For someone who subscribes to the theory that winning isn’t everything, Manhasset High School girls varsity basketball coach Lauren Sadeh sure has done a lot of it over the past year. With the Indians having excelled to an 18-2 finish in the 2017-18 season—after several years in a transitional mode—Sadeh, whose determination, poise and gift for building strong player-coach bonds had often been noted informally by those around her, was finally given official recognition in the form of the AA/A3 Conference Coach of the Year award.
“I’m obviously honored and flattered,” Sadeh reflects. “I was one of eight selections and—it was funny—usually there’s a secret ballot, but when we went to the meeting, one of the coaches said, ‘Do we even need to vote for this one?’ That was really nice.”
Part of what made the choice such a no-brainer for Sadeh’s peers was the remarkable turnaround her team managed to pull off. Following a 5-13 finish two seasons ago, the Indians brought up three eighth-graders to the varsity squad and braced themselves for what was to be a rebuilding season.
“We knew we’d be a very young team,” says Sadeh, who just wrapped up her seventh season as head coach of the girls varsity basketball team, having spent one additional season as an assistant. “Going into this year, those eighth-graders were now freshmen, and we had two sophomores. I just tried to reassure them that if they’d buy in and keep doing what they had to do, we’d be fine.”
The season opener against Farmingdale, which Sadeh called a “good test,” was a valiant effort, which the team “lost by eight, played a good game but just couldn’t get over the hump.” It wasn’t until Manhasset’s second game, a thrilling victory against Port Washington, that the team began to click on all cylinders.
Sadeh, who teaches 10th-grade health at Manhasset High School, identifies her ability to connect with her student-athletes as one of her defining characteristics as a coach. It’s an attribute that has not only helped Sadeh recruit high-caliber student-athletes to play basketball, but has also inspired her players to be at their best game-in and game-out.
“I’ve managed to maintain great relationships with my players over the years, just creating an environment where they’re comfortable and not scared,” says Sadeh, who added that she doesn’t subscribe to the theory that the loudest coach is the most effective coach. “I don’t believe that works. I try to create an environment that isn’t all about winning. Winning is a bonus. I think that the girls start to understand their roles and that not everyone can be a leading scorer. It’s important to keep it fun.”
“This past year you could definitely see that the girls liked each other, learned and had fun,” agrees Jim Amen, Jr., director of physical education, athletics and health services for the Manhasset School District. “[Sadeh] created a positive experience for her team. They wanted to win for themselves, but they also wanted to win for their coach.”
In reflecting on how the Manhasset Girls Varsity Basketball program has evolved during her tenure, Sadeh is proud that she’s managed to make strides in convincing top athletes who would normally take the winter season off—especially lacrosse players—that investing time in basketball is a worthwhile endeavor. She also relishes the thought of continuing to build lasting bonds with student-athletes, some of which will continue after graduation, when they return as alumni to support their old team. But however special her past and future as a coach, there’s something about the present moment for Sadeh that’s unlike anything she’s ever experienced.
“This was probably one of the most rewarding years for me as a coach, and not just because of our record. I’ve never coached a group of girls who enjoy each other this much. When you coach high school girls, personalities can clash…this year, there were no wrinkles in anything,” Sadeh says. “It was just such a fun team. I was sorry to let this season go.”