There was discord in the Starzyk home on Tuesday, and it stemmed from basketball.
Rich Starzyk became animated and his voice raised while his daughter, Bella Starzyk, was hushed. As much as she wanted to snap back at her dad, she sulked quietly. There wasn’t much to be said in her defense.
After all, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team had beaten Syracuse soundly.
“He was all fired up and purposely cheering loudly,” Bella Starzyk recalled during Wisconsin’s 77-60 win over the Orange. “I just had to sit there and take it.”
A family already immersed in basketball will, perhaps, become more entrenched this winter. Bella and her older sister, Ashley, star for the Pine Plains girls basketball team. And their father, Rich Starzyk, is now the Bombers’ head coach.
For them, basketball really is a family matter.
There are conflicts, however, when Rich Starzyk’s fandom enters the equation. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and roots hard for his alma mater. Hard. All over the house, there are Badgers mugs, blankets, caps, sweatshirts and even socks. His wife and kids are firm supporters of Syracuse basketball, particularly with Tyler Lydon, a former Pine Plains star, becoming a standout for the Orange.
Their mom, Noel Starzyk, played basketball at Mercy College. The little brother, 11-year-old Richard, plays CYO basketball and has strong opinions on the sport. Their family tree probably has a hoop nailed to it. So one can understand how frequently those basketball debates occur.
“Especially during car rides,” senior Ashley Starzyk said. “That’s pretty much all we talk about. But it never gets old.”
Likewise for guard Frances Snyder and her mom, Christine MacNeil, who is an assistant coach.
And teammates Cat Simmons and Haley Strang, who are cousins.
Teams often refer to themselves as “family,” alluding to their closeness. But for the Bombers, this truly is a family affair.
With such a small district, sophomore Bella Starzyk said, Pine Plains’ teams often feature multiple relatives. If a sibling is involved, the other is drawn in by osmosis. That extends to cousins and parents.
“I think people from the outside see it and think, ‘Oh, their parents are coaching them so they have it easy,’” Ashley said. “It’s not like that at all.”
On the contrary, Rich Starzyk said he’s more apt to yell at his daughters than teammates. For one, “it’s easier to raise your voice at your own kids,” he said. “I’m more comfortable yelling at them.”
The previous four years, Starzyk served as co-coach with Les Funk, leading the Bombers to the state tournament the last two seasons. Funk stepped away to take over the boys basketball team this fall, leaving Starzyk to helm the girls squad.
There likely won’t be many drastic changes strategically, Rich Starzyk said, and personality-wise, the team knows what to expect. The coach is “laid back during practices, but he gets into it during games,” Bella Starzyk said. “He yells a lot.”
And for his daughters, there is a clear separation of dad and coach.
“It’s not as challenging as it could be,” he said. “They’re respectful to me and treat me as they would any other coach.”
Ashley Starzyk said she and her sister understand why their father will at times be tougher on them. And, Bella said, when on the court, she thinks of Ashley only as a teammate and her father only as the coach. The difference is when they get in the car…
“That’s when we’ll discuss things,” Rich Starzyk said. “We might get into an argument about something we disagree on. But when it’s all said and done, we can have dinner and enjoy each other’s company.”
That doesn’t mean the basketball talk ends at the dinner table. Heck, it didn’t last week during Thanksgiving.
“All the time, anywhere,” Bella said. “After practice, we’re discussing practice. Same after a game. The night before a game, Ashley and I will be talking about it for an hour before falling asleep.”
Rich Starzyk played at Arlington High School, and he and his wife passed on a love of the game to their children. There are two hoops along their driveway and Ashley began shooting there when she was 6. Bella soon followed.
There were trips to the park, working on fundamentals, and the Stissing Mountain High School gymnasium, when available.
Christine MacNeil played high school basketball in New Jersey and, although she became a teacher, her love of the sport remained. For Snyder, the apple didn’t fall far from the basket.
She said having her mom as a coach allows her to pitch ideas and ask questions she might otherwise find awkward.
“It’s fulfilling being able to share these moments with her,” MacNeil said. “With the success the team has had, it’s been a great ride and we have memories that’ll last a long time.”
Ashley is a 6-foot-3 center who dominates the paint as a shot-blocker and rebounder. She also has a solid hook shot and a jumper with three-point range. Bella is a 6-foot forward with ambidextrous skills, capable of handling the ball and playing the post. Her strength and willingness to get physical are a complement to Ashley’s finesse.
They are able to read each other’s body language and think enough alike to anticipate the other’s decisions and moves. There’s seemingly a telepathic connection.
“We have great chemistry, as does the whole team since we’ve all known each other so long,” Ashley said. “You turn around and just know where she’s going to be. It’s something I can’t even explain.”
That connection helped the Bombers reach the state Class C final in March.
But the duo will be relied on even more heavily this season, along with Snyder, whose excellent perimeter shooting earned her Journal first-team All Star honors last season. Pine Plains has only eight players on its active roster and Tia Fumasoli, a returning starter, is out indefinitely with a concussion. That dearth of depth is considerable, even for a small school.
“It won’t be easy, but we know what we have to do,” Snyder said. “I still don’t think there’s any reason we shouldn’t go far.”
It’s not always hugs and high-fives among the relatives. Occasionally, there are family feuds. The Starzyk sisters bicker frequently. Bella said the two often “sass” each other. Ashley joked that she sometimes steals food from her sister and runs to her room.
“I would kick her butt,” Bella said of a hypothetical confrontation. “I’m stronger and she knows it. She’s afraid of me.”
Ashley conceded that, admitting it’s why she runs.
Snyder said being coached by her mother is sometimes “annoying.” It’s not always that she wants her mom around, “telling me what to do.” As well, MacNeil is hands-on with demonstrations and doesn’t shy from taking the court to guard her daughter.
Still, the bonds are undeniable and, they all insist, unbreakable. Ashley admitted that despite their squabbles, Bella is her best friend. And Snyder said “it means a lot” that her mom is able to attend all her games.
“For us, probably more than most teams, we really feel like family,” Ashley said. “It’s fun when you look across and it’s not just teammate, but someone who’s blood or might as well be.”
It’s all relative.
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4