Without size, the Patriots will sprint into battle this season.
The Ward Melville girls’ basketball team lost height in graduating senior Heidi Scarth and junior Brooke Pikiell. Pikiell moved, following her father — former Stony Brook men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell — taking a head coach position at Rutgers University.
Now that no Patriot will be over 5 feet, 9 inches, speed and pressure on the court will be the name of Ward Melville’s game.
“We’ll have to work on neutralizing [taller players] on the boards with good fundamentals and keeping those [taller players] on the middle of the court with a full-court press and pressure defense,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said. “If we’re good at keeping games in transition, I think we have a chance to be very successful this year.”
Co-captain Kiera Ramaliu said that to achieve that, the team is working on executing plays on both sides of the court to remain a contender.
“Our team is a more guard-based team, but we’re working on transition every day,” she said. “Speed is definitely one of the main things we rely on, but we still get a lot of rebounds, even though we’re short. We also all have a really good outside shot — there are six or seven of us who can bang down threes so easily. We can draw on attack really well, our kick-outs are great and we don’t just rely on speed.”
Last season, the No. 1 Patriots lost in the Suffolk County quarterfinals. Despite the upset to Sachem, which Ward Melville had outscored two times in the regular season, Haller likes what he’s seeing.
“We have exceptional three-point shooters and exceptional ball handlers and defenders that are going to have to play selflessly, continue to develop chemistry and force the other teams to play at the speed we want to play,” Haller said. “There’s no secret here. Anyone who looks at our roster knows how we’re going to play the game.”
But what opponents haven’t seen for a season is sophomore guard Lauren Hansen — an All-Conference player who led the team in points as an eighth grader. She was out last year following ankle surgery, but made every practice and watched each game from the bench.
“If she stays healthy, Lauren will be one of the best point guards in Suffolk County,” Haller said. “She’s been playing well so far, and it’ll be great to have her. I think we have one of the best perimeter teams in Suffolk County — her strength adds to what already was our strength.”
Those strengths are speed, aggression and her outside shot, according to Ramaliu.
“Having her out, it did hurt us, but we did also have the height then,” she said. “Now that we’ve lost that, we need Lauren out there shooting threes, bringing up the balls. She’s one of our main point guards this year and I think she’ll be an impact player.”
Hansen said she is looking forward to getting back on the court.
“Since I’ve already created chemistry with them, it makes it easier to come out and play,” she said. “Every day, we’re playing better and better together; we know each other well enough that we know where we’re going to go on the court and we flow from offense to defense.”
She’ll be looking to seniors Ramaliu and co-captain Taylor Tripptree, whose toughness, shooting ability, and leadership skills help steer the team in the right direction, Hansen said.
Commanding the 18-2 Patriots last season was Tripptree, with 262 points on 69 free throws, 62 field goals and 23 three-pointers. Ramaliu ended the season with 164 points on 39 field goals, 29 free throws and 19 three-pointers; and junior guard Julia Coletti tacked on 165 team points off 35 field goals, 25 three-pointers and 20 free throws.
Chemistry, according to senior forward Tripptree, will bring the team further into the postseason.
“Practice is good — we are getting into a groove,” she said. “Our team has good chemistry since we all basically have been playing together for two or more years. We also have young girls who will work hard and be tough on the court at all times.”
Ward Melville opens the season with a nonleague game against Central Islip Dec. 4 at 1 p.m.
“We came up short last season. We have something to prove and we’re looking to go further this season,” Hansen said. “We want to finish what we started.”