The Vineyarder girls varsity basketball team has failed to qualify for the postseason by a single game in each of the past two seasons. With 10 players returning, including seven seniors, fourth-year Head Coach Sterling Bishop hopes to rectify that in 2019–20.
“The primary goal for me personally and professionally as a coach is to make the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve missed the playoffs by one game the last two seasons in a row, and it’s been heartbreaking for some of the girls. Now they have an opportunity to change that destiny, and hopefully take our team over that wall. I’m excited because I have seven seniors on the team, and it’s going to be my first graduating class that I’ve had,” he said. “So this is an exciting year for me, and I’m hoping for some success.”
Twelve players comprise the varsity roster. Seniors Sasha Lakis and Katherine O’Brien are the team captains, joined by fellow seniors Taylor Hughes, Jovanna Lowell-Bettencourt, Kya Maloney, Tianna Rambonga, and Riley Yuhas; juniors Kylie Estrella and Isabella Thorpe; sophomore Braedyn Clark; and freshmen Josephine Welch and C.J. Walsh. Of his seniors, Coach Bishop said, “Hopefully, that’s going to be my lucky seven.”
Kendall Robinson returns as the varsity assistant coach, while Jillian Sedlier is back for a second season as the JV head coach, with her predecessor Alyssa Lemoi also returning for a second season as JV assistant coach. Former Vineyard Coach Melissa Braillard is also assisting with the program.
Thirty players tried out for the basketball program this season, and 25 made the cut, with 13 going to JV. “Hopefully we have enough to give these young kids a foundation, a skill set, to build this future program, because we do have seven seniors, and that’s going to leave a huge vacancy in the program next season, and there are only four juniors and four sophomores [on JV],” Coach Bishop said. “We didn’t want to discourage any of the younger players from not coming out. We kind of tried to build off of that, so we tried to keep as many as we possibly could.”
After playing last season in a modified version of the new Cape and Islands League, the varsity Vineyarders will have their work cut out for them this time around in a tough C&I Atlantic Division. Four division opponents made the state tournament last season. Falmouth (13-3) was the No. 3 seed in the Division 2 South Sectional, while Nauset (15-5) was No. 7, and both reached the quarterfinals. Sandwich, like Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, is a D3 girls basketball program, and the Blue Knights grabbed the final seed in the South Sectional. Nantucket (16-4) was the No. 4 seed in the D4 South. D2 Dennis-Yarmouth and D1 Barnstable round out the Atlantic lineup. Throw in two more nonleague playoff teams on the schedule, Carver and Monomoy, and that makes 12 of the 20 regular-season games against state tournament teams from 2018–19.
“We’re in a new league, which is going to dictate a lot about how we play and the outcomes,” Coach Bishop said. “Some of the teams we played last year, but we’re looking forward to a bigger challenge because we are facing bigger schools like Barnstable or Falmouth, but I think we’re ready to face these challenges because these girls are committed and, at this point, they’re more like a family.”
For the Vineyarders to be successful, commitment and execution on defense is essential. “Our strength, right now, is going to be defense,” Bishop said. “We’re going to focus on defense and, hopefully, we can keep any opponent under a certain level of points that would give us an offensive advantage. We have speed, strength, and size. Our skill set is not necessarily where we want to be, and I think that’s just with the confidence of some of our players, but hopefully, at this point, with seven seniors, I think they should be prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally enough to get over that wall.”
Offensively, the Vineyarders will look for consistent scoring from Braedyn Clark and Kylie Estrella. Riley Yuhas is a solid outside threat, and Sasha Lakis is always a strong presence in the paint.
The season begins at Carver on Dec. 12, and the Vineyarders play on the home court at the Sancy Pachico Gymnasium on Dec. 14 at 3 pm versus Cardinal Spellman.