Even before the men’s basketball team tipped-off against Castleton State to start the 2011-2012 campaign, head coach Charlie Brock knew two freshmen were going to be key contributors.
Through 10 games, Nick Sienkiewicz and Josh Altman have been just that.
With the exception of senior Ryan Coburn, Brock was essentially left with filling the four other starting positions prior to the 2011-2012 season.
Both Sienkiewicz and Altman have played in all 10 games so far for the Pride. Sienkiewicz has started nine while Altman has been utilized more off the bench and has started once.
The two have gone up against the likes of Amherst College and Williams College, two teams in one of the most highly-regarded conferences in D-III basketball, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).
With the “real season” right around the corner, Sienkiewicz and Altman know just how important those games will be.
“The say that the NESCAC is one of the best conferences in D-III basketball in the country,” said Sienkiewicz. “Playing four NESCAC teams in the last five games is only going to help us in the long run.”
That long run starts Jan. 4 in Cambridge, Mass., when the Pride hit the road to take on the MIT Engineers. The tilt with the Engineers marks the beginning of a 13-game streak, where 12 opponents are New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference members.
The lone game on Feb. 6 against Western New England is the only break in conference play the rest of the way for Springfield.
With no NEWMAC conference experience, Sienkiewicz and Altman have not taken the change in tone of the upperclassmen lightly.
“They say stuff like, ‘the real season hasn’t started yet,’” said Sienkiewicz. “We’re kind of hitting that first wall of the season; it’s such a long season and we’re all tired.”
Altman knows just how important the upcoming break will be for his team.
“This break will be good because we’ll be able to rest and get our legs back,” said the freshman out of Rockport, Mass. “But when we come back, it’s time to go to work.”
Through the first stint of this season, Sienkiewicz has a slight scoring advantage (7.7 ppg) over Altman (5.8 ppg). Aside from scoring, the two have looked to contribute in any way that will help the team.
For Sienkiewicz, it started last season at Marianapolis Preparatory School in Thompson, Conn. After a senior year knee surgery, the Cranston, R.I. native was unsure about playing ball in school.
The decision was made to go to prep school to give some thought to playing one more year.
Playing alongside D-I caliber players, Sienkiewicz needed to find a niche to help make his team better.
“Last year especially, I really focused on defense and just working hard at it,” said Sienkiewicz. “Against high level competition, you can’t always get your shot off easily and get it going offensively as much, especially when you’re playing with D-I level players who take the majority of the shots.
“So the way to contribute was defensively, so that’s helped me a lot.”
Although Altman would like to say his greatest strength is defense as well, his timely contributions on offense have been his biggest asset.
“I would like it to be defense,” joked Altman. “But it’s probably offense because that was just my role in high school because we didn’t really have any other players, so it’s kind of what I took on, just all offense.”
“Going to prep school really helped defensively, so that’s what I’m trying to improve on here.”
Altman’s decision to take the prep school route was slightly different. Having not done as well academically as he would have liked, he decided another year before college was the best route and headed to Bridgton Academy.
“Coming out of high school, I wasn’t the best student, so I didn’t really have a ton of options for college,” said Altman. “I decided to go there and just to get better at basketball and just improve my skills and stuff.”
“I wasn’t ready either. I definitely needed another year of maturity, and that’s definitely what it gave me, so it was a good decision.”
Similar paths have allowed these two freshmen to step into key roles for the Pride this season. With non-conference play nearing the end and the first wall of the season wearing them down, Sienkiewicz and Altman need to continue their strong play the rest of the way.
“We’re all looking for a little bit of a break,” admitted Altman. “But we’ve got to be ready to go right after we get back.”
Corey Hanlon may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org