Last Sunday, the North Shore girls basketball team gathered at head coach Keith Freund’s house for an end-of--year, pizza-and-pasta party.
But the celebration of the Vikings’ season has perhaps only begun. With two games left, against Division (Thursday) and Island Trees (Saturday), North Shore stands unbeaten in Conference A5 at 9-0,
The Vikings (16-2 overall after defeating Lawrence handily Monday night) carry a 23-game conference winning streak dating to last season. However, the playoff journey is what will tell the tale of the 2022-23 season. The 2021-22 squad was stunned in the quarterfinals by Plainedge, 39-35, allowing an 8-0 run in the final 1:30 after being up 4.
“We want to go far this year,’’ said junior Emma Priolo, their leading scorer at 13 points per game as their 3-point shooting star. “Last year’s loss has really motivated us. As a team, we want it more than we’ve ever wanted it.’’
Freund has enjoyed many prosperous years as North Shore’s girls coach but this may be his most enjoyable yet – regardless of their playoff fate.
“I’ve been coaching 17 years at North Shore,’’ Freund said. “ I feel blessed to have great kids year in, year out. But there are teams that stick out for toughness and competitiveness. 2012 (Nassau County titlist) was one of my favorites as was 2015 (Long Island champions). But 2023 is going down as maybe my all-time favorite team. We have great seniors with the personality they bring. I just love coaching them.”
North Shore figures to get anywhere from a 3-to-5 seed in the playoffs with Manhasset and Conference A4 power Lynbrook nearly assured of the top two seeds. Lynbrook is the cream of Nassau’s toughest conference and unbeaten Manhasset topped North Shore by 12 points early in the season.
Priolo cites Manhasset’s athleticism as formidable but thinks the Vikings can match up. North Shore trailed by 6 points with two minutes left.
“It made us a better playing them at the beginning of the season,’’ Priolo said. “We are ready for it if we face them. We’re going through different defenses to prepare for teams like them.‘’
Freund cites Priolo’s 3-point shooting and their defensive rebounding – “if we box out, we can beat anyone’’ - as keys to a long playoff run.
Priolo has netted 45 3-pointers, shooting at an astounding 35 percent. She’s also known to make shots from 7 feet from behind the 3-point stripe.
“When she gets hot, it makes the whole team better,’’ Freund said. “You’re forced to get out on her and it gives driving lanes to Kylie (Colbert), Ava (Bartoli) and Sophia (Della Ratta) and our post players have room to work. She’s the key. When she gets going, the whole team starts to cook because she spreads the court so much for us.’’
Modestly, Priolo cites the team’s smooth offensive rhythm for her 3-point genius. But nobody puts up more deep shots during practice.
“I do feel pretty good,’’ Priolo said. “I couldn’t be able to do this without the help of my team honestly. We score a lot as a team. We get in a really good rhythm.’’
The maroon appear to be getting stronger with the bench as the season goes on with two players from last season’s junior varsity, sophomore Alexandra Basile and junior Kate Salerno, hitting their stride and junior defensive forward’s Hannah Gilliam’s improvement.
The first goal is to finish unbeaten, then erase the Plainedge postseason memory. Freund takes responsibility for the late collapse a year ago.
“It’s hard to accept a loss anytime like that,’’ Freund said. “We’re doing a better job at practice in end-of-game situations. To lose a game at the end like that it’s on the coach, not the kids.’’