By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — DAVENPORT _ There stood Ray Preston, microphone in hand near. That's where he asked anyone who’d ever played for him to join him at mid-court.
Out they came from both sides of the bleachers, women of various sizes and ages _ a couple dozen at least _ who had donned maroon Davenport uniforms during Preston’s 34 seasons as coach, along with the current roster.
“This is all about everyone who has ever played for me,” Preston said shortly after his team’s 50-39 Section Four Class D first-round victory Tuesday over Stamford that left him with a state-record 620 girls basketball victories.
Preston’s record improved to 620-164, a mark that averages out to slightly more than 18 victories per season. Though he tried to downplay breaking the tie with retired Red Hook coach John Kuhn as the state’s winningest girls basketball coach, others around him did not.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” said Wildcats junior Sarah Haight, who scored 14 points to share team-high scoring honors with Jenna Lutz. “We knew how big of a deal it was. We’re really excited because we all wanted this for him.”
Added Stamford coach Lonnie Nickerson: “It’s pretty preposterous. Ray will be the first one to tell you it’s longevity, but it’s not. His teams work at it; he works at it. His teams are organized, they’re structured, they run a very disciplined offense out there and my hat’s off to him.”
Preston, 64, spent 35 years as a business teacher at Davenport, retiring seven years ago. He said it’s the teaching aspect of coaching that keeps him energized.
“The biggest thing is I enjoy the kids,” said Preston, whose 16-3 team built a 17-point lead in the third quarter that the Indians whittled to four in the fourth quarter before the rally stalled. “I enjoy practice. I really do. Everyone comes to the games, but I really enjoy the practices because you’re teaching. I taught for 35 years, so this is kind of my fix on teaching. The big thing is to watch the kids progress.
“Everybody knows if you have a team that’s full of talent what the expectation is, but when kids have to work and kids have to improve, they see the reward of their hard work. That’s what coaching is all about.”
Senior Sam Maidens pointed out Preston has touched so many with his lessons over the years.
“I go to class in a hospital and people say, “Oh, you’re on Mr. Preston’s team. I know him. He coached me. People come up to our team that we don’t even know. He just knows everybody and he’s coached everybody.”
His resume is littered with accomplishments.
Twenty-six times, he’s guided the Wildcats to Delaware League division titles. He’s steered them to 11 league championships, eight Section Four Class D titles, four appearances in the state final four, two of which ended with losses in state championship games. He’s also been inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame and the Section Four Hall of Fame.
Those listening closely Tuesday might have gained some insights into his coaching prowess.
One example was when he told a guard not to go for an offensive rebound because that left no one back to protect against a fastbreak.
“I need somebody back!” he said.
Or when he yelled to his team to keep the ball in the middle of floor on its press-break, so Stamford couldn’t use the sidelines as extra defenders.
Or when he told his perimeter defenders to not reach.
Or when he pleaded with his team to box out.
“He knows our abilities and wants us to play to our abilities,” said Haight, who also had seven steals. “He won’t settle for anything less.
“He’ll tell us, this is where you are and I expect you to be there,” she continued. “If you’re not then you’re going to sit the bench. It makes you want to work hard.”
And during those practices Preston said he’s so fond of, Haight said, he demands things are done the right way.
“He’ll make you do it over and over until he sees you perform it correctly,” she said.
Added Maidens: “He’s so experienced. He knows everything in the book because he’s been coaching so long. He spends so much time on it.”
For a brief time in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if Preston might have to wait until next year to get the record.
Though his team held a 14-point lead to start the final quarter, Stamford senior Cassie Ehrhart hit a pair of threes from the top of the key early in the period, the second cutting the Indians’ deficit to 42-32.
Six more Stamford points followed as a driving layup by Erin Hull was sandwiched between 4-for-4 free throw shooting by Naleah Meier. When Meier hit two free throws with 2:59 left, the Indians trailed, 42-38.
But Kassie Jeffers, who had 10 assists and five steals, hit a pair of free throws with 2:12 left and Maidens made a layup off an assist from Cassie Wubbenhorst with 1:35 to go as Davenport’s lead expanded to 46-38.
Ehrhart finished with 13 points, and Hull and Caitlin Moser had eight apiece for the 14th-seeded Indians, who finished their season at 10-8.
Sixth-seeded Candor (8-9), a 47-30 winner over Hunter-Tannersville on Tuesday, will travel to third-seeded Davenport on Friday.
“We are very capable of going all the way,” Maidens said. “Everyone loves basketball and everyone wants to go far.”
Preston’s accomplishment will be recognized from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the school cafeteria. It is open to the public. For more information, call Donna Calhoun at 607-278-5507.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.