As far as the end of athletic seasons go, Phil Monastra summed up his coaching mantra pretty aptly.
“The worst part of any coach’s season in any sport is the last game,” he said by phone Friday afternoon. “Unless it’s you winning the championship.”
Unfortunately for Monastra and the Northeast Lady Vikings basketball team, their final game of the season did not culminate with them hoisting a Public League championship trophy.
After a five-game winning streak to close out the season, Northeast was riding high. But they had to wait nearly two weeks between the regular season finale on Feb. 1 and Wednesday’s semifinals match-up with Girls High, and the rust was apparent.
Northeast never really got it going, dropping a 45-28 decision that “obviously did not go the way we had hoped,” as Monastra said.
“We had a game plan on how to attack them using a full court press, but we had some foul trouble that kind of allowed them to go on a run,” he said. “It quickly got away from us. We just weren’t able to execute the game plan we had set out for.”
Monastra’s leading scorer, junior Lauren Willis, managed a team-high 14 points; however, the Girls High defense focused on slowing down Willis and making her teammates beat them, which didn’t happen. After Willis torched them for 25 points in a 45-44 Northeast win back on Jan. 11, they were ready this time around for the explosive scorer.
“They knew they had to slow Lauren down,” Monastra said. “Our offense goes through her, and we had trouble scoring otherwise. We had a plan, but it just didn’t work. We didn’t make the right passes and we turned it over a lot, which cost us points and possessions. We also didn’t shoot well; our post players shot less than 50 percent, which isn’t going to cut it.”
Monastra, in his first year on the job at Northeast, posted a successful 9-4 record and took his team to the league semifinals. Even better for him, he returns a core group next year headlined by Willis and fellow juniors Jackie Hagen and Zahirah Brinkley. The team will lose senior forward Lovely Accilus to graduation, but the Vikings can offset that by bringing back junior guard Briyah Hill, who missed this season with a torn knee ligament.
The first-year head coach says there was a lot of on-the-job training for both him and his team, but he’s already looking forward to watching his team grow and develop in preparation for next season.
“I was able to grow a lot as a coach and learn a good deal myself,” Monastra said. “As a coach you can always learn more, and if you think you can’t then you should probably just get out of coaching.
“Our players are focused and ready, and we’ll bring a lot of talent back. We’ll start training in a few weeks and we’ll zero in on getting better in all aspects. We fell short of our goal and we want to improve. We’ll set the same goal next year and work even harder to see if we can get there.” ••EndFragment