NISKAYUNA — Senior shortstop Caroline Kelly didn’t experience very many victories in her first two seasons with the Niskayuna High School varsity softball team.
“We’ve had a couple of rough seasons,” Kelly said Monday after the Silver Warriors were finished practicing. “We won three or four games when I was a sophomore. We had one win last year. We had a lot of close games, but we couldn’t finish.”
Kelly envisions better days coming. New Niskayuna varsity coach Gary Sears does, too.
“I don’t see why we can’t be competitive and maybe make a run for a spot in the sectionals,” Sears said. “These kids are not walking around like they’re the underdog.”
Sears already has the Silver Warriors believing that, indeed, this spring could be different from those of the recent past.
“He [Sears] knows a lot about the game,” Kelly said. “He has coached college softball. He’s got us focusing on a lot on detail and we’re doing a lot of work. I’m glad he’s giving it to us. We don’t want to go through what happened last year.”
Sears has helped a lot of softball teams win a lot of games. He served as an assistant coach last season at Sage College, which overcame a slow start with 21 wins in its last 30 games. In 2010, he was with the Warning Track Heat 14-under travel team that went 47-7-2 and took first at the ASA Eastern National Championship.
Sears has also coached high school ball at Taconic Hills, has helped develop players at The College of Saint Rose, and since 2011 has been in charge of the CD Crossfire 16-under elite travel team that he co-created.
“I’m not from the district,” said Sears, a Guilderland resident and graduate of Taconic Hills High School. “I don’t know a lot about the history here. I was recruited to bring the school a higher-end program.”
Sears assembled his own staff of varsity assistant Jim Aldous, Erika Kenney (junior varsity) and Lindsay Steenland (modified 7-8). He has created ties with the Niskayuna Girls Softball League. He has also introduced his own methods of coaching.
“I told the girls, ‘I’m not going to treat you like you’re 12,'” Sears said. “I’ve got high IQ kids. They’re smart. I’m asking them to do a lot of lower-end college stuff. So far, they’re absorbing it.”
Sears demands constant hustle, and has made it clear that his athletes must earn their playing time.
“They’ve earned their spot on the roster. Now they’ve got to earn their time out there,” Sears said as he pointed toward the field at Van Antwerp Middle School. “A lot of schools are locked into the seniors play, juniors play. Status, parents, politics, money, it means absolutely nothing to me. I told the kids, ‘You earn it, you play.'”
Sears had his team running, hitting and fielding Monday in its first outdoor practice of this wet and chilly April, but also took time to talk game strategy, and used the last portion of the workout to go over game situations the Silver Warriors are certain to see.
“He’s brought so much energy,” said Kelly, one of Niskayuna’s three seniors. “He’s been talking a lot about hitting the reset button.”
Forward strides are the objective this season for a team that last played for a Section II championship in 2009, and last won one in 1982.
“This year?” Kelly said. “It’s about getting better as individuals, playing better together, developing chemistry, and hope we can bring that to games.”