By Gavin Menu
A new head coach and a strong senior class have brought new energy to the Pierson girls basketball program as the Lady Whalers will look to an up-tempo style of play with hopes of contending for a League VIII title and a return to the Suffolk County Class C playoffs for an eighth consecutive year.
Kevin Barron, a high school biology teacher who coached the school’s junior varsity team for the last three years, has replaced Dennis Case as head coach and will be gifted during his rookie year with a deep line-up of returning players that includes eight seniors.
The Lady Whalers finished 8-11 last year and advanced to the postseason before falling to Southold in the Class C final, having won a semifinal game against Port Jefferson. Pierson’s 46-19 defeat in the final game was accentuated by the loss of four key players who were traveling during the winter break.
But with that experience to build on, Barron believes this year’s team can return to the playoffs and has the ability to win games once it gets there. He said his approach to coaching will be to run an up-tempo style of game designed to “push every team to the limit” in terms of fast-breaking and pressure defense.
“I think we’re looking to play intense defensively, and then, hopefully, a lot of our offense is going to come from that,” Barron said before practice on Monday as the team prepared for its non-league season opener this Friday, November 30 at Westhampton Beach. “The leadership and having a deep bench is what I like best about this team.”
Returning seniors include Rachel Saidman, Maricarmen Chavez, Emily Hinz, Abby Ruiz, Julia Schiavoni, Sydnee Mckie-Senior and Holly Zappola. Jenna Chase, who played junior varsity two years ago but took her junior year off from basketball, also decided to return, which Barron called a “pleasant surprise,” especially given how well she has played early on.
The junior class features some of the best athletes in the school, including Bridget Canavan, who was the leading scorer on last year’s team. May Evjen, Ashley Nill, Eilis Sheil are also returning juniors and all will be key contributors, according to Barron.
Kasey Gilbride, a standout field hockey player who did not play as a sophomore last year but has decided to come out again this season, is a “huge pick up,” according to Baron, who believes Gilbride’s athleticism and intensity will provide energy and defensive pressure off the bench.
Erica Selyukova was one of the leading scorers on JV last season as an eighth-grader and will now be a key component to the varsity squad as a freshman.
“She was one of the most dedicated players in the off-season,” Barron said, “and she’s been doing great so far.”
Junior Katherine Matthers, a junior who suffered serious knee injuries during each of the last two basketball seasons, will not play this year but will continue on with the program as team manager.
“She comes to every practice and every game and is a great leader,” Barron said about Matthers.
Following Friday’s game at Westhampton Beach, the Lady Whalers will return home for another non-league game against McGann-Mercy on Monday, December 3 at 6:15 p.m. Two more non-league games on the road at Centereach and Bayport-Blue Point will be followed by the team’s league opener at the Ross School on December 14.
“The top competition in the league is going to be Southold again and Port Jefferson,” Barron said. “But we haven’t won a non-league game in a couple of years so our first goal is to win a couple of those.”