The longest season in high school sports comes during the shortest days of the year. Tryouts for winter sports start in November, and a playoff caliber team can expect to play well into the following March. Such is the case for the Saugerties high varsity girls’ basketball team, who are already deep into practices as they prepare for the 2011-12 season.
Saugerties is looking to catch lightning in a bottle for a second straight season. After a lengthy playoff drought, the 2010-11 team backed its way in with a 4-12 record and proceeded to shock the league by beating heavily-favored Marlboro 48-47 in the opening round before falling to Wallkill the following round. For the girls on this year’s team, it’s clear the rematch against Marlboro early this season looms rather large.
“Marlboro is apparently really looking forward to getting back at us for edging them out before sectionals with a buzzer beater last year,” said Maureen Ball, a senior shooting guard/small forward.
Anita Etheridge, a junior forward/center, agreed.
“I’m looking forward to Marlboro the most, because both teams I know really want to see who wants it the most this year,” she said.
Hayley Spoljaric, a junior center/forward, added FDR and Wallkill to the list of teams that she’s most looking forward to playing; the Sawyers play both teams twice this season, but unless they meet again in the playoffs, will only face off against Marlboro once.
“I feel those teams were our biggest competition and best games of the season last year,” Spoljaric said.
How the Sawyers compete against those teams and the others during their 16-game regular season won’t be decided until after the first tip on Dec. 9. Until then, it’s all about preparation.
“The biggest challenges for the team this year are playing our hardest the whole game and learning how to play with each other, because not all players have returned from last year,” said Spoljaric.
Etheridge touched on a similar theme when noting what she felt would be most important for the Sawyers this season: “keeping our confidence from last year after we lost big players on the team.”
Spoljaric said the team can start by being more communicative on the court.
“We have many strengths, such as aggression, speed, transitioning on the court and making shots,” she said. “(But) I feel that we all need to work on more talking on the court and coming out strong in the beginning which would lead to finishing strong in the end.”
Ball said time will reveal how far the team will be able to go this season.
“It’s about overall improvement right now,” she said. “Our goals will probably become more specific as the season goes on. It looks like it’s going to be a building year, but if we get it together soon enough we could make it to sectionals. You never know.”
Spoljaric was a bit more confident in her belief in where the team might be heading.
“The goals this year are to play aggressive, increase our skills and of course, have a winning attitude,” she said. I think we can go very far this year. I, personally, would like to go all the way and as a team I believe we can accomplish that goal.”
“We can go all the way if everyone is confident and has the stride to do it,” she said.
The season’s length is something of a mirage, with the winter holidays breaking up the action and forcing players to find a way to keep whatever momentum they might have generated through most of December. The season begins on Friday, Dec. 9 for the Sawyers with a visit to Highland. Four days later, the team hosts its first home game when Marlboro comes to town. Six games of the team’s 16 regular season slate are played in December, including two in the thick of the winter break that follow Christmas Day. Six games in 20 days, and then…hiatus. Eight days, including one best known the world over as New Year’s, fall between the team’s sixth and seventh games, though the team is likely go without committing a double dribble with still-as-yet unconfirmed scrimmages.
The scrimmages actually begin for the Sawyers this week, with a home set involving a few teams on Monday, Nov. 28. Coach Steve Buonfiglio and assistant coach Cass Carnright will likely spend the scrimmages fine tuning their opening day roster, picking up on strengths and weaknesses they can build their team around. The team is 12-players deep, a typical varsity mix of juniors and seniors; around half with experience at the highest level high school has to offer.