Saturday, November 15, 2008

Syracuse Coaches Get Warm Welcome at Siena

When's the last time you saw this: the head coaches of opposing teams greeting each other just prior to a game not only with the traditional handshake, but with a kiss on the cheek?

And, it wasn't only the head coaches, but the assistants on each staff exchanging hugs and kisses.

It was almost to be expected, though, considering the familiarity and friendships of the two staffs involved in a women's game Friday night, Nov. 14, when Siena opened its non-conference season by hosting Syracuse.

Familiarity? Syracuse's third-year head coach Quentin Hillsman was a Siena assistant under veteran coach Gina Castelli for two seasons (1999-00, 2000-01), his first job on the college level.

Syracuse's associate head coach Matt Luneau was Castelli's assistant at Siena from the 1997-98 through the 2000-01 seasons, and was responsible for bringing two MAAC Players of the Year, Gunta Basko and Liene Jansone, to Siena from Latvia.

Another Syracuse assistant coach, Mary McKissack-Grimes, played at Siena on some of Castelli's best teams from the 1999-00 through the 2002-03 seasons. While with the Saints she was a key player on the program's only trip to the NCAA tournament (2001), was a two-time team captain and was the MAAC's Defensive Player of the Year for the 2001-02 season.

Syracuse certainly didn't have any trouble finding its way to Siena's Alumni Recreation Center in Loudonville, and neither did fans, many of which got to spend a few minutes of time not only prior to the game, but afterwards, renewing acquaintances with the Siena-connected members of the Syracuse staff.

Syracuse, which received some preseasons votes in Top 25 polls, was tested as Siena stayed within 68-64 with seven minutes remaining before the Orange pulled away for an 89-75 victory before an enthusiastic crowd of 1,245.

"We all have very fond memories of being there together," said Hillsman, prior to the game. "I wouldn't be here (at Syracuse) today if it wasn't for her (Castelli). I've learned so much from her ... her work ethic, the way she demands that her players compete on every possession, and things like that."

Castelli is beginning her 19th season at Siena and has had considerable turnover on her roster since a sixth-place finish in conference play last year. Four of Friday's five starters were making their first college starts. But the ability to play relatively well against Syracuse, despite considerable inexperience, appears to bode well for the Saints.

Syracuse, under Hillsman, has made remarkable progress. After a 9-20 finish in his first season (2006-07), the team finished 22-9 last season, matching the program's best record for a season. The Orange's 1987-88 team also finished 22-9 overall.


J said...

Wow. You haven't posted in almost a week. You are aware there have been basketball games since the Siena women played Syracuse correct?

Leave it to the MAAC to start a basketball blog, and then only post twice. It figures from the conference who couldn't keep a football league together longer than 15 years....

m said...

J...FYI just so you know, Steve is mourning the sudden loss of his daughter this past Monday. Please have patience, he will be back.