Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 49
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
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RYAN’S HOPE: Mika Ryan is bringing college coaching experience and a positive approach in taking the helm of the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball program. Ryan, a former star for the University of North Carolina women’s hoops team, served as an assistant coach at Virginia and Rider before a nine-year stint as the head coach at The College of New Jersey. Ryan, who is replacing Jessica Katz, guided the Panthers to the finals of the Hill Invitational last weekend in her debut as PDS head coach.

Veteran Ryan Taking Helm of PDS Girls’ Hoops; Plans to Use Experience to Keep Panthers Rolling

Bill Alden

From the mid-1970s to 1994, Mika Ryan immersed herself in the world of women’s college basketball.

After starring at the University of North Carolina, Ryan became an assistant coach for the University of Virginia in 1977. She then moved north to New Jersey, where she served as an assistant at Rider before taking the helm of The College of New Jersey.

Ryan led the Lions to a 147-86 record in nine seasons as a head coach. But in 1994, with three young daughters at home, Ryan left coaching to focus on family matters.

In the interim, Ryan stayed connected with basketball, working as a color analyst for television broadcasts of MAAC games and chairing the Mercer Sports Organizing Committee which brought the NCAA Division I basketball tournament to the Sovereign Bank Arena.

While she enjoyed her time away from coaching, Ryan never lost the itch to be back at courtside.

“I always have wanted to coach again; being a coach is what I am,” said Ryan. “I was looking for the right situation.”

The Hopewell resident found the right fit for her desire to get back into coaching through chats earlier this year with her neighbor, then-Princeton Day School athletics director John Levandowski.

“I had always been friendly with John; we would talk about coaches in the area,” said Ryan.

“When Jess [PDS girls’ basketball head coach Jessica Katz] left this spring, he called me to talk about coaches in the area. My youngest daughter is a sophomore in college and I called him back a day later and said what about me. He said he would love it if I would put my hat in the ring.”

It didn’t take long for Ryan to decide that PDS would be a great situation for her.

“I went to the first interview and I was more intrigued than anything,” recalled Ryan, noting that the team had a lot of talent in place with the three leading scorers returning from a squad that went 18-6 and made it to the state Prep B championship game.

“I spent a half a day and fell in love with the place. I liked the passion that I saw in the teachers and the students. I like people who have passion about what they do.”

Ryan ended up getting the job and is now passionately immersing herself into the world of high school basketball.

“I have never coached in high school; I think I can help them technically,” said Ryan, whose debut at the high school level went well last weekend as PDS played at the Hill Invitational and topped Hill 51-47 last Friday in its opener and then fell 55-40 to Springside in the title game.

“You can’t be as intense as you are in college. You have to be flexible; they have academic commitments and do other things around the school. But teaching is teaching, I have taught 6th grade boys to college. You teach the same fundamentals; the age determines the style of teaching.”

The Panthers have responded well to Ryan’s style. “I am still figuring out what to do to get them to practice at an optimum level,” said Ryan.

“I think they have responded well. They are getting to know me and I am getting to know them. It will be a work in progress; I am really happy to be in this situation.

In assessing her squad, Ryan is happy to have senior star and co-captain Tiffany Patterson holding down the low post.

“Tiffany has been outstanding; to have her in the middle is comforting,” said Ryan of Patterson who recently signed a letter of intent to play for Long Island University.

“What has impressed me is her leadership; she has been very vocal. Her fitness level is outstanding, she runs the floor well. She goes endline to endline, not foul line to foul line. She wants to go out a winner.”

Ryan believes that junior swing player Sarah Godwin could help PDS be a big winner this winter.

“I am going to be asking a lot of her offensively; having her play anywhere from shooting guard to center,” said Ryan, who will also be using junior Rachel Maddox in a swing role in the frontcourt.

“Sarah is learning a lot; she is going to be our most versatile player. She is a more natural 2 or 3 when she gets to college. I am going to challenge her to do more things offensively.”

PDS boasts a one-two punch in the backcourt in juniors Molly Rubin and Janie Smukler that will pose a challenge for foes this winter.

“Molly can play the 1, 2, or 3,” said Ryan, noting that Rubin is transferring back to PDS, having played last year at Hopewell Valley after a fine debut season for the Panthers in 2008-09.

“She defends like a warrior; she shoots well. We are lucky to have her back; the girls are happy to have her back. Janie has to be one of the most competitive people I have ever been around. A lot of times the coaches want to win more than the players but Janie might want to win more than anybody.”

In Ryan’s view, the Panthers collectively exude a will to win. “I think they are confident but they are also hungry,” said Ryan, who got a big opening weekend from Smukler as she scored 27 points in the win over Hill and then scored 18 in the title game loss to Springside.

“They want to win something. They want to win tournaments. They want to make a deep run in county and win the Prep B.”

Applying the acumen she has gained through her extensive experience in the game, Ryan is going to utilize the style that she thinks gives this group the best chance to achieve those goals.

“We will be up tempo and use a full court press,” maintained Ryan, whose team hosts Academy of New Church on December 8, plays at the Pennington School on December 10, and then hosts Blair Academy on December 14.

“With the talent we have, it wouldn’t make sense to sit back in 2-3 zone. We want to be attacking the basket; we have the talent to play fast and be aggressive.”

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