STRATFORD–New Stratford High girls basketball coach Laura Discenza is ending every practice the same way this winter.
The Red Devils get together, put all hands in and shout out a resounding, “We Believe!”
“We have to believe in each other before we can get everybody else to believe,” said Discenza, a former Lauralton Hall and Stonehill College player who takes over the program from Cliff LaRose.
Discenza has returned to Stratford to rejoin the girls basketball program in a vastly different role than her first go-round.
A graduate of Lauralton Hall and Stonehill College, where she played ball, one of Discenza’s first jobs after getting out of school was as an assistant coach for the Red Devils under previous coach Cliff LaRose.
She also spent a year with the Stratford girls volleyball program while returning to school at the University of Bridgeport to get her Masters degree. She has since been hired as the varsity volleyball coach at her alma mater, as well.
When LaRose resigned after last season, though, the school hired Discenza to return to Needham Gym and take over the struggling program.
“A big part of it was the program,” Discenza said. “I knew a lot of the girls because of volleyball and I knew Cliff really well. It’s a program filled with raw talent and the sky is the limit for them, if they want it. I like that we can build this program into what we believe it can be.”
The Red Devils have made the state tournament just once since 2009—during 2016’s 9-11 campaign—and for the last two seasons they’ve been young.
Two seniors were part of last year’s 4-16 squad and three seniors are part of this year’s team.
Despite their youth—Stratford has six freshmen in the program, three of which will be playing key roles this winter—Discenza likes the potential foundation she has to build on.
“We have to start changing the mindset,” she said. “We need to get them to realize they can be as good as they want to be, if they want to put in the time and get better.”
Discenza said the Red Devils should run around her “Three Amigos”—seniors Julia Torreso and Serina Mbachintim along with junior Abby Anka.
Torreso has already committed to play at Manhattanville next season.
Junior Keryna Upchurch is one of the squad’s key post players while senior Kairyn Jimenez is out for the team for the first time.
The rest of the roster, though, is sophomores and freshmen.
Sami Perley, Juju Jones, Daya Mewborn, Hayden Smith and Sydney Ritchie are the sophomores in the program while Julie Carbone, Juliette Macisco and Lyna Upchurch are the three freshmen expected to play key roles this winter.
Fellow freshmen Amanda Ogrodowic, Alli Diaz and Nina Williams are also in the program.
“My goal is for the kids this year is just to get better every day,” Discenza said. “Our record isn’t our focus. Our opponent isn’t our focus. It’s did I get better today?”
Down the road, though, with so many underclassmen, Discenza likes the feel her program has moving forward.
“Looking forward, I want to see the freshmen come into their own and see them make this program their own,” she said. “As a coach, I can’t be more excited that they’re buying in and want to be successful.”
All the Red Devils have to do every day is one simple thing: Believe.
Stratford opens the season on Saturday, Dec 15, at North Haven. Game time is 11:15 a.m.