Colleen Ames, a proud Lindenhurst alumna who led the Bulldogs to a historic league title in 2012, is steadily emerging as a rising coaching star in women’s college basketball.

In her debut season as the head coach at Cortland, Ames has the Red Dragons off to an impressive 6-3 start, including 2-0 in league play. Hired in June, Ames took over SUNY Cortland after a successful four-year tenure at Mount St. Mary, where she guided the Knights to a combined record of 63-16, including 52-6 during Skyline Conference regular-season games.

Ames honed her passion for coaching passion first as player for Lindenhurst coach Gregg Flynn, and later while playing in college for coach Jamie Seward at SUNY New Paltz. A 5-foot-9 guard, Ames played two season at Division II St. Thomas Aquinas and two more at New Paltz.

In our candid discussion with Ames, she shed light on mentors who played crucial roles in both her playing and coaching styles and reflected on the significance of her Lindenhurst and Long Island roots.

GLI: What inspired you to start playing basketball, and how did that passion lead you to become a coach?

Ames: I started playing basketball when I was 7. My mom wanted me to sign up for CYO and all the other sports sounded awful to me besides basketball. I played mostly for Lindenhurst High School teacher, Gregg Flynn. He and our assistant coach, middle school teacher, Erik Eve, always spoke to me like I was on staff with them. We would analyze games together, talk about what went right and what went wrong and how could we have been better. They made me fall in love with the game on a level deeper than just playing, and it inspired me to be a coach.

GLI: Are there specific individuals or role models who influenced your playing and coaching style?

Ames: Gregg Flynn has been a second father to me — he always refers to me as his “basketball daughter.” Although my coaching style is completely different than Flynn’s, the way we approach the game and how we evaluate talent is extremely similar. Flynn has taught me how to not take myself too seriously, how to make adjustments in games and practices, and how to get the most out of my players.

GLI: Are there specific individuals or role models who influenced your playing and coaching style?

Ames: I played in college for Jamie Seward at SUNY New Paltz, and I credit most of my toughness to him. Jamie is incredibly intelligent and hard working and taught me to always keep working and improving, especially when the cards are stacked against me.

GLI: Please describe your most memorable moments as a player for Lindenhurst?

Ames: My entire four years playing for Lindenhurst Varsity Girls Basketball was an amazing experience. My senior year was the best, though. We won the league for the first time since the 1980s; we beat our conference rival, Northport, twice; and went on a deep run in the playoffs. That team was so tough and so talented. It was a great year.

GLI: In general, what are some of your favorite memories or aspects of growing up on Long Island?

Ames: I spent most of my time in the gym with Flynn, I’m not going to lie, but outside of that, I lived at the beach. Whether it was with my mom or with my friends, nothing beats spending the day at Gilgo with an everything bagel with cream cheese, and then hitting up Swell Taco afterwards.

GLI: What aspects of your playing career do you bring into your coaching philosophy?

Ames: The words that come to mind are energy and passion. I played with my heart on the floor every game and I coach the same way. It’s arguable that I give too much of my heart to the game, because I take the losses really hard, but I don’t think anything in life is worth doing without passion — and I plan on continuing to coach that way.

GLI: What significance do your Lindenhurst and Long Island roots hold for you to now lead the Cortland women’s basketball team?

Ames: I have deep connections with Long Island. Of course I played there, but I coached high school club for the Long Island Lightning from when I was 18 to when I was 23 years old. Long Island has a lot of talent and it’s a great place to find potential student-athletes.

GLI: What are your intentions regarding recruiting on Long Island?

Ames: To find a player for Cortland that’s from Lindenhurst is also something I really want to do. To go from playing for Flynn to playing for me would be full circle.

GLI: What are some specific qualities or attributes you look for in potential recruits?

Ames: I look for the hardest working kid in the gym. Of course, they need to be talented and they need to have a good skill set, but if I can find a kid that would run through a wall for me, that’s who I want to coach all of the time. We truly value hard work in our program and I try to always reward that.

Long Island connection

GLI: Please discuss the current state of the Cortland women’s basketball team and your thoughts on the players and their potential?

Ames: Our team is extremely young right now. We have three upperclassmen, zero juniors, and the rest of the players are sophomores and freshmen. Everything we do is a learning experience and we have to fight through the growing pains. Although we are young, we have a lot of raw talent that is going to be huge for us down the line.

We have three Long Island natives now, Kaeli McAnally from Islip, Bella Zingoni from Long Island Lutheran, and Fiona Kernaghan from Commack. Kaeli is a sophomore transfer from Mount Saint Mary College, where I used to coach. I coached Kaeli when she was in sixth grade and have built and incredible relationship with her. I was so glad to have her come with me from Mount to Cortland. Kaeli is a great kid and she’s going to be huge for us.

Fiona is a kid I recruited to Mount who decided to come to Cortland with me. She’s battling through recovery from a serious knee injury last year, and she hasn’t even touched the surface on the player she’s going to be.

I inherited Bella from the former Cortland coach, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Bella is a lock-up defender with the ability to knock down perimeter shots. Bella does everything that’s asked of her and more.

I could give a monologue on every kid on this team, but I’ll stop at the Long Island kids. I truly love this team and I’m grateful for all of them.

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GLI: What do you believe are the key elements for a successful collegiate women’s basketball program, both on and off the court?

Ames: With the way the game of basketball is evolving, a successful team needs to have players that can play multiple positions. Versatility is a must on a team that wants to compete at the national level.

Off the court, a successful team needs to be selfless. The success of the team needs to be valued more than the success of the individual. This comes in every area, not just the stat sheet. A successful team needs to be genuinely happy for each other in every success they have and needs to stand by them in every hardship.

Rooting for the Cleveland Browns

GLI: Outside of basketball, what are some of your interests or hobbies?

Ames: Basketball is truly life for me to be completely honest. Of course I have other joys in life, but I love watching games, talking ball, and finding ways to improve.

If I need a break, I love to read, spend time with my extremely supportive fiancé, watch the Browns win football games, and enjoy time outdoors.

Top image: Cortland women’s basketball coach Colleen Ames (EDL photography via SUNY Cortland).

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