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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
On a team that’s mostly full of freshmen and sophomores, one player stands out as Taylor Albrecht is back for her fifth season with the Elmira Soaring Eagles.

“I’m very excited, I have played for the program for four years and three year with coach (Thad) Phillips, and I think it went great, so I’m excited for my fifth year.”

With schooling left to do Albrecht figured it was a good chance to come back this year.

“I had to finish my nursing career, so I decided to come back and finish that and at the same time play basketball,” Albrecht said.

The decision to return was not an easy one, or a quick one, for Albrecht.

“It’s definitely a hard decision,” she said. “My parents and I talked throughout the whole thing trying to decide if it was best for me. I decided, I love the sport, I love the team, and how we are all like a family. I love playing for coach Phillips, so I decided why not come back and play. I knew wit was going to be hard (balancing the end of her nursing with basketball) but I love the sport.”

But, Albrecht always kind of thought this is what she was going to do after the Covid year.

“I kind of always knew since I got the fifth year for Covid that I was coming back,” she said.

For Phillips it’s special having a player like Albrecht to lean on.

“Taylor is definitely something special,” Phillips said. “She has been absolutely wonderful. The best thing she brings, don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely great she has all the basketball experiences, she’s one of our better players and has produced on the floor, that’s all great, but the leadership she is bringing on a daily basis is phenomenal.”

For the players on the team Albrecht is like an older sister they can look up to.

“She’s a great leader for us,” Olivia Ayres said.

“She’s like an older sister for us,” Olivia Nittinger added.

Albrecht appreciates having players look up to her.

“I definitely see it being a mentor toward them, but I also view them as my little sisters,” Albrecht said. “It’s something great coming in because I’m the youngest in my family and now I’ve got people younger than me that I can help.

“It’s pretty awesome. I’m the leader and I have a very big impact on them (the younger players) this year and for the future years for them.”

This is all new to Albrecht as she had other people her age that she came into school with and played with for most of her career.

“It’s definitely different,” she said. “The past four years I played with the same three people that graduated last year, so coming into this year with all the fresh legs, the sophomores, the freshmen, I’m the only person returning for more than one year so it’s definitely a change, but it’s exciting.”

Albrecht has seen it all, including the Covid year when the team played just six games, and that helped make her decision on coming back this year.

“Having six games in one year it was odd, because we are used to 20 or 22 games in a year, sometimes 24, so after six games we were like what do we do now?”

This year is definitely different for Albrecht being with all the younger girls.

“Definitely different,” Albrecht said. “The vibes are awesome though, the freshmen coming in seem to have picked up stuff right away, it’s not like there was any gap. They are definitely brining an energy, so I’m excited for that. They are going hard in practice.”

Last year numbers were a bit lower for the team at the end of the year, and that made things a challenge. This year with a big freshman class and strong sophomore class the team’s numbers are strong.

“It’s awesome, this year we can have more than two teams in practice,” Albrecht said. “Last year we were struggling to have even two to scrimmage each other. This year we have enough to scrimmage each other and it will give us benefits.

“I think it’s really important to have at least two teams in practice so we have that down and back in practices. Without it, it’s hard because you can’t have the competition you would have with 10 people on the team.”

Last year at the end of the season many of the returning players all got time on the floor and that has only helped build their confidence for this year.

“I can definitely see they are very excited to see where we are going to go this year in conference play and out of conference, but knowing they have that experience definitely gives them a confidence boost and you can see it,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht is definitely starting to feel like a fifth-year senior, and the years have flown by.

“For me, each year has gone quicker,” she said.

For Phillips it’s an exciting time as the team gets ready to open the season next Tuesday at Penn College.

“We have a good group of girls to work with,” Phillips said. “It’s been awesome, it’s been absolutely wonderful, having a full team back again here with 17 girls in practice gives us a lot of opportunities to do things in practice.”

The experience that the second-year players gained last year has them at a different level this year.

“It’s night and day difference,” Phillips said. “All our returners now have been through a year of wars and battles. They have been through practices, they know what to expect, they know how to do things now in drills, in game play. It’s nice to have those nine or 10 girls come back. They have been great leaders for our freshmen girls who are all kind of going through the same thing that those girls went through with the nerves and not understanding and knowing what we do here at Elmira.

“It has been wonderful having nine girls that were in practice last year. All nine of those girls saw the floor and got some playing time last year. It has given them the ability to understand and really lead the younger girls and be like this is what it will be like.”

The Soaring Eagles have a strong group of freshmen coming in this year.

“We have a very nice group of freshmen that have all bought into what we are doing and how we are doing things and every day they bring energy and every day they get better and our team chemistry is phenomenal,” Phillips said.

For Albrecht it just pushes her and the other returners having all the newcomers.

“There is definitely competition in practice, everyone is fighting for their spots,” Albrecht said.

Phillips knows having more players who can play just makes everyone better.

“The old adage is iron sharpens iron, so when you have someone always pushing you from behind, wanting to take your minutes, wanting to play it makes you have to show up and be better every day,” Phillips said. “Having good returners that are coming back and know what to do and how to handle things make the freshmen, especially the freshmen who may come from programs where they may have been the best one, they have to be on their Ps and Qs. So iron sharpens iron, the deeper you can get the better you can get.”

One of the nice things for the Soaring Eagles this year is having a deeper roster means the coaches can do different things during games.

“I hope so (that they will be deep), we’ll find out, so far it definitely is nice in practice,” Phillips said. “The best way to teach is to put girls on the bench to drive home points. If you aren’t doing things the way they need to get done then you aren’t going to play. Last year we didn’t always have that option, because we didn’t have the numbers. This year we have 16 or 17 in practice every day so if you aren’t going to do the things we ask you to I’m not going to allow you on the floor. It’s nice, it’s upped our intensity level every day.”
IN TOP PHOTO: Taylor Albrecht works in practice. . . PHOTOS BY BRIAN FEES

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