Ellis Basketball 2018–2019: A Lesson in Leadership

I recently sat down with seniors Katharine Ference and Sydné Ballengee, who led the Upper School Varsity Basketball team to the playoffs for the second time in four years. Now co-captains, Katharine and Sydné joined the team in ninth grade and felt no pressure that year as five starting seniors led the team to the playoffs; they were there to enjoy the ride, but not as contributing members of the team.
When the class of 2016 graduated, the basketball team experienced a moment of transition as they struggled in both numbers and leadership. As Sydné and Katharine continued through the Upper School, they realized that they, alongside fellow co-captain senior Kaia Iverson and their coaches, would be responsible for making changes to put the team back in playoff contention.

Shayla Scott, Director of Athletics, attests to the much-needed leadership that Katharine and Sydné provided for the younger members of the team. As a result, they have come full circle in their senior year, making a playoff run once again. A tight-knit squad, everyone on this year’s team set a higher standard for themselves by holding each other accountable and pushing each other to get better. In working with a fairly young team, these seniors have instilled within the players that they “are not allowed to be just freshmen—they have to be more.” By making this culture shift, all members of the team now have the leadership skills to run a practice, lead drills, and step into gameplay. They know how to be both constructive and supportive of one another, and they realize that their success is not about each individual; it is about the team.

Katharine and Sydné also credit Coach Dan LaGamba, who stepped in as Head Coach in their junior year, after serving as an Assistant Coach in both their freshman and sophomore years.  He has made significant changes by involving the parents, bringing a tournament home to Ellis, and providing the (ever-important) snacks prior to practice. Under his leadership, the team has embraced watching game film, which has allowed them to think critically, develop game plans, and make connections from scouting. Because of Coach Dan’s investment in the team, the players are driven to work hard. By hosting open gyms through the fall, Coach Dan has helped the team to connect both on and off the court. This trust in each other is a cornerstone of the team experience.

It is understandably hard for Sydné and Katharine to leave this team behind. They do feel strongly, however, that “when [they] leave, the team can survive” because they have collectively been “put back on the map.” They are proud of this team because of the way they have worked together, and they know that they have a bright future ahead of them. Being a part of the shift in culture has been empowering; rather than just talking about a culture change as they did as underclassmen, the seniors helped to lead it. In doing so, they are leaving a stronger legacy for their younger teammates and look forward with great confidence in the seasons to come.