Before the season, members of the Ward Melville girls basketball team were asked to do as many push-ups as they could. Lauren Hansen had to stop because she felt embarrassed.
Not because she couldn't do any . . . but because she did too many. "But" she said, "I think I showed I could fit in."
That was the first indication that Hansen, the first eighth-grader to play in the program, would fit on varsity. The latest was Tuesday night, as she led No. 9 Ward Melville to a 71-46 win over No. 8 Smithtown East in the Suffolk Class AA first round.
Hansen is the youngest player on a young team. She starts with Briana Brady, the only senior, and three sophomores: Kiera Ramaliu, Taylor Tripptree and Brooke Pikiell, the daughter of Stony Brook men's basketball coach Steve Pikiell.
Their first player off the bench, Julia Coletti, is a sophomore. The next, Heidi Scarth, is a junior. But she is so academically gifted that she skipped a grade.
So even their junior is a sophomore!
"We knew the talent we had and it didn't matter how young we were as long as we tried our best," Brady said. "We knew we could get to this point."
Hansen had 17 points, including a drive in which she split two defenders and converted a finger roll to open a 30-23 lead in the second. She then intercepted a pass and hit a floater to increase the lead to nine. Kira Sells hit a pair of threes late in the half as the Patriots led 40-30 at the break. Tripptree helped cap a 13-2 run when she kicked it out to Coletti, whose three made it 53-32 with 3:55 left in the third.
"I knew we'd be able to do this if we played together and worked hard," said Tripptree (13 points and 12 rebounds).
Samantha Delaney had 24 points for Smithtown East (11-8).
The Patriots (13-5) play at top-seeded Huntington in the quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. They'll be there thanks in part to Hansen, who joined the team after the district changed a rule during the summer that restricted eighth-graders from playing on varsity. "My teammates took me in like family," Hansen said. "They teach me stuff I've never learned before. They make me feel comfortable."
Except when she's doing push-ups.