Honesty is the policy for Mascoma’s Young

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-28-2023 9:12 PM

WEST CANAAN — Her team’s game finished, Mascoma High girls basketball coach Tonya Young swaddled her sparkly, 5-inch block heels in tissue paper and placed them inside their original cardboard box for safe keeping.

The fabulous kicks are purple, as were Young’s pants. The Royals’ second-year boss also wore a long-sleeved sweater in muted yellow and dangling earrings decorated with basketballs, completing an ensemble in her alma mater’s colors.

Mascoma matters to Young, a 2007 graduate and the school’s career scoring leader with 2,112 points. It’s important to her that she look sharp and that Mascoma plays well. However, she’s realizing she has full control over only one of those factors.

“The lack of passion and commitment,” Young said when asked what’s been the biggest challenge in trying to turn around a program that’s gone 32-68 the past 5½ seasons. “Basketball is not many of my players’ key sports. There’s a lot of soccer and field hockey instead.

“They’re not like I was, wanting to play basketball any second I could. So you’re only building during the season, and that’s not enough to truly work on skill development and Xs and Os.”

The Royals had just lost, 67-28, to NHIAA Division III title contender Concord Christian on Friday night at Ed Kehoe Gym. The Kingswomen dressed only seven players, but it’s fair to assume that hoops isn’t a secondary pursuit for many of them. Mascoma trailed the visitors in athleticism, but also in fundamental play.

“I came in here thinking I could change that, and I still could,” said Young, who never stopped instructing during the rout, encouraging her players in a firm but positive tone representative of her day job as an Enfield School first grade teacher. “I could try to build up the middle school team and get summer (workouts) going.

“That’s the long-term plan, to get that foundation built. So that when they get to me, they have more to work with.”

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Is Young committed to that path? She paused before answering.

“I would like to say yes, but will I be able to get the right coaches for the middle school and for an AAU team?” she said. “And will my girls play if we have that? I don’t know if any of that is going to be able to happen.”

Young hoped for double-digit victories this winter, but Mascoma is 3-7 with six games remaining. The Royals have decent height but move slowly when not glued to the floor. Bringing the ball up the court under pressure is a challenge, and Young admits she’s a better coach of post players than guards.

The 6-foot-2 Young, a former University of Vermont star and European pro player, continually urged her bigs to keep the ball at head height or above Friday, but the message didn’t sink in and they were often stripped for turnovers.

Their coach resisted showing frustration.

“A lot of our games have been close, and we’ve grown so much from the first game,” Young said. “Every game we have left is a winnable game.”

Junior guard Emily Seiler is a Young fan and said the Royals stick together because of her leadership.

“Tonya’s a mother figure and a role model, and I’m looking forward to playing my senior year for her,” Seiler said. “What she says are facts and good advice. You have to listen even if it’s tough love.”

Young won a state title and played in another championship game under the late Ed Kehoe, whose style she recalls intimidating players and parents. Young, like many current coaches, sometimes struggles to walk a the line between demanding and friendly.

“There have been games where I’ve had incredibly high expectations and completely chewed (the players) out and then realized I wasn’t being realistic,” she said. “Times have changed and I can’t coach them the way I was coached, because I’d get fired.”

Still, Young said she’s blunt about the Royals’ future when discussing it with her players.

“I’ve told them that we can only do so much during the season,” the coach said. “If we expect to be like (undefeated) Conant or Concord Christian, then we have to have a commitment to play outside it.

“If you want to do that, great, and I will help you set that up. But if not, then we need to have realistic expectations of what it looks like when we play the best (NHIAA) teams.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

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