High school basketball powerhouse L.I. Lutheran adapts to pandemic

By Eric Belyea

When high school basketball is mentioned in Nassau or Suffolk County, the name Long Island Lutheran in Brookville resonates. The boys’ and girls’ teams have won a combined 12 New York State championships. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic delaying the season, both teams were put into a corner when it came to working out, scheduling games and staying on the floor.

Long Island Lutheran — LuHi for short — plays teams at the highest level of high school basketball, both locally and nationally. Teams regularly appear in the HoopHall Classic in Massachusetts, and have participated in tournaments in Florida, South Carolina and even Hawaii.

Christina Raiti, head girls’ basketball coach and assistant athletic director, entered her first year as head coach this season amid the global pandemic. The Crusaders normally have no issue lining up strong opponents, but not this year.

“We made our schedule last March, and I had a full 23 games on the schedule,” she said. “We weren’t sure how long Covid would last.”

Once New York State gave the go-ahead for winter sports to resume interscholastic play, teams started to drop the independent LuHi from their schedules because of restrictions and a shortened season.

Raiti was not worried about results. She just wanted the girls to play, and “it was more about providing an experience for the kids more so than true development.”

Once the dust settled, Raiti built a new schedule. After multiple games were canceled because of Covid-19 contact tracing and weather, the girls finally were able to take the court.

Mask wearing and social distancing have allowed Long Island Lutheran to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our first game was against a team from [New York City], who have not played basketball in a long time,” she said. “They were not allowed to use their school name, so they came to us as an AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] team.”

Even though they were not allowed to give the players the exposure of posting the game on social media, or even streaming it, the Crusaders were able to play basketball once again.

Raiti then took the Crusaders to an AAU tournament in the Bronx, taking a page out of their first opponents’ book.

“AAU and high school basketball are totally different entities; there is a lot less structure at the AAU level compared to the preparation for high school,” Raiti said.

For their final matchup of the season, Raiti and her team traveled to Washington, D.C. to take on yet another AAU team that was made up of an entire nationally ranked high school team from the area. Raiti and her girls were happy to play a team of such high caliber, since that is what their schedule typically is filled with.

“I wanted the girls to play this team to have at least one of these experiences, since we typically have 10 to 15 of them a season,” she said.

In total, they played four games and student-athletes got some exposure before they set their sights on college.

Senior guard and Adelphi University commit Sydney Rosenoff was grateful to have the opportunity to take the floor in Long Island Lutheran’s historic Visscher Gym again. “Being a member of the Crusader family has been a big part of my life, both athletically and socially,” she said, “so putting the jersey on a few more times made my senior year more special.” The senior got to play and start in each of the four games that the squad played in.

Since Rosenoff had already signed with the Adelphi Panthers, the season for her was more about having fun and helping the younger members of the team secure film to send to college coaches. “Of course I wanted to win,” Rosenoff said. “However, I knew that this season was different, and I wanted to focus on the future of this program more than myself.”

Rosenoff took the veteran mentor role seriously and with pride, leaving her mark on her teammates and girls’ basketball program for years to come.

For players and coaches, the Long Island Lutheran basketball season was one that no one had experienced before. But for Raiti and her team, it was an experience that none of them would trade.