Graduating a go-to player can leave a team searching for answers. The Scarsdale girls basketball team is finding those answers every day and learning about the power of depth in finding success on the court in the post-Kayla Maroney era.
The Raiders are 3-3, having won by one (42-41) against White Plains and seven (52-45) and three (48-45) against Mount Vernon. The Mount Vernon games came back to back with a practice day between games.
“It’s a big change from last year because Kayla was our No. 1 person,” junior Moira Conlan said. “Whenever we got stuck we would always look for her and now instead of relying on one person we rely on the whole team on and off the court. From the bench I can hear someone say, ‘Hey, look across court, so-and-so is open.’”
Freshmen Ivy Boockvar and Zephyr Connolly have provided much of the early-season excitement with big shots against White Plains and in the first Mount Vernon game. Connolly scored a combined 30 points in the two games against Mount Vernon.
“We do have some very good talent this year like Ivy hitting the three against White Plains that changed the game and Zephyr hitting a three against Mount Vernon that changed the game,” Conlan said. “We’ve all become better this year individually and as a team we have become closer than I would have thought in these short weeks. It is relying on everyone’s talents, but it’s also a better thing because we know who can do what and we always have help on the court.”
Senior captain Abigail Talish is playing like an established veteran, scoring double digits in the last five games after being held to eight in the opener against Ursuline, though even in that game she led the team. In the second win against Mount Vernon, Talish scored 15 and hit the eventual game-winning shots — a pair of free throws with 4.9 seconds left — after Mount Vernon made it a 44-43 game.
“Yesterday was not a turning point, but you could see that players are starting to understand what we’re trying to do,” coach Mike Blanco said after the first Mount Vernon game. “The guards played exceptionally well handling the pace of the game, making good decisions against their zone. The forwards battled inside really well, did a great job attacking their big players. And then the people off the bench were just so solid.”
The current starting lineup features Conlan and sophomore Isabelle Goldban up front, Talish in the middle and junior Maeve Jacobson and Connolly in the backcourt. That crew, featuring one senior, made great strides in the first Mount Vernon game, as did senior captain Phoebe Shearer, junior Ava Londa, sophomore Alessia Schettino and Boockvar off the bench.
“I told them, ‘That was a Scarsdale game,’ where you control the pace, you’re fundamentally sound defensively, which we have to do, and we did that,” Blanco said. “We took our time and got what we wanted on offense. It was a nice win.”
In addition to her 13 points, Blanco said Talish “must have had 12 or 13 rebounds” and did a “great job defensively” in the first Mount Vernon game. Goldban put up 11 points and had rebounds on the final two possessions, hitting free throws “to basically put out of reach,” according to Blanco. “She did a beautiful job.”
Jacobson and Connolly are a strong tandem.
“It was kind of a coming out party for Zephyr — she had 17, four threes,” Blanco said. “Zephyr hit her shots and she made good decisions with the ball.”
“Maeve did a wonderful job of just passing the ball to the right person at the right time. She’s been on the floor, she’s been on the bench, so she’s a veteran in that regard. She was solid.”
Blanco credited both players for helping defensively inside.
Of the sparks off the bench, Blanco said, “Phoebe made a beautiful basket, she got a rebound, she defended hard. Ava came in and did a great job defensively and she hit a shot. Alessia we finally got her going a little bit and we’re going to need her to be a player. She hit a big three for us.”
Blanco always asks his players one simple question: “Have I ever taken you out for shooting too much?” The correct answer, he said, is always, “No.”
“What I love about someone like Ivy, when she went in the game she was not bashful to put up a shot,” Blanco said. “They had a zone that they were extending out a little bit and she got a couple of shots up, both laid out on the rim a little bit — good shots though — and she was aggressive in doing it. That’s what we want. They don’t believe me when I say, ‘Be aggressive. We want you to be aggressive.’ If you see the shot, take it.
“We ask them to do a lot to be aggressive defensively and if they see something they’ve got to score, too. That’s the fun part.”
Between the White Plains game and the Mount Vernon games the Raiders faced a young, talented New Rochelle team, falling 53-31 and 60-41.
“New Rochelle it’s always such a close game and it always gets intense,” Conlan said. “This year it wasn’t as close as it usually is, so we saw we needed to work harder in practice and give 100 percent as if it’s going to be our last practice, because it always could be. We’ve been going over plays and making sure we know where we are.”
New Rochelle is a team Blanco wouldn’t mind seeing a third time because he believes the team can learn from the first two games and counter their guards and their athletic “bigs,” who dominated the boards.
“What we tried to tell them was when we played our pace and ran something instead of just going up and down, if we don’t have a fast break shot we’ll pull it out and do everything and take the time,” Blanco said. “Every time we ran something we got a wide open look. Not just open, but wide open. I hope they learned from that.”
He said a couple of late 6-0 runs did Scarsdale in in the rematch.
“You can see the kids are starting to get more comfortable playing with one another,” Blanco said. “ When you lose someone like Kayla Maroney who is the glue — she brings people together not only with her play but with her personality — we knew it was going to be tough in a short season like this where we’re trying to do a bunch of things.”
The Raiders have come back strong after losses, something that gives them confidence.
“Bouncing back is more of a mental thing, to not get the losses in your head,” Conlan said. “We’re good and we have to believe in ourselves as a team that we can win and we will win. We have to have that mentality.”