SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP — During a timeout in the third quarter of Saturday afternoon’s game against Howland, the Lakeside Dragons were not pointing fingers at each other or being scolded at by their coach.
Despite seeing a 23-point halftime deficit grow into the 30s, several Dragons wore big smiles on their faces and shared laughs with each other. Coach Nicole Grimmett was one of them.
The Dragons (5-8) were not celebrating being on the losing end of what turned into a 61-19 defeat. They just simply enjoyed being out on the court together.
And why shouldn’t they?
They have improved as much as, if not more than, any other team in the county over the past calendar. Grimmett, a first-year head coach who was an assistant during last year’s 2-21 season, said she has seen the same boost in morale as she has seen on the court.
“When we came into the gym Thursday, they were all still laughing and having a good time and working hard. We had one of our best practices on Thursday,” Grimmett said, after the team suffered an 87-25 loss against Canfield one day earlier. “… They are feeding off each other. They’re here for each other, playing for each other, making the most of it and still working hard, no matter what the outcome of the previous night was.
“So I’m really proud of them. And it is a big difference from last year, the energy.”
Lakeside struggled its way to two wins in the 2017-18 season — both against Edgewood.
The Dragons needed just four games to match that total this campaign. They then won their third game on Dec. 19, which was the first of three-consecutive victories that pushed Lakeside’s record to 5-4.
Senior Makenna Condon, who scored 15 of her team’s 19 points on Saturday, said Lakeside’s biggest improvement has been its ability to play as one.
“I think we’re playing more as a team, instead of playing like individually,” Condon said. “We’re looking for each other a lot more and we’re having a lot more fun than we did prior to this season. So I think enjoying the game you’re playing has a big impact on how you play as a team and how your games turn out.”
After leading the team in scoring last year as a junior, Condon is once again filling up the scorebook for Lakeside.
During a four-game stretch from Dec. 19 through Jan. 5, Condon scored 94 points, 23.5 per game, highlighted by a 35-point performance against Chaney on Dec. 22.
Brielle Hathy, the team’s second-leading scorer from a year ago, has continued her strong outside-shooting ways.
She canned five 3-pointers in a win over St. John and buried home what turned out to be a game-deciding triple in Lakeside’s first win of the season.
Trailing by 13 points at halftime in a Nov. 28 contest at Cardinal, the Dragons battled back to tie the score at 48, setting the stage for Hathy’s 3-pointer in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
The Dragons won 52-51.
“They step up when we need them,” Grimmett said of Condon and Hathy. “Sometimes one of them is off one night, and the other one will step it up. I think they’re doing a great job of getting open. Our point guards are doing a good job of getting them the ball and they’re feeding the post when they’re not open for the shot. I think everybody’s using each other and stepping up when we need them to step up.”
In addition to the rest of the senior-heavy roster — that includes Deahrah Williams, Dani Melnik, Kristen van’t Veer, Donna Shupp, Dezaray Anderson and Katie Kinney — a number of underclassmen have flashed glimpses of their potential.
Hailee Aguinaga pulled down 11 rebounds on Saturday and has given opponents plenty to think about down low. Mandy Strong and Shayla Christian have each received more time as the season has progressed.
All three are sophomores.
“They’re working really hard, they worked really hard in the offseason this past year and I see a lot of good things from them in the future,” Grimmett said of her trio of sophomores. “Also, Kirsten (Clason), she’s kind of taken the lead on our JV team, taking care of the ball. I see her being a really good asset for us in the coming years. And we have a strong group of freshmen, a lot of athleticism with them. I’m excited to see what happens after we get done this year.”
And while next year’s Lakeside team will be without its two leading scorers and much of its current roster, the Dragons will have the benefit of what Hathy called the biggest catalyst to this year’s success on and off the court.
“I think it’s mostly our coach that encourages us to be happy all the time,” Hathy said of the biggest change from last year to this year. “Because she’s like ‘Even if you don’t have the best game, you should be excited when you have a block, a stop, anything like that. When you score, even if it’s like a big difference in the score, you should be happy at all times.’”
Lakeside has at least 10 games left in its season — barring any cancelations — starting with Wednesday’s contest against Austintown Fitch.
“I mean we have a few winnable games for sure coming up,” Hathy said. “(We) just have to keep pushing and people have to step up.”