A staple for Sewanhaka during its run to the Nassau Class A girls’ basketball championship game was its ability to jump out to an early lead. So, when the Lady Indians fell behind No. 3 Wantagh by 10 points early in last Sunday’s final at Farmingdale State College, they were in unfamiliar territory.
For a lesser group, this may have brought about panic, but this is no ordinary basketball team. No. 4 Sewanhaka shook off early game jitters, caught fire in the second half, and came away with a convincing 62-46 victory to capture the program’s first-ever county title.
Carly Bolivar scored a game-high 26 points and point guard Flo Hunte finished with 19 to lead the way. Senior Caitln Albanese led Wantagh with 13. Sewanhaka (18-5), which has won 15 of its last 16, will take on Suffolk champion Mount Sinai at noon this Saturday at Farmingdale. The winner advances to the New York State Final Four.
Bolivar, who missed the team’s semifinal upset victory over No.1 Island Trees with an illness, came off the bench and was relentless. “I hadn’t played for five days, but I knew that this could possibly be my last game,” Bolivar said. “I had to give it everything I had. We’ve played together for so long. It feels unbelievable to win this championship with these girls.”
Trailing 35-34 with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Indians embarked on a 17-0 run that gave them complete control. Hunte, a senior who has served as a team captain since her freshman year, hit back-to-back threes to get Sewanhaka rolling.
“My shot was really off in the first half, but I knew I had to turn it around for my team,” Hunte said. “I knew that with a little more focus, my shots would start to fall.”
The Lady Indians took a commanding 47-36 lead into the final quarter and quickly dispelled any thoughts of a Wantagh comeback. A free throw by Ashley Cattle followed by consecutive buckets by Bolivar gave Sewanhaka an insurmountable lead at 52-36.
“They’re a quick team, and when they get into a rhythm, they’re difficult to stop,” Wantagh head coach Stan Bujacich said. “They play at a speed that we hadn’t seen all season. They were quick to get in the way of our passes. We had a great run to get here, but we didn’t protect the ball well today.”
Wantagh, the Conference A-4 champions, knocked off North Shore, Jericho, and Manhasset on its way to the title game. The Lady Warriors finished with an overall record of 17-6.
While Sewanhaka struggled early, Wantagh was playing with poise and confidence. Sharpshooting from senior Megan Lucey and junior Julia Wilkinson, and heady play from Albanese, propelled the Lady Warriors to a quick 12-2 lead. But, a driving layup by Sewanhaka’s Nia Lariosa as the first quarter buzzer sounded cut the lead to 14-7 and energized the Lady Indians.
“We were getting looks that we wanted, but we were missing all our chippies,” Sewanhaka head coach Alex Soupios said. “That has to do with nerves. They had to iron things out and do something to get their confidence up. We’d never been her before. We knew that eventually we’d settle in.”
The fact that Sewanhaka had advanced to the finals was somewhat remarkable. With its leading scorer lying in a hospital bed, the Lady Indians took on an Island Trees team that came in with a record of 20-0.
However, the Lady Indians pride themselves on stepping up when another player is down. Cattle scored 19 points and Hunte added 17 to lead the team to a 62-52 win. Mia Weinschreider, Lariosa, and Samirah Akinwumi (12 points) turned in outstanding defensive efforts for Sewanhaka.
An emotional Soupios summed things up. “This means everything to me, the school, and the community,” Soupios said. “It’s a tribute to the girls and all the coaches who worked with them in CYO and all the other programs that made them who they are.”