SOMERS, N.Y. – Starting a season with players on the injured list isn’t the way any team wants to begin their campaign, but it will be something that Somers’ girls basketball team will have to manage through.
Key players like Taylor Penzo, Jordan May and Emily Arena are all recovering from injuries. Penzo endured an ACL injury during last year’s section championship game loss to Tappan Zee. Head coach Marc Hattem said there is a chance she could play in the first game but he will be slowly easing her back in.
“We’re probably not all going to be together for four to five games,” Hattem said. “That’s where we’re at right now. When we finally are all together in January, if we all get our act together, we can be pretty damn good. It’s just going to be a struggle for a while.”
Somers also graduated Hannah Angelini, a four-year player who did it all for the Tuskers whether it was handle the ball, score, distribute or defend the opposing team’s top shooter.
Dani DiCintio, a senior captain and point guard who has been on varsity since her freshman year, will be counted on even more than usual to help get Somers off to a strong start with all of the injuries. The Roberts Wesleyan-bound senior averaged 15.5 points per game last season and is closing in on 1,000 career points.
“She’s not going to have room to breathe on the court,” Hattem said. “Other teams are going to key on her. And I think we’re good enough when we’re healthy to deal with that really effectively. The No. 1 thing for Dani this year is to be able to deal with that constant pressure the whole game. It’s a lot mentally and physically to be harassed for 32 minutes. We’ll try to lighten her load defensively. I think she’s one of the top point guards in the section but she’s definitely going to be challenged this year.”
Her teammates do everything they can to help DiCintio get looks at the basket.
“It’s up to us to get her open and get her great looks,” Hattem said. “The kids are great. They’re such great role players and they do all they can to get her open. We want her to shoot the ball.”
Arena, a senior guard, and senior forward Pooja Rao are the team’s other captains. Arena is a tenacious defender who Hattem said can knock down short jumpers and is “pretty good in the post.” Rao is a strong rebounder who can score inside and knock down the jumper.
May, another senior, is a forward and a force in the middle with strong post moves.
Hattem said it will be important for Arena, Rao, May and Penzo to score between 6-8 points per game to help relieve the scoring load from DiCintio.
“And I think having an inside presence or two (will also be important),” Hattem said. “I think Pooja will be able to do some work down there this year. That will alleviate the box-and-ones, diamond-and-ones or the face-guarding on Dani. There will be a lot more space on the floor for those kids to operate.”
Amy Lasher, a sophomore, is a returning guard and Hattem said she’s the team’s most improved player.
“She’ll be our best defensive player,” Hattem said. “She’ll guard anyone on the other team that we need to shut down and will fill the Hannah role so-to-speak. The kid is a great athlete from an athletic family. She’s still learning how to finish at the rim.”
Senior Julia Vitale is a returning guard, who Hattem said “is such a great kid, knows the defensive concepts and knows where to be offensively.”
Another returning player is junior forward Natalia Rukaj, who also suffered a recent injury and will miss some time.
Alexis Atkinson, a senior soccer star who is committed to Iona, is returning to basketball this season.
“Alexis is a sick athlete,” Hattem said. “She’s not the most refined basketball player in the world but she can really help us. She’s like 5-9 and super athletic. She can be a great defender and just causes havoc with her long arms.”
Somers also has a trio of freshmen newcomers in Ava Giudice, Lauren McCartin and Alexa Warycha.
Considering the current injuries, Hattem labels the team as an underdog when it comes to going after a section title.
“You want to play your best in February, but I just hope that we don’t get so far behind that we end up going on the road (in sectionals),” Hattem said. “That makes it that much tougher. In the past, we’ve had home games the first round or two. This year we might not get there and that’s tough. I think the team’s good enough to make a run but I worry because it takes a while to get your act together and if we’re not healthy by January, that’s going to be hard. We have a great point guard and kids who can rebound and defend. I think we’re going to be really good when we’re healthy. It’s just getting there right now.”
It won’t be an easy start to the season for Somers. The Tuskers open the season when they host Rye at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5. They then will travel to Pearl River on Dec. 10.
“Once we get everyone on the floor and get them on the same page, I think we’ll be good to go,” Hattem said. “I just want to get healthy to give us a fighting chance.”