Newly arrived as the new girls’ varsity basketball coach at North Tonawanda High School, Cathy Hummel is obviously focused on getting the best out of her girls. In Hummel’s eyes the most effective way, at least early on, to do that is to simplify things.
Though Hummel is primarily known in WNY for her time coaching the womens’ volleyball team at Canisius College, she does have experience and know how in basketball as a player. Her hopes are that she can transfer that knowledge to her Lady Jacks.
“We didn’t talk a whole lot about my history or theirs because I felt it was an opportunity for everybody to go in fresh,” Hummel said.
“We talked about the little things, fundamentals. (The last week of November) we just started rolling out some offenses and defenses and spending this week working on that. Really emphasizing the little things like the fundamentals. The discipline on and off the court. I think that will translate on the court. Focusing on free throws and I know the improvements for them have been tremendous.”
As Hummel takes over for the departed Michael Licata, who spent two seasons with the program, she finds herself in a challenging position.
Last season, the Lady Jacks had their best season in over 10 years as they won double digit games (11) and scoring its first home win in sectional playoff action since 2002.
But after the graduation of key players like Desiree Doucette, Gina Mallone and leading scorer Liz Wildt the Lady Jacks find themselves having to fill gaps in the lineup. So Hummel has to balance finding a way to build off of last year and help the returning players maintain that good vibe while still being open to change so that they can grow even more as a team and as individuals.
“The winning is important. Anyone who knows me knows I’m as competitive as can be,” Hummel said.
Though important pieces have moved on, the supporting cast that played around Wildt and the others is now more experienced and there is a deeper pool of talent throughout that bodes well for this season.
Leading the way for NT will be captains junior Lindsay Piotrowski (point guard), junior Erin Sammarco (guard) and senior Savannah Haner (guard/forward).
“I think having a girl coach it makes it a lot easier because we can almost understand where she is coming from more,” Lindsay Piotrowski said.
“She’s looking at the season a lot differently than (coaches) in past years which is good for us. We obviously need something changed again. Something to help keep us going because we lost a lot of seniors.”
Also back and primed to make a bigger impact are Becca VerHague and Bridget Wilson. Wilson, who was a captain on the varsity soccer team, came into this school season in the best shape of her life. Hummel, though still getting to know Wilson, said that she is amazed by Wilson’s pure athleticism and can’t wait to see what she will bring to the team this season.
“I really like how everybody tries this year and they’re taking it seriously. Where as in past years, sometimes we would just laugh it off,” Erin Sammarco said. “But now, this year, we’re all here just working hard. Doing what we love to do.”
Some of the bigger changes will be centered around Piotrowski and Haner. In an effort to get the most of out Piotrowski, Hummel will shave some of Piotrowski’s playing time so that she will be fresher in the later parts of the game. In past seasons, Piotrowski, out of necessity, had to play virtually every second. So at times, when fatigue set in, it led to mental errors like fouls and turnovers.
With players like Sammarco and freshman Samantha Kennedy, new to varsity, the Lady Jacks now have the depth that will give Hummel the luxury of resting Piotrowski.
Haner, meanwhile, will shift from the five spot to the four or even the three with the thought process being her size and power can open up shooting lanes for the others.
“She told Savannah the same thing,” Piotrowski said. “She’s going to be more of a guard this year because (Hummel) sees that in her. She’s getting the most out of us by seeing our strong suits that maybe we were put in a position that wasn’t natural.”
Though the girls have respect for Licata and what he did to point them in the right direction,the captains agreed that being open to change and having faith in Hummel will be key to moving forward and accomplishing even greater things.
“I was five the past two years and she said she wants me to be a three this year,” Haner said. “It kind of is exciting because I get to touch the ball more and maybe I can make some baskets here and there. So (at first) people thought yeah it’s gonna be weird, but people should look forward to it because they will be looking better points-wise. She’ll put people in the best places where she thinks they’ll have the opportunity to score and do their best.”
Hummel is trying to send the message that achieving high goals starts with demanding more from yourself.
“She pushes us. She has us sprinting and doesn’t feel bad,” quipped Piotrowski.
Yilka Sopi, Laney Wieclaw, Sarah Deering, Jasmine Moran, Kailee Sharp, Kayleigh Kneitinger and Katherine Vendetta complete the Lady Jacks opening night roster.
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