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Sports Person of the Week
Schaller Takes a Team-First Approach at Valley
Sophomore Siena Schaller has a keen eye on the court as a shooting guard for the Valley Regional girls’ basketball team. (Photo courtesy of Siena Schaller)
Siena Schaller proved a key cog for the Valley Regional girls’ basketball squad this year. Siena, a sophomore, plays the off-guard position for the Warriors and took on a significant role as the season unfolded. Siena prides herself on helping her team come together as an effective unit.
The winter season was challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic created delays and adjustments for teams across the country. When the Warriors were getting started with practices, Siena was unsure if she wanted to go out and compete due to the risk that it could pose to her and her family. Eventually, though, the allure of hitting the hardwood became too much for Siena to resist.
“Actually, in the beginning of the season, I wasn’t playing because of the corona situation. My grandmother is older, and I was nervous about playing,” Siena says. “Not playing or practicing, I missed basketball and the family atmosphere of the team. So, I started playing with the girls again, and I thought we did really well with the circumstances, especially without spectators at the games and all that.”
Siena and the Warriors had a lot to adjust to with their practices and games altered for safety protocols. This made the experience of the season much different, and it took some time to get used to it. As the season progressed, Siena and her teammates started to find their stride and were firing on all cylinders.
Unfortunately, Siena’s fears were realized when the Warriors were exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 at a home game against Coginchaug on March 15. The following day, Valley was on the road versus Hale-Ray and had to pack up during the middle of the game to go through the contact tracing and quarantine process.
“I definitely felt more of an attachment toward the end of the season compared to the beginning. It was like a switch went off in our heads that we all needed to work together better to accomplish what we were trying to accomplish,” says Siena. “I thought how our season ended was really tough. None of us knew that was our last game. It was especially hard thinking of the seniors. We’ll never be able to play with them again. It’s hard for that to set in.”
The good news was that Siena came away from the experience without any adverse outcomes other than disappointment. It was a scary situation for Siena that was exacerbated by the fact that she nearly sat out the season due to her concerns for that exact circumstance.
“I didn’t go to the first practices or a couple of the first games, because that was when COVID was going off, because I would just blame myself if I brought it home to my family. I finally got back out there, because I missed basketball a lot,” says Siena, who lives in Ivoryton. “After we got shut down, I got tested twice. It was really tough at first. We made it that far without going through this stuff. We thought we could have pulled it through and even won [the Shoreline Conference Tournament]. It was hard to have that soak in that the season was over and that we could potentially get COVID.”
It was an especially cruel fate for the Warriors to get exposed to COVID at that time, because the team was jelling nicely just prior to the Shoreline Conference Tournament. Valley had won five of its previous six contests and was looking to make some noise in the Shoreline bracket.
Siena believes that much of Valley’s late-season success stemmed from the influence of Head Coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt’s leadership skills, coupled with the fact that the Warriors were running plays that involved the entire team.
“She is probably one of the best coaches I’ve dealt with. If there are difficulties on the court, she really works it out. It really shows in our games. We wouldn’t be the team that we are without coach,” Siena says of Bickelhaupt. “One of our plays involves the whole team. The post and the guards all move together and all handling the ball to score. Some plays the ball just goes to the post or the guard. I like working as a team in plays like that the most.”
Siena believes that a team functions best when everyone is involved in a play and the ball is bouncing around between teammates. Siena likes plays where she gets to make split-second decisions with the ball in her hands.
“For most of our plays, I was set up to curl around other guards setting screen to look for a shot at the 3-point line. The screener would go down low to get into the paint. I would look for a lane to get to the rim, or I would try to pass it down low into the post to get their paint game going,” Siena says. “Making decisions, whether it’s passing, driving, or going for the jump shot, I think those are my biggest strengths.”
Siena plays basketball on a year-round basis by additionally competing for an AAU basketball team called Drive 4 Stardom out of Cromwell. Siena started playing basketball when she was five and has been involved with AAU programs since the 4th grade. All that experience proves quite valuable for Siena on the court.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was five years old, and I’ve been on AAU teams since the 4th grade. It’s very competitive. That prepared me to play at Valley, I think,” says Siena, who also enjoys surfing during the offseason. “The AAU team is just starting up again. We’re practicing now and tournaments are starting up in a couple of weeks. We’re actually slated to go to Orlando, Florida in July, which is crazy.”
Next year, Siena will be returning to the Warriors as one of their veteran players, and she can’t wait to help the freshmen and sophomores improve their skills as they integrate with the team. Siena appreciates the guidance that she received from Valley’s senior captains this year and wants to continue that tradition down the road.
“I wouldn’t be the player or the teammate I am today without the seniors. They helped me a lot with learning the plays or even just talking with me about my day in school. That really created a bond for the whole team, and that fed into the how we did on the court. How they helped me will affect how I help the underclassmen in the future,” Siena says. “I’m excited for the underclassmen and the juniors that are going to be seniors. We’ve been playing together for the past two years. We’re really learning each other’s games. The chemistry we have on and off the court will lead us to having a successful season.”