Chastin Giles and Katie Kneeland, and certainly their coach, Kevin Barron, remember what it felt like when an eight-point lead slipped away and Stony Brook celebrated a playoff victory on the Lady Whalers’ home floor to end last season. Since that day, Giles and Kneeland have played almost non-stop and now return with high hopes for a new season.
“We’re expecting big things for both of them,” Barron said this week about his two most prolific scorers. “They were traveling and playing all summer. They’ve each played 20 games since last season.”
Kneeland will have to wait a few weeks before she plays another game in a Pierson uniform as she is recovering from a broken wrist suffered in gym class on her non-shooting hand. Barron said his senior leader is expected back at the end of December, meaning she could miss as many as six games.
“She saw a good orthopedist and apparently it broke the right way,” Barron explained. “We’re not nervous at all about the injury.”
Giles will be joined in the backcourt by senior Paige Schaefer, a field hockey standout whose basketball game and overall athletic ability has improved since last year, according to Barron. Seniors Celia Barranco and Aziza El add height to the starting lineup and, along with Schaefer and Kneeland, lead a group of 10 seniors.
“Pretty much everyone has experience playing in playoff games,” Barron said, noting that several players have reached state-level competition in other sports like field hockey and volleyball. “They’re used to playing in big games. They know what it takes to get to the playoffs and we want to get back there.”
Following the closure of Mercy last year and the departure of Stony Brook from Section XI, Pierson is the only Class C team left in Suffolk County and will compete in League VI against schools from Class B and Class D. Mattituck returns as the defending champion, but graduated its entire starting lineup, so the league title could be up for grabs.
“I think it’s going to be a competitive league,” Barron said. “Everyone realizes the top dog with Mattituck graduated their best players so I think everyone is going to be ready to go.”
Rounding out the roster for the Lady Whalers are seniors Carly Browngardt and Phoebe Arkinson, who are expected to see time in the frontcourt, and their fellow seniors Oliva Aupperlee, Aniya Coffey, Autumn Coffee and Monasia Street. Mahlia Hemby, a junior, and Sofia Mancino, a freshman and one of the best young athletes in the school, will also compete for time, Barron said.
The team will play three straight non-league games to open the season beginning at Westhampton on Thursday, November 29, at 4:30 p.m., followed by games at Sayville on December 3 and at Harborfields on December 5.
The league season begins with Pierson’s home-opener against Center Moriches on December 12 at 6:15 p.m.