Bellmore JFK’s Cameron Montalbano has an appreciation for the lightning-fast nature of sports.
One moment, she was going up for a rebound on Jan. 13 against Carey. The next moment wasn’t too good for the Cougars junior.
“When I rolled [my right ankle] I felt a crunch,” Montalbano said. “I thought, ‘I’m done. This is the end of my season.' "
Montalbano had to be carried to the Bellmore JFK bench.
“I was bawling,” she said. “I wasn’t ready for my season to end like that.”
An X-ray revealed no serious damage, but Montalbano said a doctor told her she had a Grade 3 sprain. She missed the next three games and “came back later than I wanted to come back.”
But the Cougars guard/forward came back in a major way, especially in the playoffs. Montalbano -- Newsday’s Athlete of the Week -- had a game-high 33 points as No. 13 Bellmore JFK earned a 64-60 road win in a Nassau Class A second-round game against No. 4 Division on Feb. 20. She added 19 points and six rebounds as the Cougars defeated No. 12 Sewanhaka, 56-47, on Tuesday. Bellmore JFK had lost twice against Sewanhaka -- the defending Nassau and Long Island Class A champion -- during the regular season.
“That win meant everything to the team, to me, and my coach [Mallory Freely] who hadn’t won against [Sewanhaka] in her four years,” Montalbano said. “We were ready to win. The third time's the charm.”
It seems like Montalbano is a charm, especially on offense, for Bellmore JFK (16-7).
"She basically takes the ball and makes magic happen . . . . and the girls feed off that,” Freely said. “ We haven’t seen this kind of talent in Bellmore-Merrick.”
They also haven’t had this kind of girls basketball season at Bellmore JFK ever. Freely said the Cougars had never reached the quarterfinals round in program history until this season. Bellmore JFK's season ended on Saturday with a 46-25 loss to top-seeded Floral Park in the Nassau Class A semifinals. Montalbano had nine points.
Montalbano averaged 20.7 points per game this season and, according to Freely, was a big reason for the Cougars’ success. Montalbano said her AAU coach, Marc Von Essen, helped her with her signature mid-range jump shot. She also credits her parents, Carla (who played volleyball and ran track in high school in California) and Matthew (a Bellmore JFK wrestler and Class of 1983 graduate) for her love of sports, including swimming and soccer.
But Montalbano quickly concentrated on volleyball and basketball as she grew older. She has been an outside hitter on the Cougars' varsity volleyball team since eighth grade and played varsity hoops in ninth grade. The two-time All-County basketball standout said her time on the bench while recovering from her ankle injury gave her a unique perspective.
“It showed me,” Montalbano said, “that everyone has an important role on court.”
Which can sometimes change in a hurry.