The Irvington girls’ basketball team will have a different feel when they gather for preseason practice in November.
The familiar faces from the last several campaigns have graduated and moved on. Back in 2020, standout guard Abby Conklin and role player Nikki May departed. This past June, All-Section forward Grace Thybulle, along with nuts-and-bolts players Kate Hanna, Aine Cleary, and Kayla Mizrachi graduated.
With them left talent, as well as leadership and the understanding of what it takes to be successful at a high-level program like Irvington.
One of the players expected to fill that void is rising junior guard Amanda Raimondo, who made a strong first impression on head coach Gina Maher and her staff during the pandemic-affected 2021 season.
Raimondo showed off her ability to handle the ball, find the open teammate, shoot, and play the hard-nosed defense that has become a Bulldogs staple.
This coming season, Raimondo will be called upon to raise her game another notch — a challenge she is ready to accept.
“Last year [2021 season] was different because of Covic,” Raimondo said. “We were still able to make our way around it and make the best of it as a team. I thought we were able to do well in our league because we played together as a team.”
Raimondo has been playing basketball since “first or second grade.”
Surprisingly in this day and age of travel and club teams, Raimondo opts not to play with any outside basketball programs. She does, however, play with the Connecticut Soccer Club as she pursues one of the other two sports she plays for Irvington. Her third sport is lacrosse.
On the hardwood, Raimondo knows her strengths and her weaknesses.
“What I do well is pass the ball,” she said. “I have the ability to look for the open player and pass them the ball. What I need to work on is my ability to go to the basket on my own.”
This coming season, though, it will be about more than skills for Raimondo, who will be looked upon to lead.
“As a new leader, I am going to have to fill the spots left by the players that graduated,” Raimondo said. “I am going to have teach the new players the things that were taught to me by the older players.”
She continued, “I am going to have to tell the new players that they will have to work just as hard as everyone in the past if we are going to continue to be successful. I will have to show them and work just as hard as I have to get here.”
And she will tell the new players just what an honor it is to play for Maher, who she described as “a special coach.”
Raimondo explained, “She is such a great leader and is able to make everyone want to play for her and play hard — and enjoy it.”
Raimondo versatility is also a rarity in today’s age of specialization.
“I love all three sports for basically the same reasons: I love being part of a team, I love that everyone has to work together for a team to be successful, and I like to meet new people and make new friends,” she said. “Playing the three sports is really not as hard as you would think because I enjoy playing them al so much.”