With Offense Developing, Thunderbirds Stressing Defense

DIX HILLS, New York, Jan. 1

BY: Andrew Wroblewski

To say that the Half Hollow High School East girls basketball team is still developing would be fair. Head Coach Adam Cirnigliaro is in his first year as a head coach – he was formerly an assistant coach for the Northport boys basketball team – and the Thunderbirds as a whole roster just six seniors. The rest of the bunch, including eighth-grader Sophia Tawil, are young and learning a new offense, Cirnigliaro said.

Thunderbirds’ Head Coach Adam Cirnigliaro, center, talks strategy with the girls of the Hills East girls basketball team during a scrimmage in December.
Thunderbirds’ Head Coach Adam Cirnigliaro, center, talks strategy with the girls of the Hills East girls basketball team during a scrimmage in December.

“Our seniors and juniors have had to adapt to new roles early on than what they were accustomed to last season,” he said.

But what’s scary, despite that development still being a work in progress, is how good the Thunderbirds already are. Behind stellar play from senior Kristen McKenzie – who was averaging 20 points per game in League II as of press time Friday – the Thunderbirds are off to a 2-0 start in league play.

“She’s been incredible,” Cirnigliaro said. “At first she was a little hesitant to take over the role of being the player that everyone is trying to take away from us, but she’s done it.”

Averaging 12 rebounds and 4 blocks per game and shooting over 50 percent from the field along with the points, McKenzie, a former All-Conference player, has stepped into her fourth year on the varsity squad as a leader.

“When you have a girl like Kristen it just gives everyone else so much more confidence,” Cirnigliaro said.

Tawil is one of those girls that’s benefited from that confidence as she’s had to overcome the hurdle of playing against girls that may be up to four years older than her. But she’s succeeded, Cirnigliaro said.

“She a competitor, an athlete,” he said, “and she’s just focused on basketball.”

Along with those two, senior Aliyah Minor had her biggest game of the season on Dec. 16 in the Thunderbirds’ most recent win. The Thunderbirds, who hosted Bay Shore, were victorious 60-46 – aided, in part, by Minor’s 12 points and 7 rebounds.

Enjoying the winter break as of Friday, the Thunderbirds were scheduled to travel to Northport High School on Monday and Tuesday for the annual Suffolk Shootout.

“Right now, most specifically, we’re working on cleaning up our offense,” Cirnigliaro said. “There’s a lot of timing involved with making this offense work so it’s going to take some time. But we’ve been watching film and I already see the potential.”

Now, Hills East (3-1) prepares for league play to start back up on Saturday with a trip back to Northport (3-1), which is scheduled to tip off at 12 p.m.

Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills
(Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015;  A27)

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