By Will LeBlond
Last winter was one to remember for the Ithaca High Boys Basketball team as they fell just one win shy of a trip to the state tournament.
The Little Red rode a 20-game winning streak into the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena, before they lost to Corning 78-74 in the Class AA Section IV Championship game. The loss ended Ithaca’s season with a 21-2 record, but they also made plenty of history as they won their first STAC title in 45 years and came minutes away from their first sectional crown is decades.
“That was disappointing to lose at the end, but I think when they took it in and thought about it, it was a pretty fun time last year,” said Stone on the 2016-17 campaign. “We did a lot of good things.”
The buzz around the program is still alive heading into the 2017-18 season.
Stone, who is entering his second year as head coach of the team after a seven-year absence from the post, has a solid core group set to return this winter. Jordanny Cuevas Marte, Max Milton and Zack Peacock all started in the sectional championship game as juniors and will come back to complement a new group of talent.
The old saying is “don’t fix what ain’t broke” and the Little Red have been able to sail into the preseason using the same system that got them to new heights last year.
“We’re pretty set right now,” said Stone. “Everyone kind of knows our offense and I have some returners, and our JVs ran the same system last year.
“It’s really nice to be ahead of the game a little bit right now and not have to teach that,” he added.
It’s a bit different this time around for Stone, as after a few years away from coaching, there was a transition he had to go through as well when preseason started last year.
“Last year, preseason was for me as much as it was for the players,” said Stone. “I had to get into a bit of a rhythm and get things going that way.
“I’ve changed some things from the last time I’ve coached in terms of practices,” he added, “and we shoot a lot more now than we used to.”
Preseason for the Little Red began November 6 and there was excitement right away for the team, which had been building for months. A lot of team members also took part in a summer league in Johnson City, which helped Stone see some JV players that he had not had the chance to watch the year before.
“It was nice for me to be able to see them play a little bit,” said Stone. “It was good to get an idea of things to improve on and where they can get better.”
The hype is strong with the talent inside the gym for Ithaca, but Stone is also dead set on keeping his squad’s season in perspective.
“I think the excitement is there, but they also understand that last year is last year,” said Stone. “This year is different, our personnel is different, other teams are different, so we just need to gel together and understand how everybody will play together.”
Ithaca will debut on December 7 when they will host Johnson City inside Bliss Gymnasium. Then they will hit the road for a pair of games before they will host defending sectional champion Corning on December 18.