Tight game boosts Raiders’ confidence

ROUND TRIP: Riverdale’s Shaquilla Alexander circumnavigates Athenas guard Whitney Watts.

Riverdale Raiders coach Trung Duong thought his team was in for a lambasting.

Facing East York Athenas Oct. 12, the senior girls Tier 2 basketball team fended off nerves and held on to their lead until the dying seconds of overtime where a 6-0 EY run shifted momentum. They would lose 49-46.

“I think East York is probably one of the top teams in this league now because their junior team won city last year so that’s why coming in, I thought we were going to be weaker than we were,” Duong said.

East York’s juniors were indeed the top in the city, and with some of the team’s members graduating to senior, the Raiders had some reservations.

“Our girls were a little nervous coming into this game,” Duong said. “We talked about it and we had our game plan figured out so that’s how we got into a little bit of a lead at the beginning, which helped for confidence.”

The early trailing for the Athenas was due to a change in strategy, head coach Gina Theofilaktidis said.

“We tried the zone for one quarter and we realized it wasn’t really working so we turned back to man-to-man and then full court press to full press and it just gained us points,” she said.

Leading the way for East York was point guard Whitney Watts, whose skills helped win the game in overtime. A key steal, four points and an assist on Teshauna Gray’s deuce slammed shut Riverdale’s chances.

“She’s our magic player but in general I’ve been coaching the same group for years and they have just progressed every year,” Theofilaktidis said.

Even though the Blue and Red lost, maintaining dominance through three quarters has improved their poise, especially during a rebuilding year.

Last season, the girls finished second overall in Tier 2, losing in the final to Leaside. Leading the team in 2009 were Kaitlyn Williams and Rachel Hunter. This year it’s Shaquilla Alexander and Ryan Steyer who are getting used to their on-court personas.

“Rachel and Kaitlyn last year knew each other because they played a lot of basketball together. They sort of knew each other in that sense,” Duoung said. “Shaquilla and Ryan are our two primary scorers and they haven’t played with each other ever.”

But there is optimism.

Next on the agenda is a rematch against the Lancers. With the team beaming from giving East York a scare, Leaside will be an anticipated, albeit easier, task.

“The girls played well at the beginning, and I think that built up their confidence,” Duong said.

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