With the loss of three starters from Mineola High School's first conference championship team in 22 years, the Mustang boys basketball team knew they would face a bull's-eye from a conference full of seasoned competitors.
The team began the season with high hopes and a positive attitude and entered each contest with the competitive fire and intensity that mark the reign of third-year head coach Jim Hegmann. With three senior co-captains (TJ Winters, Steven Gaffney and Jimmy Ward) taking the lead, the team finished a disappointing campaign with dignity, teamwork and sportsmanship. These seniors leave the team with a solid foundation for next year.
Gaffney and Ward stepped into key positions this year and performed admirably. Gaffney's role as point guard was critical to the team's offensive success. Gaffney averaged five assists, was second on the team in three-pointers goals and notched a career-high 17 points as the leading scorer against Valley Stream South in one of his final games as a Mustang. During the course of the season, Gaffney hit a number of critical treys that closed the gap and kept games tight. Ward filled the void on a size-challenged team by tallying four rebounds a game and finishing the season with a similar scoring average. The pair jumped into the starting lineup after solid minutes in reserve roles during last season's historic run.
Other seniors were equally instrumental in filling minutes this year. Rob Sallie started a third of the games and added bench strength in the frontcourt. On a number of occasions, Sallie's offensive production kept the Mustangs in close games, including the season opening overtime loss to New Hyde Park. Matt Valla saw floor time in every game this season and spotted Gaffney and Winters at both the point and shooting guard positions. Valla may not have been a scorer, but his aggressive defense and energy on the press was valuable in cutting the deficit in many conference contests.
Underclassmen showed both highlights and promise. Sophomore Tommy Ward stepped into a starting role midway through the season and will be counted on to provide balance for his classmate Jim Bulva next season.
Junior Alex Carerra fell victim to a nagging ankle injury six games into the season. The Mustangs could have used his scoring punch. Freshman Matt Moro was the heartbreak story of 2008-09. Stepping onto the floor for the first time in a varsity uniform during the season opener at the Petro Classic, Moro suffered a season-ending knee injury that should recuperate in time for next year's season. Should Moro return in November, the Mustangs may possess the tallest backline in school history - for the next two years.
The experiences that Jack Gorry and Christian Alvarez witnessed from the bench will be important to dictate to next year's upcoming players. With Gorry and Alvarez cracking the scoring column, every member of this year's team was a contributor.
The stars of this year's team were recognized as All-Conference selections in ABC-IV. Bulva had a breakout season, averaging a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He was the leading scorer in eight games and notched his career-high with 21 points in the season opener. In many of this season's games, Bulva stepped up in the fourth quarter to scare many opponents. He will return as the go-to guy on next year's team and will become a rare four-year varsity basketball player for the Mustangs should he continue his current course of success over the next two seasons.
Winters, a three-year letterman and the Reggie Carter Award winner, started every game of his Mustang career with the exception of Senior Night during last year's championship season. He was the team's leading scorer for the second consecutive season, providing nearly a third of the team's points despite double teams nearly every night. Winters cracked the 20-point barrier in three games including a career best 29 points against Valley Stream South in early January. He also notched 20 points in the first half against Conference ABC-II foe Manhasset in a non-league home game en route to a 26 point tally. Winters will be considering his options to play at the next level in the coming months with tryout invitations extended by local institutions.
Unfortunately, this season's Mustangs matched up against veteran teams that were built to win this year. Being undermanned by injuries also factored into the struggles the team faced nearly every night. Despite these shortcomings, the team bonded together and mounted significant comebacks that made few games easy for their opponents. This year's seniors can look back on making Mustang basketball history during their careers while coach Hegmann looks forward to beginning a new chapter in 2009-2010.