The New Paltz Men’s Basketball (2-2) team opened up 2011-12 campaign in Scranton, Pa. with a win over Centenary College. The Hawks bested their opponent with a final score of 85-79 behind 28 points from third-year forward Matt Devine.
The opener marked the beginning of the “Mike Rejniak era” in New Paltz. Rejniak enters his first season as head coach of the Hawks, following a four-year stint at Amherst College where he served as assistant coach. Rejniak was hired in July and said he chose New Paltz because of the potential he saw in the program.
“What intrigued me most about New Paltz was its ability to be a great men’s basketball program,” said Rejniak. “I wanted to build a winning tradition that has yet to be attained by the men’s basketball program. This athletic program has broken new ground this fall and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Rejniak is joined by another newcomer in assistant coach Ryan Woerner, who served as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team at Cornell last season.
“I am honored to join such an accomplished leader in Coach Rejniak as we establish a new brand of New Paltz Hawks basketball,” said Woerner. “I look forward to being able to develop these high-quality student-athletes at a great place like New Paltz.”
The arrival of new coaches fosters the arrival of a new attitude for the Hawks. In Rejniak’s four years at Amherst College, the school lost only 25 games and reached the NCAA tournament three times. That culture of winning is something he hopes to bring to a New Paltz program that hasn’t finished above .500 in over a decade.
“He has implemented a winning attitude here, and coming from a winning program at Amherst he understands how to be successful at this level,” said fourth-year guard Harris Wichard. “Coach is very disciplined and he pays attention to every detail—He has a tremendous work ethic.”
The Hawks entered this season with the SUNYAC title on their minds. After being ousted by SUNY Plattsburgh in the quarterfinals of the SUNYAC tournament last year, the Hawks carry a chip on their shoulder. They said their goal is simple—to win the SUNYAC championship.
“My expectations are very high for this season,” said Wichard. “We expect to win each and every time we step on the floor. The goal of winning the SUNYACs is very attainable with the coaching staff and the players that we have.”
Wichard, who led the team in scoring last year with 14 points per game, joins Devine and fourth-year guard Jermain Wallace as the captains and leaders of the team.
“Harris Wichard, Matt Devine, and Jermain Wallace have done a nice job leading my team both on and off the court,” said Rejniak. “I put a lot on their plate and they have been very proactive with setting the example for my team. They each bring a different type of energy.”
The key to the Hawks’ success this season will rest on the leadership of their veterans, as well as their ability to defend, something which they have not been able to do thus far. Since the opening win, the Hawks have dropped two straight, giving up an average of 89 points per game.
“I do not worry about our team offensively, I see our greatest need is to become a more defensively-driven team,” said Rejniak. “Coach Woerner and myself will keep breaking things down and keep finding new and unique ways to teach our team the fundamentals that go into a winning team.”
Rejniak has already started to change the attitude within the program and said it starts with practice and preparation.
“Even though our roster is smaller than most, I have a lot of confidence in myself and my teammates to play at a very high level,” said Wichard. “We have put in a tremendous amount of work in the preseason and in practice to the point where we feel like we are highly conditioned and extremely prepared for a big time run.”
The Hawks continue to take this season one game at a time and face a tough non-conference schedule, which Rejniak says is exactly what this team wants.
“I think having good, quality non-conference opponents is the only way to go,” said Rejniak. “It’s going to be the barometer of what we need to work on, and will prepare us for this tough league.”