Despite losses, Lady 'Canes see bright days ahead

PETE SIRIANNI | NEWS

The New Castle girls were a young team last year, but are even younger this season.

The Lady ’Canes graduated four seniors. They have four letterwinners back in Mia Graham (the team’s lone senior), junior Aayanni Hudson and sophomores Neena Flora and Armani Walker.

“Losing four seniors hurts. Luckily, I have a lot of starters still coming back,” New Castle coach Kara DiNardo-Joseph said.

All four girls started at some point last year. Walker had her season cut short with an injury, but is back.

“Mia has been around; she has started since she was a freshman. She knows how I like things; she is the leader out there,” DiNardo-Joseph said. “She pushes herself so hard that no one has an excuse to not do the same out there. Hudson is still young, but she is definitely a leader. She pushes everyone and herself. It’s nice to watch them play together, all four of them, especially with the chemistry they have built in such a short time.”

“While they are the four that have the most experience, any spot is up from grabs. We’ll definitely need role players this year. I need them to step in and take a charge or hit a shot. A couple of the key players will get a lot of attention, so we’re preparing the rest of them step in and be confident enough to be role players. Having the ability to produce every night is something we want to drill in them, as coaches. We want to make them feel comfortable and confident they can get it done. I believe all 12 girls, at any point, will be successful out there.”

DiNardo-Joseph expects that work ethic to carry over off the court, too.

“If they don’t get it done in the classroom, they won’t play,” she said. “I hold them accountable. They will just sit until they are where they need to be in the classroom.”

The team had to adjust its offseason to pandemic restrictions. New Castle is happy to be back in the gym as a squad now.

“It’s nice to get back to some normalcy. Mentally, I think it was good for them to be back in the gym,” DiNardo-Joseph said. “Over the summer, some kids left the state for vacations and had to quarantine when they came back. So, one day, we’d have a full team at workouts and, the next day, we’d have three people. I think it was good for them, mentally, to take vacations, too. We just worked a lot on ourselves. Things are going pretty well. It’s still the same thing. With everyone who is there, we work and get better. If some people have to quarantine, they’ll get on track fast enough once they are allowed back. Everyone’s health is most important. It’s hard, but you want to keep everybody safe, including yourself.”

The Lady ’Canes believe speed and chemistry are strengths this season.

“They communicate really well. We’ve struggled with that in the past. They hold each other accountable. In the end, that’s a great strength a coach wants to see,” DiNardo-Joseph said. “This is probably one of the quickest teams we’ve had in a while. We want to get teams running. When we get a rebound, we want to get it out and get it up the floor as soon as possible. We have so many offensive threats – if we are able to push the ball up the floor, I’d like to use that to our advantage.”

Those will come in handy in a rugged WPIAL Section 2-4A. New Castle finished 6-6 in the section and 13-10 overall last year after a 43-35 setback to Knoch in the first round of the WPIAL tournament.

“We’re small and we’re more of a guard-oriented team. As a coach, I’d like to play eight or nine girls per game, but we’ll see how it goes. We’re in a tough section and have a couple more section games this year. So, being able to play nine girls a night would be amazing, knowing you could take a girl out for a breather and know you won’t miss a beat,” DiNardo-Joseph said. “Our section is good and I feel like everybody is ready to go at this point. People have been cooped up in their homes for so long that I do think there will be a lot of competitiveness from everybody this year.

“I like our matchups a little better this year, though. A lot of the teams we play are more guard-oriented. We have to do the little things, though, like defend, box out and be able to control the tempo of the game.”

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