The Wantagh girls’ basketball team has been plenty battle tested early in the 2022-23 season.
Longtime Warriors’ head coach Stan Bujacich pieced together a grueling non-conference slate in December in hopes of preparing his team for critical league games down the stretch. While the offense has struggled at times versus tough competition, a strong commitment to team defense kept Wantagh competitive versus some of Nassau County’s top teams during a December schedule that featured mostly non-league games.
“We’re hoping all these tough early-season games that feel like playoff games are going to pay off,” Bujacich said. “Our defense has been very consistent and has been keeping us in games.”
Wantagh’s non-conference schedule was highlighted by a 33-28 win against Elmont on Dec. 27 in which the Warriors produced nine different scorers but none in double digits. The team was led by six points, eight rebounds and four steals from Brighid Smith. Senior guard Ava Kornbluth also had a big all around day with five points, seven rebounds and four steals.
Bujacich hopes that Kornbluth, who missed most of last season with an ACL injury, and sophomore guard Skylar Mondelli can eventually emerge as offensive leaders this winter. Junior guard Casey Kissinger has shown some potential to become a big scoring threat early in the season with 17 points in a 52-28 non-league loss to Mepham on Dec. 8.
The Warriors have played strong defense for much of the early part of the season holding opponents to under 40 points in six games. Bujacich credits senior Katherine Killian for creating pressure on the opposing team’s ball handlers and generating turnovers. Juliana Cerasi, Brighid Smith and Riley Forthofer have also provided effective inside defense close to the basket.
“Right now we're relying around a defense and hopefully we will find our offensive flow down the stretch,” Bujacich said. “Our defense is very consistent.”
An edge in rebounding has proven especially key early on in keeping Wantagh in games even when the offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders. Smith is averaging 10 rebounds a game while Cerasi is pulling down around eight boards a contest.
The Warriors began the new year with a hard-fought 52-41 league loss at Mineola on Jan. 4 in which Wantagh trailed just 25-23 at halftime before the Mustangs seized control in the third quarter. Kissinger led the Warriors with 14 points.
Wantagh closed last week with a 48-41 non-league setback at Manhasset, who is off to a 10-1 start. Kissinger continued her hot play of late with 15 points while Smith tallied eight in a game the Warriors trailed just 28-26 at halftime.
The Warriors will look to improve upon their 1-4 Conference A-3 record when they face Valley Stream North this Saturday at noon. Wantagh will host Catholic power Saint Anthony’s in another tough non-league game on Martin Luther King Day.