Quoting her high school coach, Tim Nobles, Salamanca girls basketball coach Bryelle Wallin said returning to the court “is line coming back home.”
Last week, the Warriors went home, taking the court for the first time since last March, when they finished the year in the Section 6 Class C2 semifinal. Returning to play comes with many new requirements, especially the protocols related to avoiding the spread of COVID-19 such as temperature screening, mandatory mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing and sanitizing.
“I love the sport of basketball and I wasn't sure if I was missing it or not,” Wallin said, “but when I got in the gym on Monday and after leaving practice at 8 o'clock at night after cleaning and everything else, it felt good to be back in the gym.”
The Warriors didn’t even get to hold a team banquet last winter, as schools shut down a week after their playoff loss. And they never met in person for official open gyms or shootarounds in the fall, opting to side toward caution.
“I played it safe because I know that our community and our players, they are involved in a lot of different people and especially like their grandparents,” Wallin said. “I didn't want to take a chance and have anybody get sick.
“So I've been in contact with the girls since our shutdown on March 13 last year and a couple of them have reached out for individual workout plans and I would drive by and throw basketballs out my window to them so they had a basketball to work with. But other than that, no it's just been a lot of, ‘Hey, go shoot some hoops.’ I know a few of them had been going to the ACC on their own so that was encouraging to see and hear.”
Senior forward Jaeden Hubbard will look to lead Salamanca’s offense after averaging 9.3 points and 10.8 rebounds last season. She’s joined by two returning varsity players, senior Marla Warrior and junior Jillian Rea.
“Marla is coming back, so she provides some solid leadership, maybe not statistically but she's been around, she's been in the program for forever,” Wallin said, “and Jillian Rea has come back out from last year's original roster and she has improved tremendously. She's one of those kids that decided in the offseason she was going to get better and she's put in the work. So that's really exciting.
“I've got a few juniors that are coming up from JV and then I've got a lot of young kiddos. I've got Bella Wolfe, Karina Crouse, Shea Monahan, Makenzie Oakes, all solid little athletes that decided that this year kind of out of necessity that they wanted to be part of the varsity team. And they fit in, so that's encouraging.”
Salamanca moved back to the CCAA East I league after spending a year in East II, winning a league title. The league includes Randolph, Portville, Falconer, Gowanda and Silver Creek.
“Honestly, the league that we're in, it's going to be an uphill battle for us,” Wallin said. “My gauge of whether or not this season will be a success is whether or not we get better game to game. Right now, I need them to really focus on taking care of their bodies: hydrating, nutrition, getting in that conditioning and really pushing themselves, giving me 100% effort right now. Because it's short: we are playing 14 games in 42 days and usually you're playing 20 games in four months. So we are really hammering this season out, just every day, coming in and putting in the effort and getting better each day.”
Each team the Warriors play will have a star scorer they have to slow down.
“We really have to buckle down on defense and make sure we know where the key players are like Sydney Hvizdzak or Miya Scanlan or Kennedy Rice or the Welty girls, and Falconer, they're reloading too,” Wallin said. “So we just really have to, defense has to be our go-to and we have to rely on that and obviously score a few more points than the other team.”
Wallin’s third year as Salamanca’s head coach will be her first without assistant coach Mark Chase, who died in December after battling a rare form of cancer. The team dedicated this season to its late assistant coach.
“The girls, a lot of them said that their reason for playing was for him,” Wallin said.
The team plans to honor Chase with a logo on armbands this year. Wallin said she’s also working on plans to dedicate a game to raising cancer awareness, which would then become an annual event.
“Back when I found out that Mr. Chase had cancer, it was devastating obviously and I had to break that news to the girls,” Wallin said. “I knew the severity of it, it was tough to tell them because he was so influential in their lives. When I told them they rallied, they sent cards, they made donations to Roswell. So they're a great group of kids that really care.”
Wallin also commended her team for how well it has responded to the pandemic, following all the protocols and precautions to get back on the court.
“The kids are honestly really resilient,” she said. “They're adjusting really well to it. It's becoming second nature and thank goodness in just a few short days they've learned the procedures, they know the protocols and they really want this season to happen so they're taking everything very seriously. It's across the board in all programs, the boys program, our program and at each level, everybody is on board with taking this seriously because we don't want to mess this up for the kids and we don't want to mess it up for the sports that could follow. So we're trying to set the standard. It's a lot, but it's worth it.”
2021 Salamanca Girls Basketball Schedule
(All games 7:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted)
10 — at Pine Valley
13 — Ellicottville, 12:30 p.m.
16 — at Randolph
18 — Falconer
23 — at Gowanda
26 — at Silver Creek
1 — Portville
4 — Randolph
8 — at Falconer
11 — Gowanda
13 — at Ellicottville, 12:30 p.m.
15 — Silver Creek
18 — at Portville
20 — Pine Valley, 1:30 p.m.