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Weedsport Basketball Continues to Grow and Thrive

Riley+Spingler+goes+up+for+a+basket+in+a+game+last+season.
Riley Spingler goes up for a basket in a game last season.

Riley Spingler goes up for a basket in a game last season.

Jared Sullivan

Jared Sullivan

Riley Spingler goes up for a basket in a game last season.

Max Horsford, Staff Writer

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As we start the winter sports season, the boys varsity basketball team looks like the strongest Weedsport team in recent memory. The team is returning all five starters from last year’s squad that went 20-3, and also earned a number two seed in sectionals. Last year’s team was only behind Cooperstown, who went on to win sectionals on the back of its star Tyler Bertram, and fortunately for the rest of Section III, Bertram will not be returning this season.

The Johnny Green recently sat down with Weedsport Varsity Head Coach John Sgarlata to discuss the upcoming season; his hopes, expectations, the best qualities of the varsity squad (as well as some areas that need fine tuning), and also what he thinks the reasons are for the change in Weedsport from football-dominance to basketball-dominance.

When asked about expectations for this year, he said, “We will emphasize our strengths… and be in the hunt for the sectional title.” Those expectations look to be well within reach, with 11 seniors returning to lead the team. Weedsport is poised to make a deep run into the playoffs and perhaps a trip to the state title game. Despite the high expectations, Sgarlata warns the team, “To not just think about how we did last year and just think that’s going to magically happen again because everybody is back.” There’s still a lot of work to do according to the coach. While he thinks the team has grown greatly on the offensive end of the court, he thinks the Warriors defense is lacking occasionally. “We still have some weakness in terms of defense at times, we tend to let teams back in the game when we’ve built big leads.” This past year, WHS saw this against rival Pulaski. Weedsport built an early lead of double digits, however Pulaski battled back to make a game out of it, but would eventually fall to the Warriors.

This year’s senior class is all about basketball. A typical year starts in November with the interscholastic season, and if the Warriors can do it, lasts into March for the Sectional title and beyond. After that comes AAU basketball in the spring, finishing with summer league. That’s three seasons dedicated almost purely to basketball. To Coach Sgarlata, this is a major plus. “They have played an awful lot of games together in their life… they all know where each other are on the floor.” Aside from the superior athleticism, this chemistry is a major strength that sets the Warriors apart from your average team. Team chemistry could be the difference between a disappointing loss, and a comeback win. Along the lines of athleticism, the Warriors’ coach believes another strength of this year’s squad is rebounding, with Jack Benedict grabbing double digit rebounds in 10 of 20 games last season.

It’s not just upperclassmen who are driving this basketball focus. Turnout for basketball tryouts, both boys and girls grades 7-12 was off of the charts, “The number is somewhere between 100 and 108… we have about 400 students, so we basically had a fourth of our student body sign up for basketball,” said Sgarlata. The freshman class is a prime example of this. For the first time in Weedsport history, we had so much interest in basketball that the school had to create a team for a level that normally only schools twice the size of ours have. No school in Section III has a freshmen team in Class C or Class B, leaving the freshmen to compete with schools over twice the size of our own. This did not stop them, however, from topping Class AA Corcoran by nine points in their first game of the season. “My first year as varsity coach,” said Sgarlata, “I told those seniors: JJ O’Connor, Steve Nemec, Nick Jones and all of those guys, that they were really laying the foundation, and I told them that three or four years from when they left the program, the program was gonna be a lot better than when they were there, but they were the group that started this run that we are on.” We can now see that the basketball tradition from Weedsport is starting to become stronger and stronger with the addition of this freshmen team. The win from the freshman team came as a surprise to many around Weedsport, but not to Coach Sgarlata who said, “I expect them to win, we would not have put together a freshman team and organized a schedule where they’re going to be playing the big schools if we didn’t think that they could win.”

As for the change from football power-house to basketball power-house, Sgarlata had this to say, “I don’t know if there’s any one thing that contributed to that… school districts ebb and flow all of the time, and mostly the schools that are really good for a long time or have a run of success in any sport is usually because they got kids involved early.” He also attributes this swing to parents worried of concussions from football that would take them away from the tradition of very good football teams, and have them gravitate toward basketball instead. He also makes a point that younger kids look up to the successes of the varsity teams and look to be like them and pursue basketball as opposed to football. He says that the biggest factor in his mind is AAU basketball, “A lot of our guys play against very, very high level competition all spring and then when they get to their school season, they play against regular class C competition, and they’ve played 60 games against all star teams.” Also, across all of the different leagues of basketball, “Do all of the math there, and we’ve basically played an NBA schedule in terms of the volume of games.”

The future of Weedsport basketball looks bright for both boys and girls teams, with many saying that this could be the year Weedsport overcomes that last hurdle that is a Section title, to kick off what could be a run of great teams for years to come.

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Weedsport Basketball Continues to Grow and Thrive