YONKERS, N.Y. – The Palisade Prep girls' basketball program is just in its third year and head coach Michael Denman has been at the helm all three seasons. This year, the Phoenix enter the season with an interesting mix of players.
Palisade Prep was 0-8 in its first season, in which Denman had only seven players. Five of those players had academic issues that forced the season to end prematurely.
Last year, the roster grew to 14 players, none of whom had academic problems, and the Phoenix was a co-league champion with a 4-2 league record and five wins overall.
This season, Palisade Prep has lost Angie Bargon, who averaged 19 points per game last season as a senior. The team as a whole averaged just 25 points per game, so Denman has work to do to replace 80 percent of the offense.
The Phoenix have three returning seniors, an eighth-grader and a ninth-grader on the roster. Freshman point guard Taijah Pink, eighth-grade guard Valerie LaVar and sophomore guard Kayla Cortinas form the nucleus of the starting lineup.
Though the team has lost some scoring, Denman said the character of the team remains strong.
“They’re a lot more committed players than we’ve had in the last two years,” Denman said.
If commitment is the team’s strength, then lack of experience is undoubtedly its weakness.
“The lack of knowledge of the game,” Denman said of his team’s area of weakness. “I have about four or five first timers who never played on organized teams before.”
Palisade Prep plays in Class C in a league of just four teams, including Solomon Schechter, Yonkers Montessori and Tuckahoe. Denman said he hopes to improve on last year’s success and emerge from that small group yet again.
“(We’re) trying to just build off last year, maybe tack on a couple more wins,” Denman said. “A six-, seven-, eight-win season I’d sign on for right now.”
The increased roster size should certainly help with that. Denman oversaw the growth of the team in the last three years and the issue of size is now behind him.
“Just getting the numbers was the biggest problem, getting enough girls to compete,” Denman said. “Obviously, it’s a lot easier when you have 15 girls fighting for five spots. You have a lot of competition. Now that I have numbers, girls have to fight for playing time.”
Still, the third-year head coach has as many questions as anyone as the 2012-13 season begins.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” Denman said. “We could win or two games or we could win six or seven.”