Zhaneia Thybulle and Elmont have been here before — twice in the past two seasons — but this year’s Nassau A semifinal was anything but a guarantee.
In addition to being another marker along a familiar playoff run, the playoff at LIU Post served as a challenging wake-up call, showing what it takes to return to a championship game for the second consecutive year. After being down 10-2, the alarm bells went off, the team responded and the No. 1 Spartans took a 56-47 victory over No. 4 Seaford on Saturday.
“At halftime, we went back, [coach Tom Magno] was like, ‘It’s not over, the game is not over, we have to keep pushing,’ ” Thybulle said. “I looked at my teammates and was like ‘let’s go get it.’ ”
After taking its third lead of the game just before halftime, Elmont (21-1) never let the advantage slip away again. The Vikings (19-3) got within one early in the fourth quarter, but Elmont answered with a 10-2 run of its own as the game wound down.
“That’s what we wanted,” said Thybulle, who had 21 points. “We just wanted to win and everybody to try to play their hardest.”
The Spartans fell to Floral Park in last year’s Nassau championship and lost in this game two years ago.
“We’ve been here before, so we had to remind ourselves that we’ve been here before and we have to keep pushing,” said Kem Nwabudu, who had 13 points and grabbed important rebounds.
Early on, it was Seaford controlling the pace, with Julia Siler running the point, Ally Palermo putting in athletic floaters and Jaclyn Grzelaszyk (18 points) providing consistent post play. Then Elmont came rushing back behind shots from Gigi Faison (nine points) and Thybulle.
The achievement of holding a lead for an entire half wasn’t lost on Nwabudu or Thybulle. They’ve been playing together for three years and have seen the team’s rise to a new level each season. Next Saturday at Hofstra, they’ll face the winner of No. 2 North Shore versus No. 3 Sewanhaka, looking to keep the trend going.
“The first time we were here, we got to the semifinals and we lost. Tenth grade, we got to the finals and we lost,” Nwabudu said. “So our team each year is stepping up higher and higher and higher. Hopefully, we get to the finals and keep winning.”