• Dan Russoman

Staiger ready to rebuild at St. Joe


St. Joseph girls basketball coach Ryan Staiger, right, instructs Brogan Heilig (left) at a practice session last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Ryan Staiger is no stranger to rebuilding basketball programs.


The new girls basketball coach at St. Joseph Academy played four years at Hammonton High School, graduating in 2006. During his career as a Blue Devil, Hammonton posted a record of 41-57, including a 12-12 season in 2004-05 that marked the first time the program didn’t finish below .500 in 46 years.


Taking over a St. Joseph team that hasn’t seen the .500 mark since 2014 had put Staiger in familiar territory.


“I know what it’s like to rebuild, what we need to do here to get to the level we want to be,” Staiger said last week.


Watching St. Joseph’s wrestling team workout prior to a practice last week, Staiger talked about the challenges he and the program face.


“I did some research before [applying for the job],” Staiger said.


“I know they’ve only won five games [total] in the last five seasons. There’s been a lot of coaching changes. The roster is very small. It’s going to take a while, but we just have to take one small step at a time,” he said.


Staiger is St. Joe’s fifth head coach in six seasons, replacing Matt O’Keefe who led the Wildcats to a 1-10 mark last year and had to resign due to a job relocation.


Before that, the Wildcats last had a winning season in 2013-14 when Dan McGettigan was the coach. In between, Larry DiGiovanni, Shea Belte, Joe Rosa, Kathy Blackwell-Thompson and O’Keefe have tried to turn things around at St. Joseph.


“It’s tough. We only have seven players, and just one played last year [sophomore guard Cassidy Perri]. A lot of these girls have never really played basketball before, and they came out pretty much so we could have a team,” Staiger said.


The first step in rebuilding will be teaching his players the fundamentals of the game, something Staiger knows well.


Staiger learned basketball from his father, Don, a local coaching legend who instructed many of the area’s best players for decades. Longtime Hammonton coach Joe Martino also taught Staiger much about the game and he added to his knowledge as a player at William Paterson University and as an assistant coach at Hammonton, LEAP Academy, Atlantic County Institute of Technology [where he currently teaches] and Salem County Community College. He and his brother, Brent, currently run Atlantic Coast Basketball, an AAU program for youth players.


“We’re going to struggle, I’m well aware of that. Will we win a game this season? Maybe one or two, but we can’t measure ourselves by that. Right now, I just want us to improve every day and be better in February than we are now. I’m seeing that improvement already. We have some girls who just two or three days into practice look like different players,” Staiger said.


Building the roster is another goal for the Wildcats.


“It’s going to be tough with seven players, no doubt. We have to stay healthy and ready to play,” Staiger said.


One day last week, Staiger had just three players at practice as some had previous commitments.


“We work on what we can with what we have. I’m very realistic when it comes to expectations. I know we don’t have a great team, we’re going to lose a lot and it’s not always going to be fun. But as long as we can stay focused and work at getting better, we’ll get there,” Staiger said.