighting fatigue — these girls never gave up. 

In their rematch against the Tuckers, Coach Kristin Sweeney was very happy to see the team show great improvement in key skills. Mattituck is a run-and-gun team, and in their first meeting it was difficult to stop the Tuckers’ fleet-footed scorers.

This time it was a much more complete and competitive game.

Junior High girls Coach Erin Sweeny with her team during a time out. (Credit: Francesca Frasco)

Although Lily Potter won the tip-off, Mattituck quickly took possession and put points on the board in the first few seconds. Not to be deterred, Natalie Mamisashvili immediately took charge, and as her teammates opened a lane for her, she went directly to the basket, tying up the score 2-2.

It was obvious from the start that the Islanders’ focus on defense was paying dividends.

Makayla Cronin stayed with her girl at all speeds, and Potter’s confidence in her positioning on the court forced Mattituck to make multiple passes before the players could take a shot.

Lexi Bartilucci often handles the ball, and her decision-making and fearlessness is great to see. She is unafraid to shoot the ball, and her five rebounds and four steals proves she can be a force on both offense and defense.

Kylie Kuhr is a whirling dervish on the court. The top rebounder — with eight this game — she also likes to shoot. Her no-holds-barred defense lets opponents know they won’t have an uncontested shot.

Overall, the Islanders are much improved in help defense, being in a position to come to the aid of a teammate if the other team got by the first defender.

Aisley Davidson had a great shooting game. She scored 4 consecutive points to pull the Islanders within 4 points of the Tuckers in the second quarter.

The Mattituck coach got concerned and, blatantly ignoring the developmental spirit of the modified sports program, quickly put his top two players back in.

The third quarter was a scoring drought for the Islanders, but the crowd was kept entertained by the energetic scrums beneath the basket. The Islanders’ positioning under the hoop in rebounding situations also bore fruit, as Mattituck was limited to a few shots instead of the many allowed earlier in the season.

Mamisashvili has excellent court sense and nice skills. Her ability to change speeds while dribbling, starting and stopping to keep the defense on their toes, is great to see.

Coach Sweeney advised the team to be patient with the ball. In their plays, the team is now using all their options, not just getting the ball to one player.

Michelle Martinez scored a basket in the fourth quarter, breaking a 19-point run by the Tuckers. Martinez also made a nice look-and-pass to Cronin who, unguarded under the basket, quickly put the ball up.

Coach Sweeney was very pleased with the team’s effort. “They played so much better in this game,” she said. “Our goal was to stop their fast breaks and make them run their offense, which we did.”

The athletes agreed with the assessment. In the post-game huddle, while still determined to get even better, the team agreed that the word of the day was: “Happy.”

The team has just two games left in their season, with their last being a home game against Mattituck Gold on Wednesday, March 6 at 4 p.m.

Come support our youth in the final basketball game of the winter season!