West Babylon's Lacey Downey throws a pass in the second quarter...

West Babylon's Lacey Downey throws a pass in the second quarter during the Suffolk Class A girls basketball final against East Islip on Feb. 26, 2022 at Newfield. Credit: Bob Sorensen

There isn't one specific way to play the guard position on a basketball court. It’s one of the most freeing positions in sports, where the ball is often in your hands and you control what happens next.

Some guards want to pass and create, while others want to drive the basket. Some spend countless hours working on elite dribbling, while others may try and perfect the three-point shot.

But one trait that’s universal for the best guards around, is competitiveness.

When a team is in need of a defining basket, a coach will draw up a play that either begins or ends — oftentimes both — with one of their guards. Long Island girls basketball is no exception.

"As a guard, especially a point guard, you have the most important role on the court,” said Lacey Downey, a 2021-22 Newsday All-Long Island selection from West Babylon. “In a time of need, they are going to put the ball in your hands.”

That’s exactly what Downey wants — and she’s not alone. Every great guard wants to be the one to decide a game’s fate, even though sometimes it won’t always end in a good way. That ballhandler can turn the ball over, or miss a shot, but good or bad, the top players want to control the outcome of the contest. That’s because more often than not, they believe they’ll make the right play.

“Pressure is a privilege. That’s what my coach always says,” said Downey, who led the Eagles to their first Long Island Class A championship last season. “The better players are going to have the ball in their hands at the end of games and most of the time, that’s the guards. So just to have that privilege of always being the person your coach turns to and knowing you don’t want to let down your team is definitely something that’s very important to me.”

There are many guards on Long Island that portray those game-changing characteristics, and they each have their own ways of controlling a game. Here are Newsday’s rankings of the top 10 guards on Long Island.

KAYLEIGH HECKEL, Long Island Lutheran

Heckel transferred to LuHi after averaging nearly 40 points for Port Chester High School in Westchester County last season. The 5-9 junior is generating Division I interest and has showcased the ability to take over a game with her scoring, but says she mostly enjoys running and setting up others.

“I think I play with a pass-first mentality,” Heckel said. “I like to push the ball in transition and find my teammates running in transition. I like to get them easy baskets and be able to play up-tempo.”

But one of the attributes that makes Heckel so special is her ability to adjust within a game. If her team needs her to score, that’s what she’ll do. If it’s to create or play tough defense, she’s perfectly content with that role.

“Being able to make the right decision is the big thing,” Heckel said. “Being willing to give up the ball is a big thing, but I know I have the ability to score, too. So if my team is in need of a basket, I can get that for them.”

SYLA SWORDS, Long Island Lutheran

Swords has already shared the court with the top players in her country. Despite only being a junior in high school, she was invited to the Team Canada senior women's national team camp this year. Her father, Shawn, also played for the Canadian national team, and Swords said it’s been a lifelong goal to do the same.

“It was amazing because you have a whole country behind you and your country’s name on your chest,” Swords said. “You know you are representing more than just yourself, more than just your family name. The culture was amazing and being on the world stage is a dream.

Swords, a 6-0 junior guard receiving high Division I interest, transferred to LuHi this year and is a tough, physical defender who can also finish at the rim and score from beyond the arc.

LACEY DOWNEY, West Babylon

Downey is one of the top overall athletes on Long Island. She is ranked as one of the top lacrosse players in her class and is a standout field hockey player. Those skills translate on the hardwood, as she averaged 19.8 points and five steals last season.

Downey, who is committed to play lacrosse at Boston College, credits her skills in other sports for her basketball success.

“Just having the ability to be agile, that comes from field hockey and lacrosse,” Downey said. “But the most important thing in every sport is having fun. For me especially, if I’m not having fun, I’m not going to play well. If I’m not happy, I’m not going to play as well as I can.”

TAYLOR BARBOT, St. Mary’s

Taylor and her twin sister, Taryn, form one of the best backcourt combinations on Long Island. And certainly one of the best sibling duos seen in the area in a long time.

Taylor averaged eight points, eight assists and four rebounds as the offensive facilitator, while battling some injuries last season for the defending state CHSAA AA champions.

Taylor, a 5-8 senior committed to play at the College of Charleston, is a leader and a pass-first point guard. She likes being able to see her teammates get involved in the scoring.

“The game is more fun when everybody’s scoring and not just one person,” she said. “If everyone gets buckets and everyone scores, they feel more into it and even play better defense.”

Taylor Barbot, left, and Taryn Barbot of St. Mary's.

Taylor Barbot, left, and Taryn Barbot of St. Mary's. Credit: Dawn McCormick

TARYN BARBOT, St. Mary’s

At 5-10, Taryn is more of the scoring guard of the Barbot twins. She averaged 18.8 points, eight rebounds and three assists for the defending state CHSAA AA champions, including 19 points, 18 rebounds and six assists in the state final.

Taryn, who will be playing at the College of Charleston with Taylor, said the fact they have different playing styles helps them coexist on the court.

“I think I play more aggressive and stronger and I’m more of a scoring guard from all levels,” Taryn said. “I feel if we had the same play style, it would be harder to play together.”

OLIVIA AGUNZO, Division

Agunzo has displayed the ability to take over the game as a scorer from the point guard position in recent years. She averaged 26 points last season, made 60 three-pointers and had a 40-point game against Carle Place.

Olivia Agunzo, one of Newsday's Top 100 girls basketball players, helped Division capture a county title last season. Now one of only two seniors on the team, she's hoping to do it again. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports from Levittown.  Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The 5-7 senior is committed to play at Saint Leo University and thrives on competition.

“That’s the best part,” Agunzo said. “Just being able to compete with other people and trust in yourself to score on this person. They can be a great defender but we may need a basket and you know you need to score right there.”

KIRINA AZEMAR, Westbury

She is a dynamic scorer, who averaged 23 points, three assists and five steals last season. Azemar is a great finisher at the rim.

CAYLEE DeMEO, Carey

She is committed to play softball at UConn, but DeMeo is also dominant on the hardwood. She averaged 22.6 points, eight rebounds and five assists last season.

Clockwise, from top left: Kirina Azemar of Westbury (formerly of...

Clockwise, from top left: Kirina Azemar of Westbury (formerly of Holy Trinity), Caylee DeMeo of Carey, Kayla Gilmore of Floyd, Abbey Loiacono of Smithtown Christian.

ABBEY LOIACONO, Smithtown Christian

The five-year starter led Suffolk in scoring last season with 29.8 points per game.

KAYLA GILMORE, Floyd

The three-sport athlete contributes in every facet of the game. She recorded a quadruple double during a contest last season and averaged 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and eight steals.