Whitman girls basketball writes new chapter, upsets Commack

Whitman girls basketball writes new chapter, upsets Commack

Haley Loscalzo drives to the basket against Grace Davis of Whitman. Photo by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

Author Walt Whitman was the quintessential influencer of the mid-19th century. His pioneering style of poetry opened a new genre of American literature and 200 years later, his body of work is still beloved worldwide.

After the Suffolk County girls basketball class AAA title game last Sunday, rumors again are swirling that Whitman himself coined the time-tested sports phrase ‘defense wins championships’. Whether he penned this pearl of wisdom or not, his namesake high school in West Hills authored another example of why it always rings true.

In defeating the previously unbeaten Commack Lady Cougars, the Walt Whitman Lady Wildcats (19-3) won their second consecutive Suffolk County championship by a score of 45-36 at the Brookhaven Gymnasium in Selden on March 3.

“Winning consecutive championships is awesome,” said Whitman’s perennial all-Suffolk point guard Iris Hoffman. “We knew we had a target on our back coming into the season and we were able to deal with the pressure. To be able to come out on top is a great feeling.”

At the start of this one, both sides were noticably feeling the pressure. Turnovers, air balls and tie-ups were much more prevalent than balls in baskets and the score after one quarter was just 6-3 in favor of Whitman. 

In fact, in the entire first half Commack (22-1), who came into the game averaging 53 points a night in their unblemished 22-win season, had four total field goals. Three of these were early 3-pointers from fellow all-county player Sofia Vasselman. The Cougars did not have a two-point field goal until Mia McBrien hit a layup with 45 seconds to go in the first half.

Despite the unfamiliar offensive anemia for Commack, they trailed by only five at 19-14 after the first half. 

Freshman Wildcat forward Jazmynn Julien was a huge part of keeping Commack from executing their offensive game plan. Despite only registering two points, Julien ‘s impact on the outcome was enormous. She was buzzing all around the court on the defensive end, chasing down loose balls, altering shots, and keeping Vasselman and her teammates away from their comfortable spots on the floor.

“Jazmynn is an elite defender,” said Whitman head coach Daniel Trebour. “She can contain, pressure, and disrupt without much help from the others. It’s crazy to think that as a freshman she has that kind of blend of defensive skill and intensity. She definitely forced Commack into some tough situations.” 

“I knew I had to deny [Vasselman] a little more and stay close so she wouldn’t shoot it,” said Julien, who had four steals, four rebounds and one blocked shot. “I’m used to guarding really good players so it wasn’t much of a task for me.”

The task for Commack was made more daunting as Cougar point guard Sienna Olivares picked up her fourth foul in the first minute of the third quarter. Olivares, Commack’s floor general and offensive facilitator, would take a seat on the bench and watch her teammates go scoreless for a six-minute stretch in that quarter.

When Hoffman picked the pocket of Commack sophomore Gianna Solch and took it upcourt for a layup, the Wildcats would go up by 10 with 1:30 to go in the third. They would increase it to 13 by the start of the fourth.

A long-range bomb from Vasselman, who finished with a game-high 20, and two free throws from Olivares cut the lead to eight with 4:32 remaining in the game. But Whitman senior guard Kallie Eichner, who had been scoreless, slashed through the lane and hit a running, left-handed layup to put the Wildcat lead back at double digits. The lead would bounce between eight and ten for the rest of the game as Vasselman’s well of 3-pointers would finally run dry. 

Kathleen O’Mara, who led Whitman with 16 points, scored her team’s final field goal of the game. It came with 92 seconds remaining and was the final, fatal blow to the Cougars’ championship dream. 

After a slew of time-outs and free throws, the clock finally read 0:00, and a bouncing, burgundy and white celebration ensued at center court for the second year in a row. In each of these championship games, Whitman was not favored to win.

“Being an underdog is definitely a motivator,” said Hoffman, who had 11 points and seven assists. Regardless of our seed, we can never be ruled out because the playoffs are a whole different stage. We work harder to prove that we deserve to be here and to win.” 

One more of those wins – against Syosset on March 10 – and the Lady Wildcats will earn a trip to the New York State Championship. And who knows how much celebrating and singing of themselves they’ll do when that tournament comes to a conclusion.