In many ways, Katie Kneeland returned from injury late last month to a more complete basketball team. The absence of the senior forward, who missed Pierson/Bridgehampton’s first three games with a wrist injury, opened the doors for others to step up and develop. Now the active roster goes eight or nine girls deep and the Lady Whalers have won six straight games as they begin to chew on the meat of the League VI schedule.
“We still have a lot to work on, but the chemistry is coming together,” Pierson head coach Kevin Barron said after a 55-25 win over Southampton on Monday night. “We’re just trying to get better each game. I’m really happy with the defense at times. We’re trying to pressure the ball more and more each game and the girls are doing a great job.”
With Kneeland leading the way in the scoring department, and junior point guard Chastin Giles running the team’s tempo, Pierson (5-0 in League VI, 6-3 overall) has knocked off six straight opponents dating back to a win over Center Moriches on December 12. The Lady Whalers started the season 1-3 against mostly tough non-league teams. Since, they have won five games with Kneeland averaging 17.4 points per game. And, perhaps more importantly, the supporting cast around her has improved dramatically.
“Me being off the court allowed other players to take part in the starting five and now our starting five is really movable,” Kneeland said after scoring 18 points against Southampton on Monday. “A lot of girls were able to grow into these positions. It worked out really well actually.”
Giles added 13 points and six assists on Monday, and freshman Sofia Mancino, playing her first year on varsity, had 12. Defensively, Pierson’s frontcourt of Aziza El, Celia Barranco, Carly Browngardt and Phoebe Arkinson wreaked havoc on the Southampton attack
“Our bench is very deep,” Barron said. “I was subbing in four, five girls all night, and without that experience at the beginning of the year when they were playing most of the game, I don’t think they would have that confidence they had today.
“We’re by far the tallest team in the league,” he continued. “If everyone puts their hand up at the same time, there’s no passing lanes. We’re a big threat that way. We’re fast enough to play man-to-man and do a full court press, or we can just sit back in that zone with our hands up.”
Pierson will host Greenport on Friday, January 11, at 6:15 p.m. before traveling to Mattituck on Monday for huge game that will likely have league title implications. The Tuckers are also 5-0 in league play and have gotten the better of Pierson in recent years.
“With Mattituck, it’s always the same — full court press, run and gun, very athletic,” Barron said. “They’re going to be a big challenge for us.”
“We think we can take it all the way to states,” Kneeland added about the season ahead. “We say almost every day at the end of practice that we’re going to states. That’s been our motivation. But we’ll have to see how we do against Mattituck. That will really tell us where we actually are right now.”
Monday’s game at Mattituck tips at 5:45 p.m.