Thursday February 21, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Eighth-year head coach Andrea Conrad looks to have her best team yet, and the concept of team is not lost on her players. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)
Lake Shore head coach Andrea Conrad and her players have a running joke about the roles and personalities of her forwards as compared to the guards, so the group made T-shirts this year that read ‘I’m a tall’ and ‘I’m a small’ to make light of the differences.
But make no mistake — this is not a team divided. To the contrary, it’s a united group, whose team-oriented concept has contributed to one of the program’s best regular seasons in quite some time.
A close team, despite the age differences — players consist of four seniors, four sophomores, two juniors and an eighth grader, Lake Shore finished 14-4 and at 11-3 in ECIC III play, which was one game away from earning a co-division title.
“I really think the best thing about our team is we’re a team and we don’t have one player that we always go to or solely go to,” Conrad said. “Different people have stepped up at different times in pressure moments. Sometimes it’s our top seniors Miranda (Aikin) and Michaela (Stepniak). But what’s impressive is that I don’t have to rely solely on them; sometimes it’s also my sophomores that are stepping up.”
Conrad’s been working feverishly to build this program over the past eight seasons, which has come with some frustrations. However, over the past two years, having a group of seniors leaders combined with a unit that puts a premium on working hard in the offseason to improve, has paid dividends.
“We work really well as a team,” said Stepniak, a shooting guard/small forward. “We don’t have a certain player that takes over.”
“If there’s one person who’s shooting is off, there’s always someone to pick up the slack,” added Aikin, the team’s point guard. “If someone is in foul trouble, we have a long bench to go to.”
The team has an interesting dynamic that has worked very well for this particular group. Not only is it deeper squad than most at the school in recent history, it’s senior leaders are in the back court — better known as the smalls, while most of the younger players are the featured players up front, the aforementioned talls.
Darian Evans has been the ring leader of the young forwards as a second-year varsity player. Her effort and production has rubbed off on fellow sophomore Lindsay Gearhart, a 6-footer who’s gone from averaging four points last year with the junior varsity to putting up a number of double-double performances this season. She’s showed a good outside shot, in addition to improving in the post. Shayla Scanlan, an eighth grader, also has given the team quality minutes up front.
“Those three have really worked hard together and pushed each other in practice,” Conrad said. “I’m not sure if it’s the mentality of ‘I’m going to be here for a few more years’ but they don’t feel the pressure and have been playing really big for us lately.”
Joining Stepniak and Aikin in the back court this year are fellow contributing seniors Josilyn Benton and MacKenzie Ciciera.
“My senior class, like last year’s, is one of the most dedicated and committed in the offseason and that’s the reason we’re seeing the success we are,” Conrad said. “Everyone knows if they don’t put the time in, you don’t see it during the season.”
Sophomore Melanie Linsmair, maybe the team’s top player, ironically does not fit into a specific type. The scrappy and aggressive second-year varsity player does it all for Conrad on both sides of the floor. She can play as a guard or forward.
Conrad also credits players like juniors Allie Jimerson and Kristen Sedar and sophomore Jessica Ackley, who may not see as much time as they would hope, but have stood by their teammates and squad.
“They’ve helped make our season so successful by being committed and being at practice and pushing the players who do constantly play,” Conrad said. “If not for them, we would not have as successful of a season….I have had no issues. All the girls are happy for the next person, they don’t care who starts. It’s all about team and all about winning.”
What’s helped band this team together is its search for respect. Players want to make a name for the program not only in Western New York, but also simply in their own school.
“In our school, no one really looks at our team like we’re going to go anywhere or do anything in the playoffs, so we want to prove them wrong,” said Aikin, who appreciates the effort of her underclassmen teammates for helping make this a successful and enjoyable season for the seniors.
“We’re preparing for the playoffs and yeah, we really do want to make a run,” Stepniak added. “It’s been a while for Lake Shore. Just on the regular season, alone, I think we’ve made a name for ourselves.”
No. 2 Lake Shore begins the playoffs hosting seventh-seeded Amherst in a Class A-1 quarterfinal on Saturday, Feb. 23 at noon. With a win, the Eagles would move on to play in the semifinals Feb. 27 at Kenmore West.
“They want to make a little run,” Conrad said. “I’m proud of their commitment and glad it’s paying off.”