Ian Progin has been coaching basketball at Hillsborough High School for almost two decades.
He coached the Hillsborough boys’ basketball team for 13 years and is in his third season leading the Hillsborough girls’ basketball squad.
And the veteran coach is one who loves challenges like the one presented by this winter’s girls’ basketball team.
Hillsborough lost four seniors, including two starters, from last year’s team, which lost to Hunterdon Central Regional High School, 47-18, in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament quarterfinals.
Then, before this campaign even started, the Raiders lost their leading scorer from last winter, Dani Pescatore, for the entire season to a torn ACL.
It will be a challenge to replicate last year’s success, which means Progin can emphasize some of his favorite aspects of team basketball: defense, rebounding and avoiding turnovers.
“Our primary focus is to be a good, solid defensive and rebounding team. I believe that defense will always keep you in a game and give you the best chance to win,” Progin said. “Offensively, our primary goal is to cut down on turnovers. That’s really important.”
Hillsborough is off to a pretty good start in those areas. The Raiders are only 1-2, but they earned their first victory, 41-30, over Belvidere High School on Dec. 22, by playing great defense.
They also played good defense in their two losses, allowing 48 and 32 points, respectively, to the Gill Saint Bernard’s School on Dec. 14 and Bridgewater-Raritan High School on Dec. 20.
Hillsborough just needs to score more. Progin thinks the key to scoring more is creating high percentage shots.
“We are putting an emphasis on getting to the basket and to the foul line, to be able to take and make more foul shots,” Progin said. “We will also to try to get more out of our transition game.”
Hillsborough will need to be the consummate team this winter, but even the most balanced teams need leaders. Progin has two good ones in Elissa Nsenkyire and Jill Stanton.
They are Progin’s only returning starters. Nsenkyire is a junior point guard who can score. Stanton is a junior center who can rebound and finish around the basket.
“We are expecting Elissa to continue her growth and progress,” Progin said. “We are hoping she can shoot the ball from the field, midrange and three point range. Hopefully she can increase consistency in foul shooting, too, as well as up her assists and lower her turnovers.”
“We’re hoping Jill is going to continue to be a good rebounder,” Progin added. “We also hope she can add a little bit to her game of potentially putting more points on the board, and just being solid on defense like she’s been.”
Beyond those two, Progin has deep stables of guards and forwards. He thinks all of them are capable of playing varsity basketball. The coach is also confident that a rotation will emerge from healthy competition within the team.
Among the guards, Payton Quackenbush can shoot, Gabby Vangeli can defend and Morgan Hodorowski is versatile. She can handle, shoot and drive to the basket.
Among the forwards, Grace O’Connor can man the middle, Lisa Ross does dirty work down low and Allison Watson can play inside and outside.
Freshman Olivia Gasparo needs varsity experience. But once she gets it, she could become a lockdown defender, hard driver and dependable shooter.
Progin is unsure about which players will emerge and how this team will do. But he knows they are committed to grinding, in practice and in games.
“If we can, as each practice and game go by, work on getting better, that will help us be more successful,” Progin said. “I’m looking forward to the season and to coaching this group of girls. I believe in them. They work hard, play hard and we’re trying to continue to build the culture.”