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Young Cocalico looking to take the ‘next step’
A year ago, Tony DiMatteo took over the Cocalico girls basketball program with a lot of work to do.
Inheriting a team that went 2-19 the season before, DiMatteo first had to restore the pride this program once enjoyed when he was an assistant years ago. Secondly, he needed to instill a winning attitude.
The Lady Eagles showed flashes at times of turning the corner and struggled at other times, especially after starting point guard Lauren Waskowicz went down with a knee injury. Cocalico went on to finish 6-10 in Section Two and 8-14 overall.
Despite the record, a lot of good things happened in Year One. For one, then-sophomore Marissa Gingrich (5-7) enjoyed a breakout season, averaging more than 12 points a game. In addition, several others who will be returning got important varsity experience which should pay serious dividends this year.
Cocalico brings back a solid nucleus of five key varsity contributors from a year ago, including senior forwards Kristen Boyer (5-11, 10 points per game), Taylor Esterly (5-8, 4.5 ppg) and Rebecca Grube (5-6), 5-2 sophomore point guard Natalie Sukanick, and Gingrich.
Add to that a talented freshman class that goes 11 strong and is led by Emily White (5-10) and Megan Gingrich (5-9), who is Marissa’s sister, and the Lady Eagles have every reason to be thinking big this winter.
Cocalico is off to a solid start, going 2-1 through the first three games, and appears to be ready to take the next step.
Recently, Ephrata Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth caught up with DiMatteo to discuss the potential of this up and coming program. The following is the transcript of their conversation:
Todd Ruth: What are your thoughts on last year’s season, and what are your expectations with this current group?
Tony DiMatteo: We took a big step last year. And we need to take a bigger one this year. People don’t take us seriously but I told them, ‘You’ve got to earn it. That’s respect, and that’s not going to come easy. When you get it, then everybody is going to be coming up to knock you off.’ But right now, we have to earn it. We haven’t gotten there yet.
Now we’ve lost (guard) Megan (Caiazzo) and of course we lost Lauren Waskowicz earlier so we didn’t really have a vocal leader coming back. I challenged the girls that played to step up. I knew we had a great group of freshmen coming in, there was a lot of talent, so I knew that every day in practice that was going to help us. Last year we weren’t deep, and practice was tough. We just couldn’t get that. We had the coaches playing just so they had competition. This year we do. This year we have Kristen Boyer going against Megan Gingrich every day in practice, and Megan is getting better and she’s pushing Kristen.
You know my expectation last year was to make the playoffs. And if Lauren didn’t get hurt, I think we would have done that. We showed in the Warwick game that we were clicking, and then we had to restart all over with Natalie (Sukanick). And we built as the season went on. This year, the expectation is it’s there. Solanco and Ephrata are the two favorites because they have a lot of people back, and they proved it. We haven’t, but our expectations are at the end we are going to be there. But we got to get better.
TR: Looking at your rotation from your first three games, are you going to be running about eight to nine kids?
TD: Yeah, it’s kind of dependent on how we need to mesh. Last year, it was like, ‘here is my style and this is her style,’ and we had to kind of match. This year, we have situations where I can put certain players in different situations. If I want to press I can put Megan Gingrich in there. Having a deeper bench, even if it’s only eight or nine, I think it’s going to eventually extend to 10. We’ll get more in there as some of these freshmen mature. We have some capable players.
TR: Marissa Gingrich had a breakout season last year. What kind of expectations have you placed on her?
TD: Obviously she’s a great shooter, a great offensive player. We are working a little on her defense and ball-handling. I told her good basketball players make players around them better. I said, ‘your challenge is you got to make the players around you better.’ I said, ‘you are going to score your points but people are going to try to shut you down. You have to make your teammates better,’ so that is the challenge I gave her this year, and she’s been accepting it. She takes the ball hard to the hole. She’s a leader out there, and now she’s starting to dish. She’s got to learn. She’s a junior and she’s getting there.
TR: Talk about your other veterans and what they bring to the table.
TD: Kristen (Boyer) and Taylor (Esterly) do a great job. They frustrate me at times with little things but then they come back and make the big play. They’ll miss a lay-up and then they’ll come back and make a super pass…The consistency is what we need out of them, but they’ve been vocal. They have been vocal leaders in the locker room and have been very positive. Becca Grube is another senior who comes off the bench and is our instant offense. She’s a shooter, and then we have Natalie (Sukanick) at the point. There is a lot of pressure on her. She has to run the team. If you can’t get the ball up the court and set up the offense you can’t do anything. Lancaster Catholic will show you that, and Township…they pressure you so you got to be able to get the ball up and get into your offense. We rely a lot of Natalie.
TR: Of the freshman, who do you feel is ready to contribute?
TD: Emily (White) is going to get there. She can really handle the ball but she is young. She’s having her freshman growing pains. She has to work on some things but she listens and she learns. I think we’ll see her grow a lot. And Megan (Gingrich), eventhough she is a freshman she is playing like a junior. This summer she and her sister worked extremely hard, and I told them you’ll see the benefit in the season. In the summer, that’s when you get better. The summer you can see who is going to take that next step and the two of them were at every open gym, were at every summer league game… it had to make a difference and it did. Megan went to basketball camp and she was the MVP at Messiah. It’s just a huge growth. She wants to play basketball. I think some of that’s Marissa, because she sees how Marissa loves it and Megan has that same love of the game. They both love it and they are great kids.
That’s a nice nucleus, so that’s why we want to get it cranked up this year because the next couple years we want to be there.
TR: What are the areas you need to improve on to take that step to the next level?
TD: Our defense. Offense sells tickets but defense wins championships. If we want to be a section champ and if we want to be in the playoffs we need to play good defense and that’s five people out on the court, clicking and communicating. We haven’t been doing that yet. We get four and one, or three and two but we have to have five. And when I put a sub in there, that girl has to fill in so we got to play good defense. And we got to take care of the basketball. We have to limit the (opponent’s) easy shots and not turn the ball over, and then if we can force some on defense we can get some easy shots.
We’ve been getting some easy shots, and that’s the big difference from last year. Last year, we worked for everything. We’ve had more lay-ups in three games than we had all last season, just because we are a better team. That’s the key. We need to play defense, limit our turnovers, cause some turnovers and put the ball in the basket.
TR: Looking at the section, you mentioned Solanco and Ephrata. I think with your bigs you kind of match up with Solanco a little bit. Talk about how you feel the section is going to play out.
TD: With new coaches, things change. And the coaches that are new in the section are veteran coaches. They’ve all been around the block so they just have to go through what I went through last year with kids getting to know me. Solanco has been there three years in-a-row so someone has to knock them off. Those kids have a chip on their shoulders and they should. Ephrata’s got four starters back. (Kelly) Liebl is a great guard and (Sarah) Haddon is a big girl, and then you have everybody else in CV, Lebanon and us who are trying to get there. We are going to have to beat them. That’s the bottom line. We are going to first have to take care of our home court, and then go on the road and win some too. And we need to take some of those crossover games. That can be the key, but every win is important. Every win for our program is important. People are starting to talk about Cocalico, and that’s a nice feeling.
TR: Finally, what are your thoughts on your new gym?
TD: It’s beautiful. It’s not a huge gym but I’m glad. I think it can be a nice homecourt advantage for us. It’s bright, I like the floor, the scoreboard…I like the lines and the shooting is nice…I think it’s going to be a nice homecourt for us. More LADY EAGLES, page B-6