Taylor Leonard. Melody O’Connor. Miranda Bernholz. Lauren Carnevali. Even when injuries couldn’t stop them, graduating high school finally did. But while those familiar faces aren’t around anymore, Leonard feels he’s got a team in place that’s going to more than turn a few heads. The team has had three scrimmages, including this past week at F.D. Roosevelt. And while the pieces are still falling into place, Leonard said he likes his team’s effort.
“We’ve played well in the scrimmages,” Leonard said. “Obviously we’re a work in progress. There’s a lot of talent on this team. It’s something we’re going to work with, but I’m very pleased with how they’re working. We’ve just got to put it together.”
Just to be clear, the team wasn’t completely decimated by last year’s commencement. Kate Shults and Katie Davis are two key returnees Leonard said he expects will play a key role over the course of the season. Shults will be one of the team’s regular starting guards, while Davis will start the season in place of Mackenzie Vosburgh, who is expected to return from injury before the season kicks off but will have to work her way back into the starting lineup.
“She’s a leader,” said Leonard of Shults. “Obviously she sets the tempo with her defense. She’ll be the point guard and she’ll have a lot of responsibility this year.”
But amid a few familiar faces are also five new ones, at least to the Stateswomen. Transferring from Red Hook is junior Makenzie Burud, who will join a starting lineup with a balance of size and speed.
“Personally I think she’s the best junior in the section,” said Leonard.
Also coming over to Coleman are Emily and Nicole Curley, a pair of twins who stand nearly six feet tall. They played modified and JV ball in Saugerties up until this year. Emily will likely join Dana Callahan and Davis on the front line in the starting five.
“The Curley girls enrolled in our school, that’s been nice,” said Leonard. “They’ve got a good basketball IQ and are really hard workers. We’re expecting a lot out of them.”
While the new players on the roster are still getting used to one another, some of them worked together under Leonard on AAU teams in the spring and summer. With the talent in place, the team’s greatest chance for success may lie in their ability to work well together.
“I just want them to try to get the most out of their ability, because this is a good group,” said Leonard. “We have a lot of flexibility. We can play small and quick, and then we can also play big. I’ve got a lot of size; I’ve got some good guards; I’ve got a lot of different combinations that can work, and that’s basically what I’m trying to figure out now.”
Leonard said he’s happy with the way the offense is coming together, but that the team is still building its defensive approach.
“They’ve got to communicate a little more on defense and trust that somebody’s got their back,” he said. “It’s all about familiarity.”
While the boys’ team played their first game of the season on Wednesday, Dec. 1, the Stateswomen have until Friday, Dec. 10 when they travel to Rondout Valley before they play for real. That will give them more time to come together as a team, but it will also give them more time to think about the specter of Coleman teams from the past.
“That’s always brought up,” said Leonard. “That’s something I think they all face. It’s something we talk about. As far as pressure, sometimes I make comparisons, but I really can’t. It’s two totally different teams.”
The program is coming off a four year stretch with 75 wins and 16 losses, with three consecutive visits to the state Final Four. They won the Mid-Hudson Athletic League title for the first time during the 2009-10 season, and the Class D state title one year earlier. It’s a lot to live up to, and it’s certainly on the minds of this year’s team, especially those who just arrived on the scene. But rather than appear intimidated, the new blood sounds as though they want a taste of the success shared by prior Coleman clubs.
“I feel the pressure little bit, but I feel it’s more like a challenge,” said Burud. “We’re all really excited and we all want a state ring.”
Nicole Curley agreed.
“Being that the Stateswomen have gone far in the past, I sometimes feel pressure to perform at a higher level,” she said. “I’m ready for that challenge.”
That should be music to Leonard’s ears, especially as he hasn’t adjusted his team’s ultimate goals.
“Our goals are the same every year,” he said. “We want to win our division, we want to get in the MHAL’s and we want to make it to the states.”
The team’s newest players are still adjusting to life at Coleman, though they all seem to have adapted well.
“Moving into a new system was very hard for me and my sister,” said Emily Curley. “Transferring from public to Catholic school was difficult, but as time went by it got a lot easier.”
“It was very different at first, but I really got to like it,” she said. “The team was very welcoming. At Coleman it’s a whole new group of girls I’ve never played with. I think that we’re all still getting used to each other, but we’re def gelling. We started going out to dinner sometimes. On bus rides and stuff we’re all bonding. That’s going to be very important, I think.”
Another change, at least for Burud, will be playing against a team she once played for.
“I’m looking forward to playing against Red Hook, of course,” she said. “It’s going to be strange playing against my friends. But we’ll go to Red Hook, and that’s definitely their house. I’m excited.”