By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
SAYRE — Veteran coach Eileen Sparduti is starting her seventh season in her second stint at Sayre, and has led the Lady Redskins to the District 4 playoffs in each of her first six seasons, but 2019-20 will be her biggest challenge.
(Sayre opens its season tonight against Blue Ridge at the Towanda Tip-Off Tournament.)
Sparduti, who has 14 years of experience on the varsity sidelines, has just 11 players on the roster for varsity and JV, including several first-year players.
“In my first tour of duty (in Sayre), we had ebbs and flows of success, rebuild … success, rebuild,” said Sparduti. “But never had the numbers issue. We always had an ample supply of kids who wanted to play.
“The combination of the youth and inexperience, and the limitation of numbers … I have three kids who did not play a fall sport, so there are conditioning issues — there’s just a mash up of things that have contributed,” she noted. “It’s been a perfect storm.
“As a scholastic coach, I’m a teaching coach, and I’m going to do a lot of teaching this year. I enjoy the challenge,” continued Sparduti.
“This is a fun teaching-growth challenge. These girls are improving, you can see it,” she added. “We need to play. We may not be ready to play, but we need to play.”
Sparduti, who has a 109-41 record this time around at Sayre, will have two starters back from last year’s 19-8 team in senior guard Emily Sutryk, and junior forward Gabbi Randall.
Seniors Maddie Wilson and Erika Wells will start at forward, and senior Maddie Lamanna, who is returning after a year away from the program, will will see time at guard and forward.
“We have two experienced players back, and Maddie Wilson gave us good minutes off the bench last year,” said Sparduti. “Erika (Wells) is pretty fresh, and Maddie (Lamanna) is learning quickly.”
The Lady Redskins have virtually no experience coming off the bench.
“Our varsity bench is our JV kids,” said Sparduti. “We hope to get some good milage out of them, but it’s going to take time and patience.”
Sparduti expects sophomores Jazz Dekay and newcomer Haley VanDyke, and freshman Gabby Shaw to see time off bench.
“Because we did not have a JV team last year, Jazz (Dekay) did not get a lot off playing time,” said Sparduti. “She improved a ton in practice, and you can see that now.
“(Haley VanDyke) is energetic,” noted Sparduti. “She can give us some quality minutes if we can get her calmed down. She’s learning quickly, but has not been tested.”
“Gabby (Shaw) has really impressed (JV) coach (Dennis) Randall and I with how she’s participated here in practice,” added Sparduti. “She’s one of those kids who’s fun to teach because you tell her once and you see her do it.”
Sparduti sees team unity as a strength for this team.
“The strength of this team is how connected they are to each other.
“I was concerned about numbers all along, so we’ve been carrying this theme of ‘one team,’” said Sparduti. “To watch my older players take the younger players on their backs, congratulating them when they’ve done well, and the younger players wanting to please them. No one wants to let anyone down here, and I get a ton of mileage out of that.
“They’re playing for each other,” she noted. “We’re going to play hard, and we’re going to come at you. We might not have the barrels we’ve had int he past, but we’re going to come at you.
“We’re going to take some blows early, but hopefully we’ll land on our feet eventually,” Sparduti added.
Sparduti has reasonable expectations for 2019-20
“I want them to play hard. I want them to move past layers of mistakes,” she said. “I don’t want to be saying same thing three weeks from now. I want to spiral to different problems.
“We come in every night, and focus on the now,” noted Sparduti. “When you focus on the now, the thens take care of themselves. We want to play hard, we want to put up a good fight, and we’ll find Ws.”
ON THE NTL SMALL SCHOOL DIVISION: “Mansfield is the team to beat,” said Sparduti. “I look at their returners, and I say ‘oh my.’ They have a cluster of seniors who have been together for a long time. They are athletic, they’re speedy, and they like to shoot the 3.
“I like Northeast (Bradford) right behind them, they have good experience,” she noted. “I’d like to say we can get ourselves into the mix, but its going to depend on how we grow.
“There will be some new teams in the hunt, but that’s good for the league,” added Sparduti. “It keeps us all moving forward. That’s how we got to the top because we wanted to be better than Northeast, and better than Mansfield the last time they were on top.”
IN PHOTO: Sayre’s Emily Sutryk.
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