Don Baker has headed the Roy-Hart girls’ basketball program for over three decades, but he holds no secrets as to his coaching philosophy.
Baker’s teams pride themselves on their attacking nature – full-court presses to initiative turnovers; then getting the ball out in transition for quick buckets.
When the system is clicking, Roy-Hart is a tough out for any opponent. With this year’s mix of experience and athleticism, the Lady Rams are excited to test their mettle in an always-competitive Niagara-Orleans League.
“My whole career, we’ve liked to press all over, try to get open court,” Baker said. “Especially on our home court. We try to get open early and try to score in transition. The system’s pretty much staying the same; we’re just trying to plug in a few different players.”
Leading the Roy-Hart troop will be senior Taylor Fry, a fifth-year varsity player who was part of the Lady Rams’ last Niagara-Orleans League title team when she was an eighth grader in 2010-11.
Fry will be charged with managing the offense much of the time and Baker is encouraged by Fry’s willingness to assume a leadership role early.
“A lot of the kids are looking up to Taylor for leadership and stuff like that,” Baker said. “We’re looking for a lot of leadership out of her; looking for her to step up her senior year.”
The starting lineup will be rounded out by senior Kendra Hill – who transferred from Medina for her junior season – junior Emma Lindke, and sophomores Rielly Albee and Eva Bligh.
Lindke and Bligh are strong soccer players for the Lady Rams in the fall season, while Albee stars on the field hockey team.
All in all, it makes for a lot of athleticism on the basketball court.
“Athleticism-wise, we’re good,” Baker said. “We’re a little bit better off than we had been the past couple of years, just the type of athletes we’ve got.”
Roy-Hart will miss departed senior Becky Harnish, a strong post player, and Baker knows that his team lacks the height advantage that will be enjoyed by some of the top Niagara-Orleans League squads.
Still, the veteran coach knows there are plenty of ways to make up for a height disadvantage.
“It’s probably the first time in my career that I don’t have a true post player,” Baker said. “We’re going to be small and quick. We’ve got outstanding guards and should be able to shoot the ball pretty well. Hopefully we’ll be able to use our quickness and full-court defense; our biggest thing is to score in transition.”
Baker expects perennial N-O powerhouse Wilson to have another strong season, and he thinks a veteran Albion squad will have a chance to contend for a league title. He also points to Newfane, coached by Kevin Klumpp, as a team well positioned for a strong season.
“Wilson and Albion should be the top two, Newfane top three maybe, and everyone else is fighting it out,” Baker said. “I like that underdog role a little bit.”
In order to stack up with the top teams and contend for Roy-Hart’s first Niagara-Orleans League title in four seasons, Baker feels the Lady Rams will need to find ways to effectively handle other teams’ pressure.
Baker also points to two tried-and-true basketball pillars: defense and rebounding.
“Obviously, we have to rebound,” Baker said. “That’s the biggest thing. If we can rebound and play defense, we’ll be okay.”
The Lady Rams struggled to contend against the league’s heavyweights for much of last season, finishing at 2-12 in Niagara-Orleans League competition, and 3-15 overall. It’s a new year, though. Baker has been around a while, and he knows that anything can happen.
“We’re looking forward to another good year,” Baker said.
The Lady Rams open their season with a non-league home matchup against Lyndonville on Dec. 2, and will then host its annual Tip-Off Tournament, Dec. 4-6.
Roy-Hart’s Niagara-Orleans League slate gets underway on Dec. 18 with a home contest against CSAT.