After a magical run to the Nassau Class A girls’ basketball semifinals last winter, Kennedy had to quickly shift gears on its goals for an encore after the county decided an abbreviated season would conclude without playoffs.
So the Cougars, led by seniors Cameron Montalbano and Rachel Nossen, set out to sweep the eight-game schedule and win a conference title. And they accomplished exactly that last Saturday with a 58-48 victory over Elmont to finish atop Conference A-II.
“Last season was so rewarding and it was remarkable to see the girls so motivated after finding out we weren’t going to get a chance to make another playoff run,” Kennedy head coach Mallory Freely said. “Our team last won a conference championship in 2008, so it’s exciting. It means so much.”
Nossen, who scored 18 points in the finale to finish with 920 for her career, said finding out there would be no playoffs was “a bummer;” however, the Cougars wanted to make the most of their opportunity to play any games.
“Up until the last second, I didn’t have much hope we’d play,” said Montalbano, who entered the season 26 points shy of 1,000 for her career and reached the milestone in the opener on Feb. 9. “I was prepared to hear ‘sorry, there’s not going to be a season.’”
Although it was over in less than a month, Kennedy took on every challenge the season had to offer and came away widely considered one of the top teams in Nassau. “Their talent speaks volumes, but I also can’t say enough about Cameron’s and Rachel’s leadership and work ethic,” Freely said. “It was great for the younger girls to work with them.”
The Cougars’ biggest obstacle proved to be Jericho, which gave them all they could handle on Feb. 25 before Montalbano (27 points), Nossen (22) and junior Jamie Maroof (18) led a 71-63 win.
“It was a ping-pong game for a while,” Freely said. “We were doing a lot of good things offensively but weren’t doing the same on defense. We quickly saw we had to put the car into drive.”
Montalbano, who ended with 1,129 career points, had 11 first-quarter points to stake the hosts to a 17-12 advantage. She also beat the buzzer with a trey before halftime off an assist from junior Sarah Klein for a 28-25 lead. Maroof scored nine points, all from behind the arc, in the third quarter and Nossen added eight as Kennedy responded to lights-out shooting by Jericho senior Jade Stoler, who scored 20 of her 23 points in the second half.
The Cougars took a 49-39 lead into the fourth quarter and didn’t allow the Jayhawks to get any closer than seven. Senior Hannah Samuels and junior Faith Gunn hit clutch baskets late.