With her team coming off a three-win season a year ago, Ithaca High girls basketball coach Faye Young Miller doesn’t see her Little Red contending for any championships in 2012-13.
That doesn’t mean she expects the campaign to be an unsuccessful one, though.
On the contrary, Ithaca (1-1) enters 7 p.m. home opener against Vestal with its most complete roster in several years and an eye on taking what Young Miller believes would be a significant yet realistic step forward — a winning record.
“We’d obviously like to win more than the three games we won last year, and ideally we’d like to be above .500,” said Young Miller, who is entering her eighth year at the helm of the Little Red. “I think that’s doable.”
Considering Young Miller’s experience in coaching Ithaca squads of varying talent levels, that assessment should come as some comfort to fans of the Little Red.
In Young Miller’s first four seasons at Ithaca from 2002 to ’06, Ithaca produced four winning seasons, two Southern Tier Athletic Conference Metro Division titles (’03-04, ’05-06) and a STAC championship (’05-06).
Following a 5-14 campaign in 2006-07, Young Miller left the program for three years, and in her return for the 2010-11 season the Little Red posted a mark of 8-9. That team graduated seven seniors, four of whom went on to play at the community college level. An injury to its only returning starter and an underclassman-laden roster led to last season’s 3-13 campaign, placing the Little Red at the bottom of its division.
At least on paper, Young Miller’s optimism regarding her current team and its potential seem justified.
A large reason for that is the return of senior Taylor DePalma, who averaged 12.5 points and 3.2 assists as a sophomore starter before missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Young Miller said DePalma is back to full health, and the senior showed it in scoring 20 points in a 50-34 loss to the hosts last Saturday in the final of the Seton Catholic Central tournament.
In the tournament opener on Friday, the Little Red scored 37 second-half points on its way to a 48-29 victory over Susquehanna Valley.
Also back for Young Miller is a strong corps of upperclassmen, which gained valuable experience playing in prominent roles without DePalma in the lineup. Six-foot senior forward Maddie Palmer returns as Ithaca’s leading scorer (9.4 ppg.), rebounder (6.9 rpg.) and shot blocker from a year ago, while classmate Holly Mason (7.2 ppg.) will move to the small forward spot after serving as point guard last season.
Rounding out the starting five are two juniors who started as sophomores in guard Maryah Wright (5.4 ppg.) and 5-foot-7 forward Katherine Marte, while the first two off the bench are expected to be senior forward Rachel Sally, “a player with a huge basketball IQ,” according to her coach, and junior defensive specialist Olivia Mason.
With a full complement of experienced players, all Young Miller says she has left to learn about is whether it can develop a winning mentality.
“We talk about it every day, because I’m sure we’re going to be in a lot of close games,” she said. “Our conference is very competitive, and while I still expect for Horseheads and Binghamton to somewhat dominate, I expect us to be at the second level, where last year obviously we were in the bottom tier.
“We’re excited because I expect us to compete day in and day out,” she added. “And that’s something that we didn’t do last year.”