Thursday, March 8, 2012

Siena Parts Ways With Women's Coach Castelli

Another coaching dismissal within the conference, but this one is a little tough to figure.

Siena, on Thursday, announced that its longtime women's coach Gina Castelli would be leaving the program by mutual decision.

Your Hoopscribe will attempt to avoid too much editorial judgment since, in the interest of full disclosure, there isn't a lot of objectivity here.

Not only have I served as color commentator for radio broadcasts of Siena women's basketball games for the past two seasons, but Castelli has graciously granted me access to any practice, allowed me to ride team buses, attend team meals and be part of just about any other team activity. That unrivaled access has resulted in the type information that, I hope, strengthens broadcasts.

But the personal relationship goes far beyond that. Castelli played a major role in helping your scribe get through a very difficult personal tragedy a few years back. And what was, until then, a cordial working relationship became a close friendship.

Over the years we've also discovered she has reached out to numerous others in similar manner (without ever seeking recognition for her kindnesses), as well as getting deeply involved in just about every community activity and deserving fund-raiser that has come her way.

The school has never had a better community ambassador, its players succeed academically and in life beyond basketball. And the program has had more than a little success on the court during her tenure.

In her 22 seasons as head coach she accumulated a 336-296 overall record and a 225-146 ledger against MAAC opponents. She has been named the conference's Coach of the Year on five occasions, has directed seven teams to regular-season titles and took her 2000-01 team to the NCAA tournament.

But, the school's decision to part ways with Castelli is just another reminder that even at the mid-major level, and even in what is not a revenue-generating sport, it is all about wins and losses. It's all about what have you done for me lately.

Siena's last regular-season women's championship came in the 2003-04 season.

Since then the program hasn't been over .500 overall in any season, although has always won at least 10 games. Castelli has been a believer in playing a strong non-league schedule, and that surely helps explain, to some extent, the less-than-stellar non-conference records.

Still, the bottom never dropped out. Siena never suffered through, say, a 5-25 season. And the Saints remained at least competitive in MAAC play with a 68-76 record against conference opponents since the end of the 2003-04 season. Call that record relative mediocrity, but never abysmal.

Siena finished 11-7 in the MAAC last season and 9-9 this season, good for a share of fourth place both years. And, it won first-round conference tournament games in each of the last two years. Hard to find many other cases when a team had back-to-back years in the upper half of a league's standings, won a conference post-season tournament game in both years and, then, its coach not be asked to return.

And, the team looks to be particularly strong next year with the loss of just two senior guards with quality replacements in place.

Castelli issued a statement, through the school's sports information office Wednesday and her words just epitomize the class in which she conducted herself and her program over the years. Here it is:

"I would like to thank everyone in the Siena community for their unwavering support to me and our program. I have loved working at Siena and forming wonderful relationships with so many quality people. I also want to specifically thank Fr. Kevin Mullen, Dr. Maryellen Gillroy, Joyce Eggleston and John D'Argenio for their belief in me through the years. The Siena administration has been very good to me. I am grateful to work at a college like Siena whose mission mirrored my own in giving back to the community.

"I would like to express gratitude and love to my staff both present and past; In particular I want to express my deep gratitude to Andrea Woodbury, associate head coach. Andrea has been with me my entire head coaching career. Her loyalty and work ethic is priceless!

"Most of all, I want to thank every player that I have coached. I will miss working and being with our players. the Siena player is very unique and resiliency is the one common trait I have found in each player.

"Coaching is, and always will be, my passion. Although I am very sad to leave Siena, I am looking forward to new opportunities in the coaching profession, where I can continue to grow and become the best I can be.

"I leave Siena knowing the future is very bright for the women's program. With Lily Grenci leading the way, and most of the players returning, along with a very talented incoming freshman Symone Kelly,the team is positioned to win many games and conference championships.

"After 22 years I feel that I have given the program my full all. I am extremely proud of all the effort and hard work put into the women's basketball program to raise it to higher levels in every area. Aside from our teams' success, our players' success both on and off the court; introducing the Lil' Saints Club; expanding our camps to include special needs children and our Team Camp became one of the biggest in the Northeast. I am very proud of our overall dedication to community service, particularly our unique relationship with CRAAB (Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer). The money raised and the lives that we touched means so much to me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this wonderful experience, and to have the women's program become a meaningful part of the community.

"I will always have a great affection for the Siena College community, and will look back on the time I spent here with great fondness."

As Castelli left the athletic office area at Siena Thursday afternoon, she stopped to shake hands with dozens of friends and co-workers, to say thanks for everything they've done for her.

In truth, they probably should have been thanking her.

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