Gaining Values from Coaching at Prep, College Level, Hamilton Excited to Take Helm of PDS Girls’ Hoops
TEACHABLE MOMENT: New Princeton Day School girls’ basketball head coach Seraphine Hamilton makes a point to her players during a time-out as the Panthers played at Stuart Country Day last Thursday. PDS, which fell 73-17 to Stuart to move to 0-2, is next in action when it plays at the Hun School on February 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Seraphine Hamilton feels fortunate that she is getting the chance this winter to take the helm of the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball program.
After stints coaching at the Peddie School, St. Andrew’s School (Del.), William Smith College, and the Newark Academy, Hamilton came to PDS in 2019 to teach English and lead the girls’ junior varsity hoops program.
With previous PDS head coach Liz Loughlin deciding to step away from the program this year, Hamilton got promoted to guide the varsity squad.
“It was a nice opportunity for me, it had been a very long time since I had been a head coach,” said Hamilton, 36, a 2006 graduate of William Smith College who played both soccer and basketball for the school.
“I hadn’t been able to set the focus and values of a program since St. Andrews. I had really been waiting for and hoping for an opportunity to come up. I got lucky.”
As Hamilton takes the reins of the program, she is looking to instill a value system for her players.
“We have some pretty clear values; we value family and inclusivity,” said Hamilton, whose team started the season by falling 46-28 to Pennington on Wednesday and then falling 73-17 to Stuart Country Day last Thursday.
“For each value there is a definition and the standards are ever changing. There are really tangible things so that if someone comes in and watches us play they should know that we care about each other; they should know that we care about the effort and things like that.”
Hamilton achieved high standards as a student athlete, starring at soccer and basketball at the Peddie School before going on to play both sports at the next level for William Smith.
That experience toughened her up on the field and the court as well as in the classroom.
“I think the hardest challenge was physically with the amount of running for soccer and then the high level of contact for basketball,” said Hamilton.
“I had gone to a high school that really prepared me for that time-management wise. I was already prepared for that, you
certainly make sacrifices. I probably made a lot of sacrifices socially but not any that I missed or regretted. I was doing what I wanted to be doing.”
Upon graduating from college, Hamilton headed back to her high school alma mater, teaching and coaching at Peddie.
“I learned how to coach and teach there, I had great mentors,” said Hamilton.
“The head of the English department really spent a lot of careful time with me teaching me how to be an effective teacher. I got to work with Sean Casey and Eric Gustavson and really learned to have an impact as a coach.”
After earning a master’s degree in African studies at Yale in 2010, Hamilton took her experience and education to Delaware where she taught, coached, and did athletic administrative work.
“I spent five years at St. Andrews, that was a really great space for me,” said Hamilton.
“I was AD there for a couple of years. I learned a lot about the bigger picture. I coached the soccer and the basketball team there and we had a lot of fun and a lot of success.”
Heading back to William Smith in 2015, Hamilton served as an assistant coach for its women’s basketball program.
“I had a great time there, I learned a lot about coaching,” said Hamilton.
“I learned a lot more about Xs and Os, I learned about recruiting, all of those sort of things as a full-time assistant. I was the interim head coach my second year while the head coach was on maternity leave for the season. It was a really great experience for me.”
Getting experience at PDS last year has made the transition to guiding the Panther varsity smoother for Hamilton.
“I was here for a year and I worked in the Upper School so I already know a lot of the players, either from basketball or other spaces so there was a relationship,” said Hamilton.
“There are some players who I haven’t had much of a relationship with, but it didn’t feel like I started off brand, brand new.”
While the start of preseason was delayed due to COVID-19 concerns, Hamilton and her players strengthened their relationship working together virtually.
“We didn’t really get started in earnest until our winter break, they did a lot of non-verbal communicating about their workouts,” said Hamilton.
“We had a schedule and the team was broken into smaller pods for competing fitness-wise, ball handling and things like that. We tried to be creative about ways to get them to show their commitment to the work but also share with each other and to start establishing our values.”
After finally getting on the court on January 11, PDS has shown good progress.
“It is going great, it takes a little while to settle into things,” said Hamilton.
“We have a couple of shooters, we have a lot of versatility and we are able to score in multiple ways which is nice. We are a young team so it is going to take a little time for us to work on our decision-making at that pace and things like that. We have a few freshmen who are going to be really strong for us.”
In the backcourt, Hamilton is looking for freshman Adriana Salzano, junior Maddie Nowack, and junior Elle Anhut to lead the way.
“Adriana, who people know from soccer, is going to be strong for us in the backcourt,” said Hamilton.
“We have Maddie returning, she is going to be strong in the backcourt. They are going to be our focus along with Elle as well.”
Two all-around athletes, senior Caroline Topping, a field hockey goalie, and junior Ali Surace, a soccer and lacrosse standout, figure to see time at both guard and forward.
“Caroline is pretty versatile and I would say the same for Ali she is another soccer player,” said Hamilton.
“She is playing basketball even though she hasn’t been on the squad in high school. She decided to come out this season and has been a really nice gift for us.”
In the low post, sophomore Kirsten Ruf, freshman Mia Hartman, and senior Anna-Marie Zhang should all make an impact.
“Ruf is down there; we also have a freshman Mia who is really strong,” said Hamilton. “She is pretty versatile, she has a lot of power under the basket but she can also step out and has a pretty smooth shot. Anna-Marie will also be playing there.”
While the 2021 schedule is limited due to COVID-19 concerns, Hamilton believes she can lay a foundation this winter for future success.
“It is making the most out of every day, we have to be flexible because we are going to end up losing games to cancellations,” said Hamilton, whose team’s next scheduled game is at the Hun School on February 18.
“I think this season for me is the measure of the growth that we have and just getting as much experience that we can at a high pace. Our practices are at a very high pace. I try to keep them moving, moving, moving so they can work on those adjustments and when we step out next season, we will be able to have our freshmen playing like sophomores, even though they are having this abbreviated season.”
But no matter what happens this season, Hamilton wants her players to savor their opportunity to simply be on the court.
“I always want players to not take things for granted and this is one of those seasons where it feels more tangible for them,” said Hamilton.
“We have coaches on our coaching staff who can’t be in the gym because they work in the lower school and we are not crossing divisions. William Smith doesn’t have a season. We are just really lucky right now that we are able to be out there. I am trying to get them to appreciate being there and valuing their time there and thinking about having this growth mindset. It is a great opportunity for us.”