SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP — Lakeside’s girls basketball team is ready to take a step forward.
Without a single senior on the roster last season, the Dragons struggled their way to a 2-21 record. They won just one game the previous year.
Entering the 2018-19 campaign, a more experienced team is ready to rewrite those old narratives. The Dragons aren’t putting their recent history in the rearview mirror, though. Instead, they’re focusing on the lessons they learned and using them as a propellant.
“As a young team, we had to step up and we had to push the younger girls to be better too, so really we just had to keep our intensity up,” said senior Makenna Condon, who led the Dragons in scoring last year. “Now, we’re the only seniors on the team so we just have to keep that up this year and I think that’s something to build off of, because we had to do it last year and now we have a little bit of a foundation to go off of.”
Senior Dani Melnik added that last season was a rebuilding year and the team learned “leadership skills and just pushing your teammates and making sure everybody does what they’re supposed to do.”
Lakeside also has a new voice leading the way as Nicole Grimmett takes over her first head coaching position. Grimmett coached the JV team and assisted former head coach Bill Isco last season.
The seniors, who are now under the tutelage of their third head coach, said their familiarity with Grimmett has eased the process of transitioning to a new coach.
“It was a little bit easier because we kind of already knew her coaching style, but it’s definitely a change from last year,” senior Kristen van’t Veer said. “We’re all kind of looking forward to it and seeing the results that we’re going to get from all of our hard work.”
Grimmett played high school basketball at Geneva under coach Nancy Barbo. She then played softball at Lake Erie, but she said becoming a varsity basketball coach has always been a goal.
“It may have come a little sooner than I expected, but it’s always something I’ve wanted to do,” Grimmett said.
Grimmett said defense will be a major focus for her team. She also joked that she’d steal a couple things that she learned from Barbo, whose teams were well known in the area for always having one of the toughest defenses to crack.
“I love the defensive game, defense wins championships, so we’re gonna run,” Grimmett said. “I’m big on man defense, in your face, all over them on defense.”
After the struggles of the previous years, Grimmett is aware that Lakeside won’t be favored to compete for state titles anytime soon. Instead, she is going to focus on the goals her team sets for itself.
“We’re going to sit down, we’re going to realistically look at our schedule and set some goals and we’re going to celebrate the small successes,” she said. “We’re not going to come in expecting to win every game, but we are going to set those goals, things that we can accomplish and reach for and we’re going to celebrate those.”
Senior Brielle Hathy said Grimmett is the coach Lakeside needs at this time.
“If we don’t do great, we’re still going to be good because she’s a very positive coach and she comes in with a quote everyday to remind us to keep pushing ourselves, like effort is what matters and I think we’re going to be better this year,” Hathy said. “Even if we do lose, we still got to take something from that and change it into a positive and come back the next game and work harder.”
Senior Deahrah Williams picked up where Hathy left off, saying “I feel like we were positive with our losses last year” and that she hopes and expects to see improvements this year.
Grimmett returned the favor and noted how Lakeside’s current crop of seniors have helped her ease into her new role.
“I have a great group of seniors, they are really helping me with the transition,” Grimmett said. “They’ve just been great, supportive to the younger girls. We have no juniors, so we’re all seniors, sophomores and freshmen and they have just been great with helping them, being positive, being role models for them. They made the transition a lot easier.”
The Dragons open up their season at Jefferson on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
BIGGER THAN BASKETBALL
Grimmett is focused on building a program at Lakeside. For her, that means being able to coach more than just basketball.
“I want to teach these girls to be good basketball players, but I want them to be good people,” Grimmett said. “We talked about when you want something, you have to go get it, whether it’s in the gym or out in life. So these girls are going to play basketball for four years, but then they’re gonna go off and do other things … basketball’s only a part of most of these girls lives for four years.”
LEADING THE OFFENSE
Without graduating a single senior from last year’s team, Lakeside doesn’t have to worry about replacing production. Headlining the returnees is Condon, who averaged nearly 12 points per game last year.
“Makenna’s a competitor, she’s always going to go out there and give it her best, whether we’re up by 50 or down by 50,” Grimmett said. “She’s going to go out there to do her best and she’s always working hard, so I expect the same thing from her. She takes the lead in practice, during games she’s going to be one of our main scorers.”
The team’s second-leading scorer from 2017-18, Hathy will be counted on from Grimmett to provide spacing. Grimmett also gushed over Williams’ handles.
“Brielle has an awesome shot, so we expect to get her the ball some more,” Grimmett said. “Deahrah, she has great ball-handling skills, so hopefully she can take care of that ball for us and kind of free up Makenna and Brielle.”
Sophomore Hailee Aguinaga will be called on to handle the post for Lakeside.
“I expect her to be a powerhouse down there, take care of the boards for us and get some of those putbacks,” Grimmett said.