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Cocalico looks to restore the tradition
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org, Staff Writer
The Cocalico girls built quite a tradition on the basketball court in the decade of the 90s, wracking up several section championships while making frequent runs in the District and State Tournaments.
As an assistant at the time, Tony DiMatteo was a part of that whole experience. But somewhere along the line, after DiMatteo left, the program began to struggle. And last season, it was close to rock bottom as the Lady Eagles went winless in Section Two play and finished with a dismal 2-19 mark.
Now, DiMatteo makes his return to the Nest, this time as the new head coach. And one of his main focuses this first season is finding a way to restore the tradition Cocalico had established two decades ago.
The team split in its first two games over the weekend but already DiMatteo is seeing some positive steps in the process.
""I think it was important for the girls to win and get some confidence," DiMatteo said Monday. "I think it was important for the program. They’ve had a tough couple years. We are trying to rebuild the tradition. When I coached here last, that was when we were going to Districts, winning a couple section titles and the program was really solid all the way through.
"Now we’ve had some lean years here so we’re just trying to go back to the basics. We started with the third grade. We are rebuilding the philosophy and the fundamentals all the way through so when the kids come through each year they understand. There is a consistency there. It’s going to take a couple years, obviously, to come through the pipeline but I was pleased. The one thing is I have very bright girls. They are all wonderful students and they listen well. They do their homework so they are learning rapidly and they are trying to get to where we need to be."
According to the coach, the first two weeks of the new season has been a learning process both for he and the players.
"It’s been good," he said. "But it’s been kind of crazy too. Being an assistant, it’s different. There is a lot more going on as a head coach so we’ve been sort of focusing on rebuilding from the ground up. I’ve got some good people in place.
"As for the girls, in the beginning it was a little bit different than what they are used to. They are getting used to it now, but when I consider we’ve had 12 practices I think we’ve done a really good job meeting each other. I want to play the way I want to play but then I see the way the girls are capable of playing so we sort of have to meet somewhere in the middle. It’s taken some time but we are getting there. I’m looking at their capabilities. They are getting to know me and I’m still getting to know them. I’m just seeing what we are capable of and then trying to meet where we can be the most successful."
Cocalico entered the season having to replace five seniors from a year ago, as well as top returnee Kathleen Lawver, who decided not to come out. And while there isn’t a ton of varsity experience, DiMatteo says the group of 15 girls on the varsity and JV squad is making up for that with a lot of hard work.
"’The girls have been working very hard," DiMatteo said. "I told them my goal is to be the hardest working team in the league. And we are well on our way to that. We are just trying to rebuild the fundamentals. We have 15 girls and everybody is going to play a lot either on the varsity or JV levels. We broke it down to the basic fundamentals, we’re doing a lot of teaching, and then adding a little on at each practice."
"We basically lost our starting five from a year ago," he continued. "We do have limited varsity experience but these girls never played together, and you can’t teach that. You also can’t teach experience so that’s part of what I’ve been talking to them about. They have to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses so that when they are on the court they can anticipate well. We don’t have a heck of a lot of height. We don’t have a lot of quickness and we don’t have a lot of depth so we have to make up for it with heart."
As far as the lineup is concerned, DiMatteo figures to go about eight deep at least in the early going.
The lone two seniors on the roster will occupy the back court. Lauren Waskowicz (5-4) returns to the point after missing last season with a knee injury. And sparkplug Megan Caiazzo (5-2) will take over at the "two-guard" position.
Both players are captains and will look to lead their younger troops out on the court.
"Lauren is a definite leader," DiMatteo said. "She hurt her knee right at the beginning of the year last year so she spent a lot of time watching and rehabbing. She’s come out full bore. There is no hesitancy. She’s been playing hard and I’ve been grateful for that."
"Megan is a good defensive player. She hounds the ball. She would run through a brick wall for me, which I really do appreciate."
The third tri-captain is junior center Kristen Boyer, who at 5-11 in the one "big" DiMatteo has in his arsenal. Through the first two game, Boyer has shown the ability to contribute at both ends and leads the team with a 12.5 points per game average.
"She’s very athletic. She’s a volleyball player," DiMatteo said. "Kristen gets up and down the court. Obviously we want to try to use her as much as possible at the offensive end. We need to keep her on the court which means keeping her out of foul trouble. She’s very talented and has filled that role nicely."
Junior Taylor Esterly (5-8) and sophomore Marissa Gingrich (5-7) round out the starting five at the forward spots.
"Taylor is athletic and has been around basketball a lot (her father is head coach at Berks Catholic)," DiMatteo said. "She’s more of a slasher, a good defensive player. She’s very aggressive and bangs under the boards for us. Marissa is sort of our ‘do everything’ type of player. She’s rebounding for us, she’s going to need to score for us and handle the ball. She’s going to be like our all-around player."
Looking to see time off the bench will be juniors Olivia Fryberger (5-7) and Rebecca Grube (5-6), along with freshman point guard Natalie Sukanick (5-1). Fryberger will be relied on for her inside presence while Grube will provide some scoring for the Lady Eagles. Sukanick, the lone ninth grader in the entire system, will provide some much-needed backcourt help.
As far as playing style is concerned, DiMatteo said look for everything to start at the defensive end.
"We are going try to be defensive oriented," he said. "We are going to try to dictate the tempo. We are going to try to play our style, which is aggressive. We are definitely a help and recovery type of team. We’ll look to push the ball up the court when we can and try to limit our turnovers. We are not going to score a lot of points. We just don’t have the athletic people and all that kind of stuff. We are going to try to play good defense which will hopefully keep us in every game and give us an opportunity to win."
As far as expectations are concerned, DiMatteo said they have simple goals this season.
"We just want to be the hardest working team in the league," he said. "I told the girls, when teams see Cocalico on the schedule I want them to feel like that’s going to be a tough game. Wins and losses are not important at this point. We are rebuilding and trying to get back to the tradition that we had, and that’s going to start on the defensive end. It’s going to start with hard work, and we are not going to give up. I just want other teams to respect us."
"We are off to a great start," he continued. "The girls are really buying into that and they can see it happening. That’s our goal. We don’t have goals as far as we want to win an ‘X’ number of games. We just want to be competitive each and every time we step on the court."
DiMatteo sees Solanco as the odds-on favorite to win Section Two. After that, he sees a wide-open race.
"Other than Solanco, it’s probably going to fall on who steps up and who stays healthy," he said. "Our goal is hopefully if we stay healthy and improve, we’ll be there somewhere in the mix." More COCALICO GIRLS, page B-7