Nicole Patella follows in father's footsteps on the court
LENOX -- Lenox forward Liz Mitts stood at the foul line on Tuesday night, waiting patiently for a cutter. Suddenly, there she was on the baseline: teammate Hayden Zinchuk. Mitts rifled the pass to Zinchuk for two.
Now drift back 20 years. And it's not Mitts to Zinchuk in 2013. It's 1992, and former Millionaire Samantha Herrick is dumping the ball to Sherry Zabian in a similar play. Or perhaps it's 1974, and Lenox standout Billy Lahart is dropping the rock down low to Chris Huber.
There is a great similarity in the way the Lenox Millionaire girls play basketball in 2013 and in previous incarnations of the team going back decades.
They play tough defense. They box out. They make the extra pass. They don't like turnovers.
That is because Nicole Lafave Patella, who has been coaching here since 2009, is the daughter of Fred Lafave. Fred Lafave retired in 2009 after 46 years of coaching at Lenox. It is not mandatory to describe Fred Lafave's coaching career as "legendary," but it is advisable.
Lafave coached the boys team from 1968 to 1992. He coached the girls' team from 1988-92 and 1995-2009. The perceptive will note that from 1988-92 he coached both the boys' and girls' teams, an unprecedented feat.
He won a boys' state title in 1974 and a girls' state crown in 1992, another unique accomplishment.
And Nicole Patella does not hesitate to confirm that she is her father's daughter.
"All that I am is an extension of him," she said. "Certainly, a lot of the offense is his, a lot of the end of game stuff is his.
"But," she said, "I like to run more than he did. And we press more than he did."
Fred Lafave sees more differences than similarities.
"It's her team, and she's done a great job," he said. "She's running things. And she's doing it differently than I did."
Patella wasn't about to get into a basketball arguement with a guy who's the winningest coach in county history -- not to mention that the fellow is also her dad.
"I can see where he might say that," she said. "We don't do things in exactly the same way."
And of course, perhaps it's not really surprising that Patella, who got Lenox to the Western Massachusetts Division III finals last year, has her team back in the hunt for another appearance at the Curry Hicks Cage on the University of Massachusetts campus.
She helped her father going back to her high school days. Not consecutively, as she took time off to raise a family and go to college after she graduated from Lenox High School. But for all those years, she had a chance to learn from a great teacher.
Patella added for many of those years, her hope was to do exactly what she is doing now -- coaching her alma mater.
"Yeah, I was hoping to take over at some point," she said. "Not so much to carry on what he does. To have a chance to see what I could do."
Fred Lafave still attends every game. He admitted that he does -- at times -- critique his daughter.
"Yeah, that's the hardest thing," he said. "Sometimes, I see something that I would do differently. But she has her own ideas and that's the way it should be."
To reach Derek Gentile:
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