By ROB JONAS
SCHENECTADY – There are summer girls basketball leagues dotting the Section 2 landscape, but only one attracts players from well beyond the 5-1-8.
The Empire State Takeover League started its fifth season Wednesday, June 26, at Union College with eight teams playing two games apiece. Players from as far away as central New York, western Massachusetts and southern Vermont gathered inside the Viniar Athletic Center to kick off six weeks of summer basketball.
“This is a very competitive league,” said Amanda Mieczkowski, a rising senior from Northampton, Mass., who is playing her second year in the ESTL. “It’s a combination of girls from New York that I’ve come to know, and it’s also very chill.”
Rosters are created to give girls from similarly-sized schools an opportunity to play together. Seven of the eight teams have at least one player from outside of Section 2, which also promotes opportunities for players who have never met before to work together.
“I like how diverse it is and how Jeff finds different girls and throws them together,” said Rhaymi Porter, a rising junior from Scotia who attends Wilbraham & Monson in Massachusetts.
“Jeff” is Empire State Takeover founder Jeff Mlinar, who started the girls basketball summer league in 2015.
“When I started Empire State Takeover, I did both the boys’ side and the girls’ side,” said Mlinar. “After a couple of years, I fell in love with the girls’ side. I felt that girls basketball is generally under-served, and I wanted to change that.”
Games are divided into four 10-minute quarters to give players an opportunity to experience an aspect of women’s college basketball. However, there is running time for the first nine minutes of each period to keep things moving and allow for multiple games in a day.
“I try to model it as a hybrid between high school and college-level basketball,” said Mlinar.
Given the distance traveled by some of the players, practices are impractical. Therefore, coaches – some of whom coach college programs – give their players the latitude to create their own plays.
“I think the biggest thing for coaches is to challenge the girls to think for themselves out there and draw up plays themselves,” said Cambridge coach Rob Phillips, who has three of his players competing in the ESTL this summer – his twin daughters, Lilly and Sophie Phillips, and rising sophomore Stasia Epler.
“We just kind of learn how to play off of each other,” added Mieczkowski. “It’s nice to have no plays – we just get out to run, which is fun.”
The result is a fast, free-wheeling style of play that brings out the best in the players.
“I would say it gives us an idea of what a college coach is thinking,” said Porter. “If we make a mistake out there, it gives us an idea how the coach is going to react to that and how best to correct it.”
That, in a nutshell, is why players from inside and outside of Section 2 come to Union College to play in the ESTL.
“Most small school areas or any areas don’t usually have good competition,” said Hoosick Falls rising senior Logan Thayne. “When you find it, you’ll drive up to three hours for it.”
The ESTL continues its regular season through the month of July and concludes Aug. 7 with semifinal and championship games. For a full schedule and a look at the team rosters, visit the Empire State Takeover’s website here.
Photos by Rob Jonas. Copyright 2019 by Capital Region HS Sports.