Ava Salti can’t remember the first time she met Remi Sisselman. The two have lived around the corner from each other in Dix Hills for years, with Salti frequently passing Sisselman’s house when she goes on runs. For the past two seasons, they have played on different high school basketball teams, Salti at Half Hollow Hills East and Sisselman making her name as one of the top players on Long Island at Portledge in Locust Valley.
Early this summer, when comparing class schedules for the upcoming school year, Salti, a senior, noticed something strangely familiar about Sisselman’s new list – they looked like some of the same classes she had taken.
Then it hit her.
Sisselman was back.
“I said, ‘Wait, what are you talking about?’ “ Salti recalled. “She said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m coming here.’ I think I ran around the gym, like, four times because when you get a player like that, holy moly, it’s crazy.”
After two successful years at Portledge, where she averaged 15 points per game last season, and a heavy college recruitment period about to kick into the highest of gears, Sisselman chose to transfer back to her home district for her junior year. She wanted to play for Half Hollow Hills East coach Adam Cirnigliaro, who has coached her in some capacity since she was in sixth grade, mainly as the coach of her AAU team, the Long Island Renegades.
“As we got deep into AAU season, I realized that he [could] continue to build and develop me as a player and constantly expand my game and my skills,” Sisselman said. “I wanted to stay with him and this school is a little bit more competitive basketball-wise, so I decided to come back.”
But it wasn’t just basketball. Sisselman said that the travel to and from Locust Valley had begun to take a toll. With a normal Portledge basketball practice ending at 7:30 p.m., she often wouldn’t get home until nearly 8:30 p.m. She would then have to do homework, not getting to bed before 1 or 2 a.m., all to wake up at 6 a.m. and do it all over again. Now, a normal Half Hollow Hills East practice ends at 6:30 p.m., and she lives 10 minutes away.
“I’ll be more energized with more sleep,” she said. “I think it will be great.”
Sisselman, who stands 6-0 and plays guard, attended West Hollow Middle School in the Half Hollow Hills School District and played on the Half Hollow Hills East varsity team in the eighth grade. After eighth grade, Sisselman said she wanted a change “socially” and decided to begin high school at Portledge. She watched as the basketball program at the private school changed around her and got more competitive between her freshman and sophomore years.
“It was easily the toughest decision I’ve ever made,” Sisselman said of leaving Portledge. “Academics-wise, Portledge was great. It was an awesome environment. I loved all my friends, teachers, everything."
Entering this season, Sisselman had scored 959 points and, according to Cirnigliaro, is the most highly recruited public school player on Long Island. Sisselman estimates that she already has offers from 20 colleges, including Villanova, St. John’s, Virginia Tech, Bucknell and Columbia. She’s hoping to make her final decision in June or July.
“What makes her really tough is how versatile she is,” Cirnigliaro said. “She’s becoming an outstanding three-point shooter ... At her size, she’s able to get to the basket, so she can take bigger people to the basket. She can post up, defend, do a little bit of everything. I think that’s what makes colleges so interested in her. She’s just so hard to guard.”
But, before she can get to college, Sisselman will look to dominate Suffolk and bring Half Hollow Hills East their first county title and Long Island championship.
“I think, as much as we’ve never seen a player like her, the teams that we are going to play against haven’t seen anything like her either,” Salti said. “So, I’m interested to see how they’re going to guard her. Are you going to have to go box and 1? I don’t know how you stop her.”
In League III, Half Hollow Hills East will have to compete with Northport and Copiague. Northport returns Danielle Pavinelli, who is 5-9, averaged nearly 12 points per game last season, and is going to Florida on a full lacrosse scholarship. Kelly McLaughlin and Kerry Dennin are both playing basketball at SUNY-Geneseo next year. Copiague is led by Lanyah Ford, who averaged 15.2 points and eight rebounds per game last season.
In Suffolk Class AA, Half Hollow Hills East will have to go through Longwood, the defending Long Island champions who return Fairfield commit Janelle Brown. Brown averaged 14 points, five assists, and four steals per game last season.
Newsday's top 10 teams
3. Long Island Lutheran
4. St. Anthony’s
6. Half Hollow Hills East
8. Island Trees
10. St. John the Baptist