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Sewanhaka girls basketball's experience should serve the Indians well

Sewanhaka guard Samirah Akinwunmi (5) during the first

Sewanhaka guard Samirah Akinwunmi (5) during the first half of the game at Sewanhaka High School on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Win a title, make history, get back to work.

After capturing the program’s first Nassau and Long Island Class A championships last season, before falling 59-57 to Seton Catholic Central in the state semifinals, Sewanhaka doesn’t want to rest on its laurels. Instead, the Indians, bolstered by a five-senior starting lineup, are working on the little things, refusing to get too far ahead of themselves when it comes to another deep postseason run.

“You can’t just walk into a gym, and say, ‘We were Long Island champs, we went to states, we’re going to win,” said senior forward Mia Weinschreider. “You can’t have a mindset like that. We want to take every game one at a time.”

Weinschreider will be joined this season by fellow returning starter, guard Samirah Akinwunmi, a dominant defensive presence, and forward Nia Lariosa, who averaged 4.6 points and 9.9 rebounds off the bench as a junior. Guards Ashley Vigliotti and Angelica Lazo are also expected to start after seeing significant playing time last year.

The group has been playing together since middle school and Lazo credited that chemistry for giving Sewanhaka a boost of preseason confidence.

“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Lazo said. “We want to build off of that.”

Any championship defense for Sewanhaka starts with its literal, defense. The Indians pride themselves on a full-court, trap-filled attack and coach Alex Soupios said it’s that approach that makes the team believe it’s never out of a game. It’s also how Sewanhaka rallied from an 11-piont deficit in the state semis, bringing the game down to the final possession.

“With their athleticism, they can change the game and cut a lead in minutes,” Soupios said. “It’s offense from your defense. You snap your fingers, and you’re back in a game.”

Sewanhaka has already challenged itself, even before the first official game of the season.

The Indians scrimmaged Syosset, the Nassau Class AA runners-up, and defending CHSAA Class AA champs St. Anthony’s. Soupios said he “wanted to see how those kids would handle adversity,” and lauded the Indians for their ability to answer “the first test in this journey.”

“If it’s any indication the way that they’ve played so far, and if they can stay committed and focused, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out,” Soupios said.

Vigliotti admitted there’s “a little” pressure on the Indians’ shoulders this season, treading unfamiliar waters as reigning champs, and there are plenty of teams looking to unseat them. Manhasset, Wantagh and Floral Park all finished strong last year, while Bellmore JFK’s Cameron Montalbano can jumpstart a game after averaging 20.3 points as a sophomore.

Island Trees, which fell to Sewanhaka in the Nassau A semis, is also primed to contend, led by senior Brianna Fitzgerald. The 5-9 guard averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds last season and Soupios said she “can take over a game.”

Class AA

Baldwin is looking for lucky number seven.

The Bruins won the program’s sixth straight Nassau AA title last season, with a 58-53 victory over Syosset, and have their sights on another this winter, led by senior forward Elena Randolph. A five-year varsity player, Randolph started every game last year and can guard all five positions, according to coach Tom Catapano. She’ll be joined by freshman Dallyssha Morena, a 6-foot presence in the post who is expected to start after serving as Baldwin’s sixth man last year.

Multisport standout Kendall Halpern and three-year varsity players Lilah Grubman and Caroline Ruggiero highlight an experienced Syosset roster. Halpern, one of the top defenders in Nassau, also averaged 14 points and five assists last year.

Freeport, Farmingdale and East Meadow are also hoping to compete for a championship this season.

Class B/C

It’s all in the family for Carle Place as sisters Erin, Amanda and Caitlin Leary will play big-time roles for the five-time defending Class B champs. Erin, a junior, can do it all, per coach Connor Reardon, and averaged a double-double (16 ppg, 10 rpg) last season. Amanda, a sophomore runs the offense at point. Caitlin, an eighth grader, adds another scoring threat for the Frogs.

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