His voice hoarse from patrolling the sideline during an intense few days of scrimmages, Northport girls basketball coach Rich Castellano offered a simplistic view of his team.
“We’re not going to lose like that again,” Castellano said, referencing the 49-43 loss to No. 14 Brentwood in the first round of Suffolk’s Class AA playoffs last season. “We’re not going to get upset again. It went through the spring and summer and fall league, and now we’re starting over.”
Then the No. 3 seed, Northport was lauded as a serious contender for the Suffolk crown, which was eventually won by Commack.
Senior guard Hannah Stockman is ready to rewrite the narrative.
“I’ve been playing on this team for five years, and I’ve never made it past the second round of playoffs,” Stockman, who averaged 17.2 points last season, said. “I think this year if we do — I mean, when we do — it would mean so much to us.”
Stockman and junior guard Danielle Pavinelli both stand 5-10, a benefit for a versatile Tigers team that should also receive contributions from Kerry Dennin, Shea Cronin, Leah Morawski, Kelly McLaughlin and Alexa Gentile, a transfer from Manhasset. Freshmen Sophia Bica and Sophia Yearwood add to the team’s depth.
“I hope that we are the team that people look out for,” Pavinelli said.
Castellano, who has coached Northport since 1979, said the energy of Gentile and the passion of Pavinelli could be keys to winning the program’s first title since it won three straight from 2004-06.
“You add Danielle, who has the fire,” he said. “She’s a refuse-to-lose type of girl. She’s a sore loser, which is good. She’s very, very tough. She makes us go.”
Playing in Suffolk II, Northport plays a competitive league schedule against the likes of Whitman, Half Hollow Hills East and Riverhead, among others. The Tigers have scrimmaged Sachem North, Sachem East, Brentwood and Commack, the who’s who of Suffolk Class AA girls basketball, along with Ward Melville, Longwood and North Babylon.
It’s all geared toward preparing the team for a rigorous postseason run.
“Of all the years I’ve been doing it, these girls look like winners,” Castellano said. “They have that swagger of being winners. We haven’t won anything yet, so they have to back it up.”
Longwood coach James Castiglione offered a case for his Lions team that boasts significant talent but came up short last winter, losing to No. 12 Ward Melville as the No. 4 seed, 49-40, in a Suffolk Class AA quarterfinal.
Nyia Longford and Janelle Brown provide just the type of punch Longwood could use to vie for the Suffolk I crown.
“Between our defense, multiple shooters and scorers, I think a lot of teams will be hard-pressed to beat us this year,” Castiglione said.
Hauppauge won the Suffolk Class A championship last season as the No. 6 seed, and with Lauren Romito and others returning, the Eagles are in good position to defend their title.
But Mount Sinai, undefeated until the loss to Hauppauge in the championship, returns standout scorer Gabby Sartori, who averaged 21 points per game. Go-to defender Brooke Cergol also returns.
Class A is a deep classification with several contenders, including Eastport-South Manor, Kings Park, Harborfields and West Babylon, among others.
Mattituck, the three-time defending champs, graduated its entire starting lineup . . . but so did Babylon. This is a wide-open race in which a number of teams have legitimate cases.
Pierson/Bridgehampton plays in Suffolk VI with the Class B schools and competes with the higher classification on a nightly basis. Much of its starting lineup returns, headlined by guard Katie Kneeland.