Morgan Golliver, Sports Editor
After a 66-64 loss to Nazareth in the Empire 8 Championship last year, the Utica College men’s basketball team is looking for redemption this season.
The Pioneers will begin their 2018-2019 season Friday, Nov. 16, against RPI in the Hilbert Tip-Off Tournament before hosting SUNY Poly at home on Nov. 20.
Now in his third year with UC, head coach Sean Coffey will look to continue the men’s basketball program’s development.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to get there that quickly, but I give the guys a lot of credit,” Coffey said.
This year is a bit of a challenge for Coffey, though, as he has to work with a young team consisting of nine freshmen, one sophomore, four juniors, and just one senior.
Going into his third season of coaching, Coffey thinks that with so many young players that this year will be more of a rebuilding process.
“We have really good players, but we just have to develop toughness and playing through adverse situations,” Coffey said. “We have the ability to shoot the ball and could spread the floor a lot better than years past, but it’s just a matter of playing a little bit faster and putting more pressure on our opponents.”
Coffey and his staff also spend one-on-one time with the young players to help them develop on the individual level.
“It’s all about communication, and I try to have a new message for them everyday, which is a big part of my job,” Coffey said. “That’s why I wanted to get into coaching, to help them develop as people through the sport of basketball.”
Besides the one-on-one-meetings, Coffey said that the players have to experience the tough situations themselves.
“Once they play in more games, have more minutes and face more tough situations, they’ll be better in the long hall,” Coffey said.
Justin Mayers is team captain this year and the group’s only senior.
After working with Mayers for the past few seasons, Coffey describes how he is a team leader for the younger players.
“Justin is definitely good for the young guys to see a good example of someone who hasn’t been given everything, in terms of minutes, but everything he’s gotten is earned,” Coffey said.
Junior Justin Strielkauskas has played alongside Mayers and is looking forward to this season after falling short of the championship last year.
“What I’m looking forward to this season, compared to last season, is being more of a leader and showing the new guys what we do here and try to get them on board with the system we play and how we play,” he said.
Strielkauskas also echoed what Coffey is emphasizing this season.
“Coach Coffey is not much different this year from last,” Strielkauskas said. “He is doing the same things we have done in the past. The only thing coach Coffey wants to change is pressuring other teams [more] this year than the past. Practice is a lot more intense, and we definitely like to put pressure on everyone this year.”
Overall, Strielkauskas and the rest of the team are looking forward to having a great season.
“I am very excited to get going with everyone on Friday, and, I think if we keep working hard, we can achieve what we want and have a special season,” Strielkauskas said. “We have been working hard since August and just have been getting after it since then, so I think we have something to prove this year.”