SALAMANCA — The 2018-19 season was a learning experience for both the Salamanca girls basketball team and its coach.
Bryelle Wallin was getting to know her players, just as much as they learned how to play for her. And any progress they made together didn’t show up on the scoreboard. Salamanca started the season 2-2, but didn’t win again in its first season under the former Pine Valley coach.
Despite their record last year, Wallin thinks the Warriors showed signs of development and approached the 2019-20 season with a stronger ‘attitude.’
“Obviously the 2-19 record wasn't spectacular or stellar,” Wallin admitted. “But at the end of the year, I felt like we were making some serious progress, I felt like we were playing our best basketball. There were games that we were in and just didn't know how to close it. But I think the attitude has changed this year. We're owning a 'We before me' mentality and attitude and it really seems to be resonating with the girls and everything just seems to be moving forward at the right pace.”
With some higher expectations in her second year, Wallin plans to approach the season differently as well.
“Last year I was probably easier on them than I would have typically been, because I wanted to get to know them and have them build a relationship and trust with me,” she said. “This year, I'm a little more forward-thinking in where I want us to be and the expectations that I have from them.”
The Warriors have four seniors, with Nizhoni Kennedy, Kylee Dowdy, Aly Hill, Kaylynn Kawamura and Holly McGonigle. Juniors include Marla Warrior, Monique White, Jaeden Hubbard and Makayla Burge. Emma Brown and Jillian Rea are on the team as sophomores.
Dowdy led last year’s team with 10.7 points per game, while averaging 9.9 rebounds.
Wallin returned most of her team from last season, with the addition of Kennedy, who played two years of varsity at Randolph, marking 7.6 points and 5 rebounds per game last season.
“We return almost every single player,” Wallin said. “We lost three to graduation and a few here and there due to personal circumstances. We picked up Nizhoni, she moved back to the district. But the core is solid.”
Already, Wallin expects Kennedy to help lead the team.
“Nizhoni definitely is,” Wallin said of her leaders. “She brings a different type of experience coming from Randolph and she brings just the 'want to.' She wants to be better. She wants to succeed, and you can see that it's rubbing off on people. Emma Brown is stepping up into a leadership role and Marla Warrior too.”
Salamanca’s coaches attempted to give the girls basketball players more of a chance to play over the summer.
“We had a few open gyms over the summer, work conflicts and things like that got in the way,” Wallin said. “We hosted Houghton, their head coach came in and ran a camp for us for a week. Then in the weeks leading up, I had open gyms once a week and the kids were able to come in and do whatever they wanted to get better.
“I think seeing that we're putting a priority on it, making a priority out of them, is changing their mindset. I think for a while here, the girls programs have kind of been in the shadows of the boys programs, not to anybody's fault, but I'm trying to, and coach (Casey) Cutting, we're both trying to re-establish our presence as a legit program.”
Salamanca, which tips off the season Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Clymer, will play a new league schedule. The Warriors moved to CCAA East II, swapping places with Franklinville, which won the state Class D championship last year. Wallin hopes the Warriors can play in more competitive league games than in the East I division.
“I made the decision to reach out to Franklinville and switch so we could start building some confidence,” Wallin said. “No game is ever going to be like we're just going to walk in and show up and win. That's why I scheduled a little harder non-league competitors. We're still going to have our work cut out for us, but I think we'll compete a lot better.”
Gearing up for the first game, Salamanca has tried to practice with game speed to instill ‘game mentality,` Wallin said.
“Once we get into games, I really hope to find who's going to get the job done for us,” she said. “I really want to see that 'we before me' attitude and I want to see that team concept. But other than that, we need to just take the things that they've learned between now and last year and apply them and start winning some basketball games.”