By Will LeBlond
A new – but familiar – face is at the helm of the Dryden varsity girls basketball team, and her fast-paced philosophy has the Purple Lions off to a fast start.
Nikki Keator, who is also the girls soccer coach, is now in her first season as head coach for the girls basketball team, but the role is nothing new for her. She has coached basketball for about 10 years, including six years as JV coach at South Kortright High School and a year as interim head coach with SUNY Delhi.
Keator also served as an assistant for the Purple Lions last winter, which eased her transition to the head coaching gig this season.
“A lot of the girls from the soccer team already knew my style of coaching,” she said. “They really helped acclimate the rest of the kids.
“I also helped out with the girls varsity team last year, so I knew a lot of them from last year,” Keator added. “It wasn’t as hard of a transition as most would expect.”
She has brought a new style of play to the program, one that has yielded positive results, that includes pushing the pace, more ball movement than dribbling and a quick transition defense. Dryden has learned on the fly, and they’ve won a few games along the way.
“They’re working really hard to learn the new system, which is always tough,” said Keator. “They’ve really worked hard to buy into the system I run and the way I run the team, and I feel like they’ve definitely met my expectations.”
Under the new style, Dryden has started off the season with a 5-3 record, including a perfect 3-0 mark in the IAC Large School North. Whitney Point is not too far behind from the Purple Lions when it comes to the chase for the division championship, and it’s just the competition that Keator wants for her team as they work their way towards the postseason.
“Our goal just like always is to reach the conference championship,” said Keator. “And then to get into sectionals are the two biggest goals. We want to win the division, go on to the conference game and then hopefully win it.”
While Dryden has been competitive or won most of their games so far, they’ve still had a couple bumps in the road that have slowed down their momentum. An early season loss to Cortland and then a recent defeat at the hands of unbeaten Waverly both ended in a double-digit deficit, but it hasn’t deterred Keator’s team.
“They’re confident,” she said. “I knew we were even confident going into Waverly, but we had two weeks off before that and I think that was tough. We’ll just keep on building that confidence in practice and then take it into games.”
The senior duo of Keri Daley and Amy Gardner have emerged as the top scoring options for the Purple Lions, but the depth of the team is what Keator will be looking towards down the stretch.
“Obviously those two are going to make plays,” she said, of Daley and Gardner. “But we also use the other players to help them get open; I do encourage all the players to use each other. We really just look to move the ball around the court and have that open shot.”
It’s getting towards crunch time in the IAC now with the midway point in the season past and the goals to close out the year are clearly established.
“We want to beat some of those teams last year that we just missed beating,” said Keator. “We’re focusing on one game at a time and we’ll knock teams off if we can, if not, we just want to be competitive each game. We want to build off of each game.”
The Purple Lions will have a huge game on Tuesday when they will host divisional foe Whitney Point. After that, they’ll be home to Cincinnatus on January 26 before they’ll have their senior night on January 30 against Lansing.