Winter sports practices begin with changes for Pittsfield basketball teams

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PITTSFIELD — Whether you're a longtime head coach or a guy in his first year at the helm, Day 1 of basketball season brings the same excitement and has you looking for the same things.

The 2017-18 basketball season got underway Monday afternoon with student-athletes across Berkshire County lacing up basketball sneakers and hitting the court for the first time. It was the first day of practices or tryouts for every winter high school sports team.

At Pittsfield High, there was an afternoon dichotomy of sorts. At 3 p.m., veteran coach Joe Racicot brought his girls team onto a court for the first time since a loss at the DCU Center in the MIAA Division II state semifinals on March 13. The Generals return all but one graduated senior from that Western Massachusetts champion, though that loss is about as big of a singular hole as one can have.

"There's always a little growth, and that's what excites me most, is seeing those kids that made the advancements," Racicot said.

At 5 p.m., after Racicot and his staff of Dennis Caesar, Paul Crennan, Abby Hunt and Heather Bonno wrapped things up with a series of 2-on-2 drills, the boys emerged from the foyer to experience the first tryout and practice in the head coaching career of Brandon Mauer. The Generals missed the 2016-17 postseason after a 7-13 campaign under then head coach Steve Ray. In October, Mauer was announced as the program's new leader after Ray stepped down earlier in the year.

"It's an exciting day," Mauer said before tryouts.

The boys team graduated half a dozen seniors off last year's squad, including some elite athletes in Tyrell and Terrick Boire and Quinn Matthews. Still, one could argue even with a deeply experienced head coach and a thick, battle-tested roster, it is the PHS girls who have the most work to do in the early season.

While Racicot watched a lot of familiar faces with familiar games work out during Monday's tryout, the one thing he definitely didn't see was Peyton Steinman. The since-graduated star guard, who finished her career atop the Pittsfield scoring banner with 1,728 points, is playing at St. Anselm's College after leaving a gargantuan scoring hole in the Generals lineup.

"It's a new start. That's the key, nothing about a banner right now," said Racicot. "Our motto is going to be that we won't make up the points that Peyton took with her, but just find a way to win."

There were about 25 girls suited up for tryouts. All will have a chance to show what they can offer the new campaign, which begins with a home game against Northampton on Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.

Steinman was the lone senior last year, and her usage rate opens up a lot of minutes and shots for a crew of talented returners. Senior guard Bella Aitken can fill it up from outside and junior Alexis Garvey broke out as a sophomore big who can control things from the high post on down. Young wings Taea Bramer and Natasha Shade, along with sophomore point guard Jordyn Lummus all loom ready to help take the program's reins.

Mauer was greeted at his first tryout by about 45 student-athletes, which will force some very tough decisions to be made. Even with the six seniors moving on, there is a small solid core of guys like Sam Higuera, Carter Matthews and Amin Purry returning. The Generals will also be giving looks to a couple transfers from the now defunct Saint Joseph program that picked up a tournament win last year.

After spending six years as a member of Ray's staff, Mauer knows he has to put the right people around him to succeed. Helping him watch a series of conditioning and layup drills on Day 1 was longtime assistant Bob Shade, newcomer Vince Leydet, junior varsity head coach Tim Dowling and new assistant Scott Steinman. It'll be another 10 days before Mauer takes his spot at the head of the bench for his first game against Holyoke at home on Dec. 7, but for now, he's got a fan in the next office.

"I think Brandon is going to do a great job. He's got a great rapport with the kids and he's straightforward. There's no guessing," said Racicot. "I think the kids are going to appreciate knowing where they stand with him"

Mike Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.


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