In a showcase outside the gym at Central Islip High School, there’s a photograph of a girls basketball team that won a county title.
“Oh my gosh, it’s so dusty,” said Aysha Shirley, Central Islip’s captain. “It’s so outdated. It’s almost like they are playing on a dirt court and their sneakers look like wrestling shoes.”
Yeah, the photo was taken a really, really long time ago. In 1935, to be exact.
Flash photography has come a long way since then. As have the court and the team’s footwear. There just haven’t been many photo opportunities for Central Islip’s girls basketball team, which won its only other county title in 1960. But for the first time in a long time, the Musketeers are playing like championship contenders. Or better yet, playing like a team that wants its photo on display. And this one would be in color!
With a 47-40 win over Whitman on Thursday, the Musketeers improved to 12-1, matching their win total from the previous three seasons combined. How have they made such a drastic turnaround?
“It’s simple,” Central Islip coach Paul Venturi said. “These girls bought into playing all year. When you get a group of girls that come in and play for a couple of months and don’t work on their game, we can’t play at the same level as Northport. When I saw these girls in the summer league, I was like, ‘Wow, we’re going to be pretty good. This could be special.’ ”
And it has been. An up-tempo team featuring an abundance of ballhandlers, shooters and strong on-the-ball defenders, the Musketeers sit atop League II and are in position to contend for the program’s first league championship. This after finishing 4-13 last season.
“It’s really satisfying,” said Shirley, a senior who has been on varsity since she was a freshman. “This year finally, my senior year, we are winning, and this is what I always expected it to be but didn’t realize how long it was going to take or if it was ever going to come. But we have pushed each other and overcome every obstacle that has been put in front of us.”
Helping them overcome the obstacles has been Chanel Taylor, who transferred back to Central Islip after spending her sophomore season at St. Anthony’s. A guard with great range, she is averaging a team-best 19.2 points per game.
If someone had told her that Central Islip would be a county title contender, what might her reaction have been?
“I wouldn’t have believed it that much,” Taylor said. “But when I saw how well we worked together, I would have started to believe. We never were really a team expected to be good, and now we’re getting people’s attention. We are feeling confident in ourselves and we just have to stay humble and keep winning.”
The Musketeers already have defeated Northport, a team they lost to by an average margin of 31 points per game in the previous three seasons. They also beat perennial power Copiague, whom they’ll host tomorrow in a game that could determine the league champion.
Shirley, a defensive stopper, credits the turnaround to the team’s chemistry. Naabea Assibey-Bonsu has been a consistent scorer. Lore’yonah Narvaez has proved to be an all-around talent. Anhya Jenkins has helped control the paint. Alexis Jackson has provided instant offense off the bench with her three-point shooting ability.
And they are all inspired by that dusty, reddish-brown sepia-toned photo of the championship team from 81 years ago.
“That picture is a big motivation for us,” Shirley said. “We want to bring some good news to our school, make everyone feel the CI spirit and put a 2016 on the banner. So when we see that photo, it pushes us. We want our photo in that case.”