There aren’t many teams that would feel like a 17-6 season wasn’t all it could have been, but the Kingston High School girls’ varsity basketball team is heading into the 2016-17 campaign looking to make the most of an athletic lineup and build on last year’s overall result. But with so many new faces, will head coach Steve Garner’s team deliver the goods?
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Garner as his team was preparing for a scrimmage against Saugerties. “There was quite a bit of a turnover from last year. But I like the direction we’re headed.”
The Tigers saw their 2015-16 campaign end with a tough 51-35 loss to Monroe-Woodbury in the Section IX, Class AA title game at SUNY Orange in Middletown, a disappointing finish to an otherwise fine season. Half of Kingston’s losses last season came at the hands of Monroe, but they won’t get another shot at turning the tables until mid-January.
Kingston’s 2016-17 schedule is brutal. Seven of their first eight games are on the road – the home opener against non-league opponent FDR doesn’t happen until Tuesday, December 20 — and they’ll only host seven games out of 20 during all of the regular season. After this week’s scrimmage, the Tigers will have nearly two weeks to come together before they open the season with the Our Lady of Lourdes Tournament in Poughkeepsie. Garner sees the time before the season, as well as the tournament itself, as an opportunity to improve.
“After this scrimmage we don’t play until Dec. 10, so that’ll give us a good opportunity to really redefine who we are and try to change the culture in terms of really working hard in practice and talking about defense first,” he said. “We want to become a much better defensive team than we were last year.”
The Lourdes tournament will be something of a trial by fire for a relatively young team that has just three seniors on the roster.
“I agreed to this in the summer, and I think it’ll be great for us,” Garner said. “We’re playing in the tournament with Lourdes, Ossining and Albany. We’re really stepping into it, which is only going to help us. Early season games against real, real quality opponents are going to help us get better.”
If the schedule has any bright spots, it’s in league play, which the Tigers don’t begin until they host Pine Bush on Wednesday, Jan. 11. Of the eight league games on the schedule, Kingston hosts four, including a visit from Monroe on Monday, Feb. 13. By then the team should be full of experienced veteran players. For now, just one player fits that description.
“I think our big thing is that we have some veterans coming back, led by our leading scorer last year, Chloe Chaffin,” said Garner of his junior co-captain. “She’s going to be in a familiar role. But everybody else really, they’ve kind of waited their turn and this is their opportunity. [Junior] Jaid Harrell gave us good minutes last year, but we’re going to rely on her to give us a lot. She’s going to be starting at center, and she’s very gifted. So her role has increased. [Co-Captain] Grace Regan is a senior who didn’t play as much last year who we will be relying on a lot this year. Our point guard, Ashley Cook, who is a junior, she was the backup point guard last year. Everybody’s kind of got new roles, except Chloe.”
But while the Tigers are something of a youth movement, that doesn’t mean they’re unfamiliar with the game.
“We have a lot of kids coming up from a good JV team I think will really help us out,” Garner said. “Evelyn [Myers-McCarthy] and Lanasia [Dorsey], who are both juniors. And then we have our sophomores, Madison Burke and Nicole Spinelli, who were the leading scorers on JV last year. They should step in and be able to contribute right away.
Joining Chaffin, Harrell, Regan and Cook in the starting lineup will either be Myers-McCarthy or Dorsey, Garner said. Dorsey started the Saugerties scrimmage, but it’s possible the pair will alternate during the course of the season to take advantage of opposing matchups.
“I like this team,” said Garner. “I think we’re very athletic. I think we’re gifted. We work hard. But we are thin. We don’t have the depth that we’ve had, so especially on defense we’re going to have to focus on playing smart, not getting into foul trouble, and of course staying away from injuries is going to be a key for us. With 11 players we’re just not as deep as we’ve been in the past, so we’re just going to have to play smart. We’re going to be a work in progress. We have a lot of skilled players, and we’re really just stressing the teamwork and working together.”