LaGuardia Community College started its men’s and women’s basketball teams back in 2013, and in just three years, under the guidance of head coach Anthony Alfaro, the Lady Red Hawks went from beginners to nationally ranked.
So far this season, they’ve coasted through conference play undefeated, beating every community college team twice. With the CUNY Athletic Conference championship fast approaching, we spoke with Coach Alfaro about what this team has accomplished and what that means for the program moving forward.
Q: Talk a little bit about the season that the team is having so far.
A: We’re enjoying the success right up to now. The first two years were rough as a new program. We had some success, but it was kind of up and down. We did very well in the conference. We’re doing pretty well in the region. It’s been pretty exciting for all of us involved.
Q: Who are the players on the team that are leading the way?
A: There are ten roster spots. It’s probably about a nine-player rotation. Sarah Edwards, Lexis Valentin, Marika Gordon, Kailyn Richburg and Briana Johnson are our double-digit scorers. Tanasia Streetman is our best defensive player. She gives us the most minutes on the team, the best minutes.
Then we have a couple people coming off the bench that have all contributed. It’s really been a group effort. Jazznita Williams is big, she gets limited minutes but she produces when she gets in. Shafon Longshore is the other one, and last but not least is Omorefe Slayton.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with this season? What’s the end goal?
A: We’d love to make and win the nationals. That’s obviously the lofty goal, but we’re taking it one game at a time. We’re not looking any further than each game we have ahead of us. We try to stay grounded. We can only do what’s right in front.
We’d love to be national champions. I think every program, at this point in the season when they’re close, would love that, but we truly take a per-game approach. We have eight freshmen - it’s a young team, we only returned two players - so keeping them grounded is very important.
Q: Looking back at the season, is there a defining moment or play that stands out to you the most?
A: The defining moment in the season? There’s been a lot of them. I guess the one moment where the girls realized that they were strong contenders was when we had to sit two of our starters for disciplinary, and our third starter actually hit her head so she had a slight concussion, so she was out. We really were going in underhanded, and it was against BMCC.
It was a back-and-forth game, and with about nine seconds left we ran an inbounds play. We scored, got fouled, got the one-and-one. Then we stopped them from scoring. That probably was the defining moment for the girls.
Q: What kind of qualities do you look for in a player?
A: We recruited close to 90 players, and ended up with the eight roster players. The first thing we looked for was that they were academically sound. In the prior two years, we had some problems with players that were fairly off, so that kind of made for a rough second half in the first two years.
If they struggled academically, we went looked at why they struggled academically. If they had a true understanding of what their problem was, that was a strong character trait that we were looking for. The basketball talent, obviously everyone looks for basketball talent, but that really came third. I think going that route this year has helped us.
Q: How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
A: We’re extremely up-tempo. We push the ball on offense, we like to get up. Our goal is always getting up over 80 shots a game. We press and we trap, and we like to get up and down the floor.
Q: Is being nationally ranked an accomplishment that you think is significant?
A: I think it’s significant for the college community, it gives them something to recognize. It’s nice for the girls to be able to tell somebody that they’re on a nationally ranked team, but at the end of the day, the national ranking doesn’t really mean anything. It’s what you do at the end of the season. We allow the girls to enjoy the accolades, but at the end of the day, it only really means something in an article or on the website. At the end of the day, it’s the W’s at the end of the season that really count.
Q: You’ve got the CUNY Championship coming up. Is there a team or an opponent that you’re looking forward to playing?
A: I was asked that question last night as well. Again, it seems cliché when I say this, but we really take it one game at a time. Our first round opponent is going to be BMCC, who we beat twice. We were 10-0 in the CUNY, so we beat everybody twice. But it doesn’t mean anything. It’s win or go home.
Who knows if they’re not going to get their top performances from their top players, so we have to play our game. We always talk about playing our game. As long as we play our game, we’re going to be in any game that we play against any opponent that we face.
Q: Any last thoughts or comments?
A: This has truly been an enjoyable ride. The ladies this season have made the persona of what LaGuardia Lady Red Hawks have wanted to be to our coaching staff. And we’re looking forward to next week, getting to the CUNYs, and then beyond to the regions and who knows, quite possibly the nationals.