By Desirée Keegan
Ward Melville is looking to maintain its competitive edge.
The back-to-back League I title-winning girls basketball team is readying for a new challenge following the loss of senior leaders Taylor Tripptree, Kiera Ramaliu and Hannah Lorenzen, with head coach Bruce Haller.
That’s where veteran Samantha Prahalis comes in. The former WNBA standout, who scored 2,372 points for Commack, the fifth-best total in Long Island girls basketball history, will lead her old high school’s rival team this season. After she steered Ohio State University to four straight NCAA tournaments from 2009 to 2012, she completed a two-year stint for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and played four years professionally in Europe. The 5-foot, 7-inch point guard said she was ready to return to her roots in New York, and decided it was time to give back.
“It’s cool because I can tell them I’ve been in their shoes and I know what they’re going through,” she said. “I’m very lucky to be with a great district, have some great support and some great kids for my first year. I think the best part about coaching for me right now is helping these kids, and its pretty unique, because I can help them in a way maybe others can’t.”
The Patriots are looking forward to learning from Prahalis’ experiences. Ward Melville senior Shannon Brazier said the team’s style of play is already changing.
“She brings a whole new level of style of play and intensity that I think we were all excited to learn,” Brazier said. “Every single one of us have been working hard since the summer to get ready for the season, because it’s a pretty new team, losing most of our starters and getting a new coach, and we’re really proud of the progress we’ve been making, working together.”
Brazier said her coach wants her new team to have a defense that matches its offense.
“It’s no question that in the past we have had really strong shooters and a strong offense in general, but this year she’s been teaching us a lot more about defense and really focusing on this aspect of the game,” Brazier said. “Her emphasis on this side of the game has already started to greatly improve our skills. With a great number of our team graduating a lot of us had to step up and fill in those holes, and I think we’re all doing a good job at that.”
Prahalis agreed, adding she’ll be leaning on Brazier to command the Patriots this season.
“She’s vocal, and probably our best defensive player,” the coach said of one of her two remaining seniors. “She knows where to be, she has really good instincts.”
The team will continue to rely on its speed and hustle in grabbing rebounds and forcing turnovers. With work on the defensive side of the ball, more offense should come.
The other two captains this season will be juniors Noelle Richardson and Lauren Hansen. Rounding out the roster will be juniors Bre Cohn and Lauren Walters, and underclassmen Molly Cronin, Jamie Agostino and Sarah Bucher.
“Lauren is not the most vocal person, but she leads by example,” Prahalis said of Hansen. “I’m asking a lot of her on all sides of the ball and, so far, she’s responded. She’s special — I don’t think a player like her comes around too often. The way she dribbles a ball, her shot, you have to see it to believe it.”
Hansen was one of Ward Melville’s leading scorers last season, Prahalis said, with 22.7 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore and will be big for the team this season if she can repeat these statistics. Prahalis added the now-junior standout has more than just a natural ability.
“She’s skillful, and I think that’s a testament to her work ethic,” the coach said. “You don’t wake up that way. You get that way by being in the gym and working hard.”
Hansen said she’s looking forward to seeing what she can take away from her coach.
“Coach has done everything that I aspire to do, so for me I hang on every word that she says,” said Hansen, who has received offers from Ohio State and the universities of Miami, Georgia and Pittsburgh. “Her experience is something we all look up to and her ability to relate to us as players I think is extremely beneficial to our relationship with her. We all really understand that if we’re going to do any damage this year it’s going to start on the defensive end. I think the girls, myself included, definitely have to step up big this year and mature quickly on the court, but so far they’ve done a great job of that and I think we can hold our own and make a statement this year against top talents on Long Island.”
Samantha Prahalis brings experience
A six-year varsity starter for Commack is calling Division I rival Ward Melville her new home court.
Samantha Prahalis, 27, accepted the coaching job for the Patriots in September after an extended basketball career that included playing for four years at Ohio State University, two years for WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury — as the sixth overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft — and four years professionally in Europe.
“The professional experience was good — I got to play at every level, which is pretty rare, so I’m grateful for that,” said Prahalis, who averaged 15.1 points and 6.8 assists per game over four years at Ohio State, and holds the Big Ten’s career record with 901 assists. “But I’ve been traveling my whole life. I’m a big family person, and I don’t like being overseas for seven months out of the year.”
Previous head coach Bruce Haller stepped down citing scheduling conflicts as a professor at Molloy College.
“I just felt like I’d been through a ton in my career on and off the court that I can help other players who are coming up,” Prahalis said of throwing her hat in the ring. “I didn’t think I would want to coach when I was younger, but while I was overseas I realized I wanted to give it a try. I’m just as determined as I was as a player, but this time around its teaching my kids and helping them and the team succeed. This new chapter of coaching is special to me.”
Ward Melville athletic director Pete Melore said more than just Prahalis’ résumé stood out to him during the interview.
“She never talked about how good she was at basketball,” he said. “What impressed me the most is her humility. It was all about paying it forward.”
He said while Haller was outstanding, he’s hoping Prahalis’ experience playing for multiple coaches at different levels will help her be successful at the helm.
“I think she’s patient, she runs a good practice, but you can see that competitive fire there from when she was a player,” Melore said. “There’s a good knowledge base and she learned a lot overseas. Her goal getting into coaching is all about her giving back to the kids the same positive experience she had as a player.”