By Jordan J. Michael
GUILDERLAND –– Long-time Head Coach Frank Cacckello has made some significant changes to the Guilderland girls’ basketball team this season. He started by choosing the 12 best players no matter what grade level.
Over the last month of practices, Cacckello has cut half of the usual drills and transitioned the staple full-court press defense to a half-court player-to-player style. The Dutch have hit the reset button and are excited to see the results.
“We’re probably the youngest team in the Suburban Council, but basketball is the number-one focus for all these girls,” Cacckello said at practice on Monday. Guilderland has an eighth-grader (Olivia Bauman) and a ninth-grader (Michelle Papandrea) on its roster.
“When you look at it,” he said, “you know these girls will be basketball players for three, four, or five more years. It helps when comprehending the game.”
Guilderland may have had some better athletes in the past, but the basketball IQ and overall skill set of the team is much improved.
“There’s such an age difference, but we’re learning a lot from each other,” said senior Emily Sischo, who is one of five returning players. “I feel like we’ll be the underdog.”
Cacckello said Guilderland is doing things this season that it hasn’t done in years. What brought the change?
“I wanted to simplify the approach,” Cacckello said. “Because this group is so smart, we’ll be able to throw a lot of different things at opponents this year. These girls can pick up, comprehend, and transfer one thing to another.”
Guilderland’s biggest transformation comes on the defensive end. The Dutch relied on the 55 and 44 press for a long time, but the full-court press is no longer the focus. The 55 is a man-zone press and the 44 is a 2-2-1 true-zone press.
“We can go back and use those if we want,” said Cacckello. “We have those in our back pocket.”
Cacckello said that the Dutch have tried for a player-to-player defense before, but, for one reason or another, it did not work out. Junior Shannon Mackesey and Sischo both agreed on their desire for the press defense because it frustrates and frazzles the opponent. On Monday, Guilderland was working on some press as the players scrimmaged each other.
“I like having a press because it breaks down the opposing team,” said Mackesey, who Cacckello advertised as one of the better guards in Section 2. “You can see the girls’ frustrated reactions,” she said, “and that gets us motivated.”
“The press helps us play our game,” Sischo added. “We like to run, so it gets us hyped up.”
Cacckello understands that the girls enjoy running a press defense, but he doesn’t want Guilderland running itself into the ground. “In years’ past, we sometimes ran our energy out of the gym,” he said.
On the offensive side, the Dutch have gone away from the three-guard, two-post set, developing into a four-guard, one-post threat. Cacckello shouted out names like “UCLA,” Air Force,” and “fists” on Monday. He laughed when The Enterprise asked what those plays meant.
“We’re a young team, but we’re taking things slowly to make sure everyone gets it,” Mackesey said. “Once we get it, we should be good to go.”
As the Dutch prepare for its opening game at Columbia on Friday, Cacckello still wasn’t sure on Monday who the starting five would be. He said he’s kept the starting positions open to promote competition within the team.
“I want everyone to get used to playing together first, instead of having five girls separated from the rest,” Cacckello said. “I want them to get comfortable and have a nice mix.”
Guilderland is trying to build definition with chemistry. The Dutch have certainly shaken things up by laying a new foundation.
“The whole team is committed,’ said Cacckello. “We’re sharp, focused, and shooting the ball better. This group will be around for a few years, so we’re restarting.”