BARRE — Spaulding’s new girls basketball coach showed up for the first day of practice with an open mind, a defensive approach and a wealth of recent success.
Tanya MacAuley is already a familiar face in the Granite City and she’s taking on a high-profile role as the bench boss for the Crimson Tide. She graduated from Spaulding in 1989 and played at Johnson State College for two years. Following a wildly successful stint at Hazen during the past two seasons, MacAuley decided to stay closer to home and applied for the Spaulding job last summer to replace outgoing coach James Carpenter.
MacAuley’s two-year record with the Division III Wildcats was 37-6, while Spaulding went a combined 1-59 the past three years as a Division I team. The Crimson Tide are eyeing their first winning season in a decade and will compete in Division II this winter for the first time in program history. The Tide are the third-biggest program in D-II behind North Country and Burr and Burton. They will play in the Metro Division again for the regular season.
The Spaulding coaching staff will be one of the most experienced in Central Vermont, with Lori Shepard and Judy Abbiati serving as assistants. Abbiati is a 1975 Spaulding grad who was the junior varsity coach for MacAuely in the 1980s. Shepard won over 100 games as Northfield’s varsity coach and has also made the rounds as a popular radio broadcaster for local games. Nashanda McGee-Browman returns as the junior varsity coach.
The Crimson Tide will test the waters Saturday when they travel to a jamboree at Randolph beginning at 1:15 p.m. Spaulding will open the season Dec. 16 with a 7 p.m. home game against U-32.
Before the start of another long winter season, here are 10 questions for MacAuley:
TA: How would you chalk up the last few years at Hazen? You guys didn’t go all the way, but your records were nothing to sneeze at.
MacAuley: “The last two years at Hazen we finished the season as the No. 1 team. The first year we made it to the Aud and lost in the semis. And last year everything just seemed to click until that very last game in the quarterfinals. But they started to really gel. They were a great mix of girls and they bought into what I was selling to them. They believed in me, they started believing in each other and that’s why we were successful.”
TA: Can you be a little more specific about what style of basketball you were selling to them?
MacAuley: “I’m all about defense. We knew we had players that could hit the outside shots and come through when we needed it. I had Letty Hill, who could basically hit from anywhere. So they really needed to believe that defense was the key to winning. And once they got away from ‘I need to score’ and really started thinking about ‘How dow we stop them from scoring?’ — that’s really when things changed. And then the inside game with Alleigh Gabaree was tremendous. So once we started hitting from the outside and other teams would overplay us, then we could get it inside. So our inside-out game was fabulous. But for me, it really has always come down to defense: We have to stop them. And scoring always happens. Kids nowadays, they sit in a gym and they just shoot. But they don’t work on defense. So once we can stop a team, then the rest comes.”
TA: One interesting thing with Hazen was adding the Craftsbury players. I know it’s a whole new world in Vermont now with more cooperative teams. But do you think that helped prove that a group of girls that hadn’t necessarily played much together can gel pretty quickly?
MacAuley: “Absolutely. And it’s hard to be an outside school and coming into your nemesis school, per se, and be able to be so successful. We couldn’t have done it without the Brown girls (Lynn and Lizzie) for the last two years, and Mackenzie Blaney was huge for us that first year also. That really helped. It’s all about playing together as one and getting away from the individual game, which I think it has become so much. You have to get them to believe that it’s one team — and that was hard at first. But they really came together.”
TA: Do you mind giving the general timetable for when you heard about the job opening and how your application process and the interviews went?
MacAuley: “I had heard toward the beginning of the summer that there might be an opening. They weren’t sure if the coach was coming back. I had told Hazen at the end of our season that I was done there, and the only reason was because I had moved back to Barre. I did the commute from Barre to Hardwick for half a year and it was a lot. And my daughter (Sage) is going to be a freshman this year on the basketball team, so I didn’t want to miss any of that. And when I heard that James Carpenter was stepping down, I just waited for the time to apply. And as soon as it opened, I applied right away and then just waited for the interview process to go through.”
TA: Do you feel like having played at Spaulding gives you at least somewhat of an advantage, so you’re not walking in totally blind to a new situation?
MacAuley: “To be honest, what gives me an advantage is I was a horrible basketball player. I really was. I didn’t put the work in, I rarely saw minutes on the court. But it gave me a different perspective. It made me see how hard work really pays off. Because after I graduated, that summer I just worked really hard — working out and basketball skills. And then I went to Johnson and I made the team. So for me, it really put into my mind that it’s not all about talent — it’s about hard work. And that’s really what I look for in the girls that I coach. Give me somebody who’s got the heart and is coachable — that’s what I want.”
TA: Without singling anybody out, have there been any first impressions or surprises after the first day of practice?
MacAuley: “I’ve watched the girls through the summer and I’ve just been taking stuff in. And there is a group that has been showing up to open gym. I scheduled a preseason with Freddie LaPan, who worked on cardio with anyone who wanted to come. And those girls who have done that, you can see during our first day of tryouts that they were able to keep up. So that shows a lot when girls show up for summer league and all of that.”
TA: You’re a coach who’s had back-to-back 18- or 19-win seasons. And Spaulding is on the opposite end of that. So is there a sense that these girls are hungry for some wins, and maybe the morale could come around with some wins here?
MacAuley: “Everyone is hungry for wins. We had a big meeting (Monday) night and I told them and the parents and everyone else, ‘Don’t focus on the wins for us right now.’ First of all, we need to strip it down. And we need to build it back up. I’m not saying anything about the past coaching at all. It’s just, with a new coach, you always have to strip it down. And you always have to build it back up in a different capacity. So that’s what we have to focus on first and foremost. And from there, we get a win. And from that win, we look for another win. And that’s all we’re going to do, game to game. We’re going to take it as it comes and learn from each and every game and what we need to fix and how we need to improve.”
TA: At Hazen you would play a team like Thetford, which has to be as good as just about anybody in Vermont. But it seems like the difference with the Metro is there’s more of a challenge playing those types of teams night in and night out.
MacAuley: Yeah. The girls are like, ‘Oh, we don’t want to play CVU.’ And I look at is as, ‘Yes, we do want to play CVU.’ We want to learn from the best. We want to play the best to get better — however that looks. We want to take what we learn from them and go forward to the next game.”
TA: If you look at last year’s Spaulding team, they only won a game. But they took U-32 to overtime one time and they almost beat them in the other game. Is there a sense that the raw potential is there and it just has to come together a little bit?
MacAuley: “The potential is there and the talent is there. What I need to find from them is our passion again. We need to find it as a team — not as individuals — and make them love the game of basketball again. And once you love basketball, everything else falls into place — win or lose.”
TA: Is there some buzz about playing D-II for playoffs, or is that kind of unspoken right now?
MacAuley: “Right now it’s unspoken and I really don’t want us to dwell on that. I really want us to not even look that far ahead. There will come a time when we will start looking toward playoffs and planning for it. But until that time comes, we need to take it day-by-day and work on getting better and forming a solid bond as a team. And then from there, we start looking ahead. One step at a time.”