The Westhampton Beach girls basketball team reached the postseason for the first time in four years last season. While it was a quick exit in the playoffs, losing in the first round to neighboring district Hampton Bays, it was a big step in the right direction for an overall young team under then first-year head coach Katie Peters.
While all signs are pointing up for the Lady Hurricanes, Peters is tempering expectations, at least for the moment.
The team lost a trio of key players in Shea Casey, Kaila Gagne and Madison Skala. Due to those losses, Peters hasn’t set an official starting five just yet. Based off last season’s play, though, junior Lexi Miller, sophomore Lindsay Rongo and freshman Isabelle Smith appear to have a leg up on starting spots. Miller provides fierce defense and can be counted on to score at times, while Smith earned All-League and All-Conference honors last season in her first year on varsity. Rongo returns as the League V Rookie of the Year.
Also returning are seniors Juliet Clarke and Reilly Dunning and junior Julia Magro. Up from junior varsity are juniors Ansley Berman, Hailey Daleo, Miranda Edwards, Caitlin Gallagher and Jessica Muchowski, and sophomores McKinley Skala (Madison’s younger sister) and twins Annabelle and Juliette Seeliger.
Peters, who just gave birth to a baby girl on November 19, and will continue coaching this season, wants her team to take things one day at a time.
“It is easy to look forward to February and say making it as far as we can in playoffs is our goal. That’s not us, yet,” she said. “Yes playoff’s is always a goal, but our goals are smaller yet bigger than that.”
Westhampton Beach will continue to play in League V with Amityville, Comsewogue, county finalist Harborfields, county champion Islip, Miller Place, Rocky Point and Sayville. The Lady Canes began the season on a high note on Monday, defeating Mattituck 46-42 in a non-league home game. Smith scored a team-high 20 points while Miller had 11 and Rongo had eight.
Westhampton Beach played on Wednesday against Newfield and will play its first League V game on Monday, December 19, at Rocky Point at 4 p.m.
“Winning every game is our goal, but that is not always realistic,” Peters said. “Losing some games, especially early in the season, sets a framework for us to build upon and shows us areas where we need improvement. Being able to handle the adversity of wins and losses and staying together as a team is a success within itself, which is definitely an expectation for our team.”
For the first time in three years, there is no drama surrounding the Westhampton Beach boys basketball team.
Three years ago, Devonte Dixon, just a year after helping lead the team back to the playoffs, decided to not return to Westhampton Beach, leaving a big hole in the Hurricanes starting lineup. Then, prior to last season, the Canes were down two players after Collin Carrieri and Emmanuel Clarke, two players expected be big-time starters, went down with season-ending injuries, and Rashaad Mitchell didn’t play due to personal reasons.
The Canes finished 6-12 overall last season.
“Everyone is coming to practice, their chemistry is good, everyone likes each other. It’s all good,” head coach John Baumiller said.
Westhampton Beach has most of its starters returning in junior Jake Gaudiello, an All-League player a season ago, senior Griffin Schulz, junior Nigel Braithwaite Jr. and junior Nolan Quinlan, who is the reigning League V Rookie of the Year. Also returning are seniors Matt Pesce and Dan Neftleberg—who is the team’s tallest player at 6 foot 4 inches—Matt Mazzella, Jake Viera and Alex Tomaro and junior Lukas Budrys. New to the team is senior Tyler Small, his younger brother sophomore Alec Small, junior Jack Tiska and sophomore Simon Brathwaite.
Westhampton Beach plays in a demanding League V where each school is competitive on a nightly basis. Amityville, Comsewogue, Harborfields, Islip, newcomer Miller Place, Rocky Point and Sayville are all tough teams, but Baumiller is confident in his team’s ability.
“I’m hoping that this could be a playoff team,” he said. “I think if we make the playoffs this year we’ll be one of the best in the county next season because we are a young team. But I do think this team can compete with anyone. The kids are showing a lot of enthusiasm to be successful.”
The Canes started the season with a non-league game at cross-town rival Eastport South Manor on Wednesday and they’ll have about a full week until their next game, on Wednesday, December 7, when they play another non-league game at Port Jefferson at 4:30 p.m. Westhampton Beach will begin its league season on Monday, December 19, at Rocky Point at 4 p.m.