The Thousand Islands girls basketball team features four seniors in its starting lineup. On Friday, for the first time in their final season, Hailey Alteri, Kennady Amo, Mady Bernhardt and Lauren Rupp heard their names called in their home gym before the start of a game.
In the four quarters that followed, they defeated Immaculate Heart Central, 53-24, evening their record at 1-1.
Like most winter sports athletes, a season wasn’t really expected, but is warmly welcomed.
“It feels amazing,” Amo said. “It feels great, because at first we didn’t know if we were going to be able to have a season, and then we started to practice and then we didn’t know if we were going to have games.”
Vikings coach Pete Pettit is impressed with how his athletes have handled the emotional and mental toll the pandemic has taken on student athletes.
“It’s not the perfect way to end your career and I feel bad for those kids,” Pettit said. “But at this point I’m very pleased with their attitude, effort and commitment. I’m kind of shocked, because as an athlete, I don’t know how I would have done with this. I’m just so grateful that I have 11 kids who love the game like me.”
With a short schedule and no playoffs, Pettit has found himself being more emotional in practice to try to fire up his team when the players begin to lose motivation.
“Just because there is no big carrot here, there’s no banner on the wall for this season,” Pettit said. “There’s no individual trophies. It sucks, but they’ve responded pretty well.”
Even though their schedule is only five games, the Vikings are still working on improving their game week-to-week. The season started Monday against General Brown, and Pettit thought his team looked flat against the Lions and a 70-34 loss was the result.
In the subsequent practice that led up to Friday’s showdown with IHC, the Vikings worked on defense, particularly man-to-man.
“We really wanted to make sure our man-to-man defense was what we’re used to at TI and we worked on it, the girls really worked on it,” Pettit said. “We put a lot of work into that to get ready, I was really happy with our man-to-man, a lot of help side, not allowing a lot of drives, keep the girl in front of you, a lot of basics. As a whole, we got better.”
The Vikings ultimately held IHC to 24 points. On offense, Amo led the scoring with 22 points to go with four assists, four steals and four rebounds.
Bernhardt led the team with nine rebounds, while Abby McCarthy came off the bench and scored 12 points.
After being shut out in the first half, Julia Netto scored 12 points for the Cavaliers in the final two quarters, leading IHC (1-1) in scoring.
“They 100 percent put us in our place today, offensively and defensively,” IHC coach Jake Fusilli said. “We came off the win against Sackets and I think we came out thinking we were going to win, because I know when we play our team basketball the best we can, we can keep up with anyone in the league and win. But, I think we came out a little sluggish and I think TI being as good as they are, those two really good players (Amo and Delaney Wiley), they just hopped on us quick and we could not get back in it.”
While Fusilli is proud that his team played hard until the last buzzer, he believes the floor rotations need to improve. While no team likes to lose, seeing how a team with strong athletes can take advantage of mistakes on the floor was a valuable lesson for IHC.
The Vikings, who would have most likely cruised to another strong season and Frontier League “C” Division playoff title, are at the end of an era with the number of starters they have graduating.
For those seniors, part of the importance of this year is mentoring the juniors that are coming up.
“I try to become a leader,” Amo said. “I try to help them on the court, I try to help them in practice. I push them, I try to teach them how to talk more because being a leader on the court is great for the underclassmen. When they become the upperclassmen, the next underclassmen are going to be needing them. They need to become more of leaders and lead them to success in each game.”
This past fall, Amo committed to playing basketball and soccer at SUNY Oneonta.
Pettit has coached the varsity girls basketball team at Thousand Islands for the past 23 years, long before some of his current players were even born. But at the end of this season, he will be stepping down as coach.
“My kids, I’ve coached everyone else’s kids so I think it’s time I pay attention to my family now,” Pettit said with a laugh. “It’s a tough decision, there have been a couple of years where I thought maybe I wanted to stop coaching and then there are always a couple of kids in the program that you felt bad leaving, I soon realized years ago that there is never going to be a good time. There are always good kids that you feel bad about leaving. So, I kind of hung on and hung on and did it for this long and I have to stop now.”