After nearly a year of waiting, Westhampton Beach junior Molly McCarthy is ready and eager for her shot at redemption.
“I’m beyond grateful given the circumstances, especially after how things ended last season,” the guard said. “We are definitely finishing what we started. We’re ready to rumble.”
She’s referring to the resumption of the basketball season, which was made official January 25 by the Suffolk County Department of Health and Section XI, the county’s governing body of athletics. A few days prior, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his approval for high schools to play high-risk sports pending local health departments giving the green light.
In March of last year, Westhampton Beach had its season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdown. The Hurricanes, at 22-3, were scheduled to compete in the Class A regional final after earning the school’s first Suffolk County championship win since 2005.
“Obviously, we were all devastated that our season was cut short just one day before our home Long Island Championship game last year, but I think that that just gives us a lot of motivation for our season this year,” junior guard Olivia Rongo said. “We all knew that we had something to prove last year when the preseason ‘teams to watch’ came out, and we weren’t on it, and that’s exactly what we did. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to finish proving it.”
Other returners include seniors Molly Skorobohaty and Caroline Henke, who will earn more minutes after the graduation of top scorers Layla Medoza and Belle Smith.
“I’ve always thought that our team has been very strong defensively, so that will still definitely be big,” Rongo said. “Besides that, each player has their own strength, like Molly McCarthy’s ability to shoot three-pointers, Caroline Henke’s ball handling and Molly Skorobohaty’s ability to get rebounds and put them right back up.”
“We like to move fast and waste no time,” McCarthy added. “We work well in transition.”
For Bridgehampton boys basketball players, this season, even with it being a shortened season — after low-risk sports began in November — is special for a number of reasons.
First, it will be the inaugural season in the Killer Bees’ new gymnasium.
“I am excited to get in there,” returning sophomore guard Scott Vinski said. “Ever since the plan was unveiled, I was looking forward to the day we could get into that gym. I’m really looking forward to it.”
For his twin brother, Kris, it will be more convenient — instead of finding a larger gym to practice in — but he’s also looking forward to keeping the ball rolling as the boys look to build the program (0-14 last season) back up toward the success of years past.
“Losing this year would’ve put a halt in our plans, so even to have a little bit of a season lets us go in and practice and get used to playing with each other,” he said. “I think most of us are pretty ready to go. Six of us played all of the minutes last year, so we have that experience, and now we’re adding depth with some of the younger guys.”
Head coach Ron White said the team was thankfully able to get some practice in while others weren’t, even with it being non-contact.
“We weren’t able to play against each other, so it was a lot of drill work,” Kris Vinski said, “but even that I think helped us out a lot.”
Returners also include seniors David Simms and Anthony Cabrera, who rejoins the team after taking off his junior year, and sophomore Dylan Fitzgerald. New this season will be Jimmy Gazda.
Due to players’ shorter statures, the Killer Bees will be a perimeter-based team, the coach said, relying on jump-shots, spacing and passes to stretch the defense out and hopefully knock down some shots.
“The guys are so stoked,” White said. “We all agree that as an extremely young squad there’s a long path ahead of us — a steep hill to climb —but we’re all up to the task. They’re eager to learn, eager to gain the experience, eager to get their bumps and bruises with the hopes to one day reign the league again. But even more so, I think they’re just excited to be able to put on a jersey again and represent their school.”
Hampton Bays girls basketball coach Darryl Johnson said he’s looking forward to seeing kids just being kids.
“Myself, assistant coach Dave Flannery and head junior varsity coach Alexis Fotopoulos are thankful to be able to provide these student-athletes the opportunity to play basketball,” he said. “Basketball isn’t the most important thing right now, but for these kids it’s still important.”
Senior Giana Dipierdomenico, senior Sierra Gaffney and junior Kati Mounts — all three-year varsity players — return to the team (0-16 last year) this season.
Mounts, a center, will be relied on heavily, according to her coach.
“She is very talented and has worked tirelessly on her game,” Johnson said. “She had some big-game efforts for us last year and that success has her feeling more comfortable in her ability to be more dominant on both ends of the court and team leader.”
The coach said the team will be noticeably taller and more athletic, adding the girls’ commitment to the sport will be apparent in knowledge and skill.
“During the start of quarantine/the offseason I really missed sports and being active, so I would try to stay in shape by spending a lot of time playing basketball with my brothers and dad, as well as running on my treadmill,” Mounts said. “When I heard that the basketball season was going to begin again this year I was surprised — I didn’t think that it was going to happen — but I am very happy that it is and honored that I am given the chance to compete.”
With the update that playoffs were made official January 28, after the original announcement that they would not happen, Mounts said giving the athletes something to play for makes the season that much more exciting.
“It gives me even more motivation,” she said. “We’ll be pushed even harder as individuals and as a team.”
Brackets will feature 16 teams in four league tournaments all based on student enrollment. The tournaments will take place February 26-27. In order to qualify for the league tournament, a team must finish in first or second in their league at the end of the regular season.
It was announced by Section XI January 29, however, the athletic council and executive board voted to deny all modified winter sports, or middle school sports, which includes early and late winter activities.
Southampton boys basketball coach Herm Lamison, who is also the village police chief, said he has mixed feelings about the situation, but will get a team together and into shape as quickly as possible.
“It’s high-risk and low reward trying to cram so many games into a 28-day schedule,” he said.
The season will be even shorter now due to rescheduling that will happen on account of Monday’s nor’easter. Because six practices are needed, as per the state, before games can begin, teams, which were scheduled to compete against each league opponent once this year, will most likely lose another game if rescheduling can’t happen in time, according to Section XI.
“I’m also concerned with injuries,” Lamison added, as teams usually have weeks to practice. “But there is this excitement having the opportunity to get back into a setting they love to be in and thrive in.”
Returning to the team are seniors Zach Mobius, Steven Krakowski and Matt Silverberg, who missed all of last season with a tibial spine avulsion fracture, and junior LeBron Napier. Up from the junior varsity team will be juniors Ryan Smith, Andrew Venesina and Billy Malone and sophomore Derek Reed.
“This year might possibly be the best team I’ve played with chemistry-wise, since I played with them when I was younger,” Napier said. “It’s been different due to protocols and things like that, but it feels good to be back.”
A driving force behind making this season possible is mandatory testing, with the state already supplying 20,000 tests to Suffolk County to distribute to school districts. Guidelines also include taking temperatures of players and coaches prior to practices and games, minimizing equipment sharing, maintaining attendance logs, wearing masks when possible and taking attestations that players are free of symptoms. Masks are to be worn as tolerated by the athletes when competing, and when not participating are to be worn at all times. Spectators are also restricted from winter contests.
Echoing Lamison, White said while there’s a definite health and safety piece to this puzzle, mental health has also been a topic at the forefront amid the pandemic.
“I think across the board and around the world — not just limited to Bridgehampton — our youth has probably been hit the hardest with respect to transitioning into this new way of life from ‘normal’ life as we once knew it.” White said. “There’s a lot of competitors, academically and athletically, and I’m happy we were able to come up with something that although not bulletproof and foolproof — 100 percent protective — is a comprehensive procedure that will hopefully give a majority of kids an opportunity to get back to playing. We’re going to do the best we can to give these kids an opportunity to continue to follow their dreams of being great students and great athletes.”