OSWEGO — Better late than never, right?
The Oswego State women’s basketball team probably thinks so, as they finally return to the court today, traveling to Potsdam for the Lakers’ first game in 33 days. The team’s last contest came on Dec. 11, a 59-48 loss against Fredonia on the road.
The winter break, plus “issues with injuries and health,” led to the lengthy layoff for the Lakers. Head coach Sean Pinkerton said it’s been challenging for the team to navigate an ever-changing season.
“It’s very hard for me, at times, not to get sucked into the highs and lows of it,” Pinkerton said. “So you can only imagine what it’s like for a 17, 18, 19 year-old kid, which is what the vast majority of our roster is, because we’re so young.”
The Lakers’ youth has presented another challenge to Pinkerton, as well, one that was naturally exacerbated by COVID-19. Oswego State’s 17-player roster consists of 12 underclassmen, and though three are sophomores, none of the 12 entered this season with any collegiate experience. Oswego was unable to practice in the midst of last year’s cancelled season.
“It requires patience on my part,” said Pinkerton of coaching the young team. “We talk a lot about how learning facilitates growth, and growth gets us to were we want to be.”
“It’s a combination of being mindful of what it takes, fighting to maintain that standard, and at the same time, maintaining patience with where they’re at and coaching them from where they are, not where I want them to be,” Pinkerton continued. “I need to strive to push them where we want them to be and facilitate that, but I need to coach them from where they are.”
Pinkerton, in his 12th season coaching at the Division III level, has rebuilt teams before.
Before accepting the job at Oswego, Pinkerton spent time turning around the basketball programs at SUNY Morrisville and St. Catharine University.
But the pandemic has slightly altered the course of the Lakers’ rebuild, Pinkerton says.
“COVID has presented a ton of challenges for us that have kind of knocked that trajectory off course,” Pinkerton said. “We have to take a step back, we have to identify where we’re at. We know we have a lot of young kids, but we know we have a lot of young, talented kids.”
The Lakers’ head coach admits that the team will, and has, struggled at times this season.
But the team’s confidence has never wavered.
“Our lack of maturity, our lack of experience, puts us in a situation where we’ve got a lot to learn,” Pinkerton said. “As we learn, we will get better. … It’s not a hope, it’s not a dream, I know it’ll happen. But it’s the patience and the work that are necessary to get there.”
That work resumes today, when the Lakers face off against Potsdam at 4 p.m.
Pinkerton said the 7-2 Bears are a “very talented” team.
“We’ve got to keep them out of the middle of the floor on the defensive end, and we’ve got to at least meet their effort and their output on the boards, if not exceed that,” said Pinkerton. “If we do those things, we put ourselves in a great position to have an opportunity to win a game against a very good basketball team.”
The weekend doesn’t stop there, with Oswego set to face Plattsburgh on the road at 2 p.m. on Friday.
Pinkerton said that Cardinals’ first-year guard Hope Sullivan should offer a big challenge for the Lakers.
“(Sullivan is) an incredibly talented kid, I watched her play a lot when she was in high school,” Pinkerton said. “She changes the dynamic of that team.”
Offensively, Pinkerton says he has pushed the idea of “stacking together quality possessions,” and focuses more on the process rather than the results.
“We’re not going to get wrapped up in the outcome of whether or not the shot goes in the basket,” Pinkerton explained. “If we execute the offense correctly, if we create a high-percentage shot and that one didn’t go in, we have confidence and faith the next one will go in, because we create high-percentage shots.”
The Lakers will definitely welcome today’s return to game action, after showing “resilience” while waiting through the month-long break and rolling with the various punches throughout the season.
“It has been a challenge, no question,” said Pinkerton. “But I’m proud of them, the way they’re handling it and responding to it. We have days where we’re better than others, but we’re learning and we’re growing.”