That has been the story for the Southampton girls basketball team in League VII over the past two years. The Lady Mariners capped off their second straight undefeated league season last week, beating Mercy, 61-22, in Riverhead on February 5 before beating Mattituck, 64-48, at home two days later.
The Lady Mariners (12-0 in league, 14-3 overall) beat their league foes by an average of more than 23 points per game this year, and they were being generous. Head coach Juni Wingfield routinely sat his starters and used his bench players for big chunks of games this season out of respect to opposing players and coaches.
Southampton will begin what it hopes will be another long playoff run on Tuesday, February 19. The Lady Mariners will play the winner of the Center Moriches/Mattituck semifinal for the Suffolk County Class B Championship at Eastport South Manor High School at 7 p.m. The winner will advance to the Long Island Championship, slated for either March 5 or 6. (The exact date and location have yet to be determined).
The Lady Mariners won both the county and Long Island ‘B’ titles last season before their run came to a screeching halt against eventual state champion Irvington in the Southeast regional final.
The challenge now for Wingfield and his Lady Mariners is staying sharp during what will be a long layoff before they are back on the court. Wingfield said on Monday that he was trying to schedule some scrimmages, and said his team will also focus on keeping its conditioning on track.
“It’s kind of like starting the season again, in my mind,” he explained. “Conditioning becomes paramount. I don’t worry about us losing the ability to shoot, we need to make sure we keep our conditioning at a high level. That’s what tends to atrophy when you have too much time off.”
The win over Mattituck was a bittersweet occasion for the Lady Mariners, as they honored the seven seniors on the team before the game began. Southampton will lose four of its starters to graduation, and most of those players have been on the varsity for nearly their entire careers. Kesi Goree, a six-year varsity player, Paris Hodges, Cassidy Guida, Carley Guida, Dominique Taylor, Kyra Richards and Rashelle Baker are all graduating in the spring. Goree will play for New York Institute of Technology, while Hodges will continue her career at Brandeis University.
“It was a joyful thing for me,” Wingfield said of honoring the seniors. “It’s been wonderful to see these young ladies grow and bring things to completion. I love them from the bottom of my heart. I’ll always remember this group of young women, and I’m sure they’ll have no trouble making people remember them as they move into their adult lives.”
Junior Noelle Hodges showed that she’s ready to step into an even bigger role next season, leading the Lady Mariners with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the win over Mattituck. Goree had 15 points and six rebounds, while Cassidy Guida had 11 points, including three three-pointers, and Paris Hodges had 10 points and four assists.
In the win over Mercy, 10 Southampton players scored, led by Goree with 12 points and Cassidy Guida with 11. Noelle Hodges had nine, Paris Hodges and Taylor had seven each, Natece Willis and Carley Guida each had four points, Baker had three, and Sydney Katz and Richards each had two.
Wingfield had his players practice their zone defense in the win over Mercy in hopes it would help for the future in the playoffs. Southampton typically plays a more aggressive, man-to-man and trapping style of defense, but Wingfield said he wants his team to be adept at both styles of defense. He added that trying to find a balance between keeping his team’s skills sharp but also being respectful of other teams has been a battle for him all season long.
“When you’re outdistancing teams by 17, 18 points per game, you can’t do those things,” Wingfield said, referring to playing the aggressive style of defense. “It gives the appearance of trying to add insult to injury, so I’ve had to pull back.”
The pulling back will end on February 19, however, when the Lady Mariners get to kick it into full gear for what they hope will be a long postseason run.