Youthful Sewanhaka makes statement


Two eighth-grade starters and a sophomore added up to surprising success for the Sewanhaka girls’ basketball team. 

Its season ended in the second round of the county tournament last Saturday to juggernaut Lynbrook, 61-30, but not before head coach Alex Soupios’ group did the 2022-23 season proud. 

After qualifying for the playoffs following a 12-10 record and 6-6 in Conference A2, Sewanhaka beat Clarke, 41-25, in the first round Feb. 16 in rallying from a 6-point halftime deficit. 

“If you told me I’d start two eighth graders and a sophomore and not just get in the playoffs but win a playoff game and end up playing one of top teams in county, I’d would’ve taken that in a second,’’ Soupios said. “I feel very grateful these girls worked as hard as they did and put themselves in this position. 

“They’ve come long way since November. We gained a lot of confidence and experience that will make us a stronger team in the future.’’

Soupios is in his 17th season at Sewanhaka and won the Long Island championship in 2019 when the club went to the state final four. But this year he really wasn’t sure what might happen after coming off a dreadful 3-15 season in which Covid-19 ravaged the roster. 

But eighth graders Nayeli Rivera and Alexi Stewart – and their most improved player in sophomore Janiya Grant - made mostly good things happen. The Indians reeled off six straight wins to start the season and wound up fourth in rugged A2.

An outside shooter, Stewart averaged 9.8 points. Rivera, playing the toughest position for a young player in point guard, recorded 8.7 points, 4 assists 6 rebounds. They each received All-County Honorable Mention. 

 “She controlled the pace of the team and broke the pressure,’’ Soupios said of Rivera. “They both got invaluable experience.’ 

Yet when discussing the season, Soupios gets even more revved up talking about Grant, a 5-10 volleyball player who considered basketball an afterthought. She used to go to open gyms in 8th grade to tag along with her older sister, Kyla, who played on varsity. Janiya joined the team as a freshman but barely played in 2021-22. 

She has now changed her trajectory and has a probable All-County future after earning All-Conference this winter. Her best performance was against Kennedy when she put up 17 points and 10 rebounds on Jan. 18.

“She’s got unlimited athleticism,’’ Soupios said. “She just needed to learn how to play the game. Last year she didn’t get in for us.  She’s learned the game, especially her footwork, and I started her. 

“The sky is the limit,’’ Soupios added. “I can’t wait to see the next couple of years with Janiya Grant.’’

  Another standout was co-captain center Jada Brown, who moves on after a graceful senior season, erasing last year's sickly campaign. In particular, Brown did well against mighty Lynbrook in breaking the press and keeping it close through the first quarter when the Indians trailed by 6.  (Lynbrook scored 29 points in the second period to blow open the game.) 

Mekayla Moreau was the other notable senior on this team that has bountiful potential in 2023-24. Add backup sophomore point guard Thalia Fowler, an adept ballhandler.

“We were young but had a good season nonetheless,’’ Brown said. “Being in the playoffs was a tribute to our hard work. I’m glad I experienced the playoffs and I’m excited to see how my team does next year and in the future.’’