Playing her high school basketball for Immaculata in Somerville and then going on to a superb career at Caldwell College, Dana Leary wasn’t familiar with the Stuart Country Day School.
But it didn’t take long for Leary to feel comfortable with Stuart after interviewing last spring for its vacant head basketball coaching position.
“I had never heard of Stuart when I learned they were looking for a coach,” said Leary, who served as an assistant coach at her alma mater for three years and has been coaching AAU hoops for the last seven years.
“I went in and met with Kim [Stuart athletic director Kim Ciarrocca]. I felt a connection with her and I loved the school. She was very enthusiastic about turning the athletic program around and I felt she was someone I would like to work for as a coach.”
Getting the nod to replace Tony Bowman, Leary faces a turnaround project as she takes the helm of a program that suffered through a 0-15 campaign last winter.
Leary, a 2008 Caldwell grad who scored 1,049 points and was a three-time member of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) All-Academic team during her college career, promises to be a breath of fresh air for the Tartans.
“I made it clear to the girls that this is a brand new year,” said Leary, whose team is slated to open regular season action by playing at Kings Christian School on December 4 and at the Princeton Day School on December 5.
“Last year is over, we have to rebuild and create a positive environment and experience for the girls.”
In creating that atmosphere, Leary is focusing on basics. “I want this to be a season of growth for the girls; I want them to really learn the game,” said Leary.
“Each day is a chance to get better and each day is an opportunity to grow as a team. I want them striving for their personal best and work to the best of their abilities because that will help the team.”
In Leary’s view, she has some players with ability in the frontcourt in senior Summer Ramsay-Burrough, sophomore Nneka Onukwugha, and the Walsh sisters, junior Maggie and freshman Kate.
“Summer has a good sense of the game that comes with playing experience,” said Leary.
“She understands the game. She is a leader and will be a captain. Nneka is only a sophomore and is doing a great job becoming stronger and being more aggressive around the basket. Maggie Walsh and Kate Walsh will also see time in the frontcourt. They are both big, strong post players. Maggie played well around the basket in our first scrimmage. Kate is only a freshman and we are working on her footwork. We want her to be more aggressive offensively.”
The Tartans have some offensive threats around the perimeter in freshman Pam McGowen, senior Simrit Gill, and sophomore Harlyn Bell.
“Right now, we have a freshman, Pam McGowen, running the point; she played in the middle school and is very eager to develop as a point guard,” said Leary.
“She has leadership skills and the confidence to handle the ball. She understands her role. Simrit Gill is looking good, she understands the game. She has a nice outside shot but she is not afraid to go to the basket. Harlyn Bell will be in the other guard position. She has a nice outside shot but will also look to go to the basket.”
As the Tartans gird for their first taste of regular season action, Leary isn’t worried about wins and losses.
“Our main goal right now is to get them to develop the fundamentals and understand the game of basketball,” said Leary, who is being assisted by Danielle Fraider.
“We are focusing on defense. Playing defense doesn’t require a lot of talent, just hard work and desire and that is what we are trying to get out of the girls.”
Leary likes the work ethic she has already seen from her team. “This group works so hard,” asserted Leary.
“They are so coachable and eager to learn. They ask the right questions. As a coach, it is so rewarding to see that.”