River Dell freshman girls basketball team notches first win of the 2021-22 season


Heading into the 2021-22 season, Emily Sullivan, the head coach of the River Dell freshman girls basketball team, was very candid in her message about the expectations this year.

"We talked about being a brand this season and that we represent River Dell." "We want to go out respectfully and hold ourselves to high standards the whole nine yards, whether on social media or not talking disrespectfully to the other girls on the other team." The main thing is just being a good person and respectful.

Once the season got underway, the Golden Hawks faced a trio of top opponents in Northern Highlands and Ramapo and Ramsey. The team squared off twice against Ramapo and Ramsey in three weeks. Despite falling short in every game, the team gained valuable experience.

Head Coach Emily Sullivan on the season up to this point, "Honestly, it's been quite a challenge, I had to adjust myself as a coach, and this is the first time I've ever coached a two-three zone defense and had to change; defensively and offensively." "Knowing how to respond to the girls, my response to them, and how they play." I'm trying to be a cheerleader and instructor and balance all the way around.

"I tell the girls all the time we have to keep our heads up and be respectful whether in defeat or victory and come out every single day like it's a brand-new day and practice hard as though we're trying to win a championship." "Every play and drill I expect them to give 100 percent and I'm constantly encouraging them to do that and nothing is going to change."

Fast forward to this past week, the Golden Hawks faced off against Paramus at Paramus High School. River Dell looked more confident from the opening tip, jumping out to a 6-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Golden Hawks continued to flourish on the offensive end. The willingness to distribute the basketball to teammates on the floor led to consistent plays on drives to the basket for lay-ups, drawing fouls, and sinking free throws. By halftime rolled around, River Dell led 14-8.

Shaking off the late run by the Spartans at the end of the first half, the Golden Hawks kept plowing forward in the third quarter and displaying the ability to get out on the fast-break and convert lay-ups and pound the ball in the paint. Defensively, River Dell slammed the door shut, limiting Paramus to a single point as the advantage widened to 22-9 at the end of the period.

The fourth quarter turned into an offensive blitz as the Golden Hawks knocked down jump shots left and right. Not stepping off the gas pedal River Dell kept building on the lead that eventually turned into a 42-13 victory.

Once the buzzer sounded, a euphoric celebration ensued at the bench. Kristen Smerdon scored ten points on the Golden Hawks, while Sophia Rizkilla contributed nine points.

"This was much-needed after going up against the most competitive teams around," Head Coach Emily Sullivan explained. "We took a pretty big beating early on, but this game just boosted our team morale." The support between the girls was just incredible, cheering each other on, and all the girls made some contribution to the game.

"The girls were fired up right at tip-off, ready to get after them(Paramus) and playing hard defense." "Scoring 42 points is hard to do in any game and level and just the fact we were able to score that many points were very impressive."

"Kristen(Smerdon) came around throughout the summer, has been to every practice and stepped up and her hard work showed on the court, and Sophia(Rizkilla) came out of nowhere." "I had a lot of girls in the math classroom and recruited them to play for me." They have shown up and proved themselves that is fantastic.

River Dell faces a daunting schedule the rest of January with four out of five games on the road. The next home game at River Dell High School for the Golden Hawks is on Thursday, January 20th, against Cliffside Park at 4:15 p.m.

"We're going to see similar competition throughout the season and that will keep our morale up and having some more enjoyable games for us to play," Head Coach Emily Sullivan described. "It's just going to help us get better against these competitive teams."

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