DAVENPORT – Following the final buzzer of Davenport’s 55-14 win over Jefferson Friday, Wildcats coach Ray Preston stood up from his seat next to the scorers table, clapped a couple times and then immediately started congratulating his players with high-fives and hugs along the sideline.
His team bounced back after suffering a 71-36 loss to Cherry Valley-Springfield on Monday, Jan. 6, but the victory over the J-Hawks also signified much, much more.
Preston earned girls basketball win No. 700 of his coaching career, making him the third coach in New York state history to reach the 700-mark and just the second girls coach to do so.
“It’s awesome,” Preston said. “You look around at all these players that came back. It’s what the kids did tonight, but the players from the first team, all the way through, that’s awesome.”
Preston spent about 20 minutes after the game taking pictures with players old and new, families and even the referees, showing just how many people Preston, who’s coaching career kicked off in 1978, has influenced along the way.
“I enjoy the kids, I enjoy the teaching aspect of it,” Preston said. “Like I tell the girls, ‘If I didn’t like you guys, I wouldn’t be here.’”
During his tenure as head coach, the Wildcats have won 28 league championships, nine section championships, five regional championships, made four state Final Fours and two state final appearances.
In 2009, Preston was elected into the Section IV Hall of Fame, in 2011 the New York Basketball Hall of Fame and was both the New York Coach of the Year and New England Regional Coach of the Year in 2018.
As impressive as the list is, Preston is quick to credit his players whenever his long-standing success is brought up. His players, on the other hand, don’t hesitate to share their opinions on Mr. Preston, as they call him.
“I heard about it and I was really proud of him,” Jenna Lubbers, who scored a game-high 14 points against Jefferson, said. “It’s a big accomplishment and I’m just really happy to be a part of something this big for him.”
“We kind of knew we were going to win but we just pushed ourselves even harder because we love Mr. Preston,” eighth-grader Jessica Zuill said. “Even if he yells at you, you know he loves you and he’s just trying to make you better.”
When asked about his coaching style that has yielded so much success, Preston stressed one word: expectations.
“My big thing is I have expectations,” Preston said. “I have certain expectations and I want them to work at it as much as I want to see them get to that point.”
“He helps in so many ways people can’t even understand,” Lubbers said. “He really connects with all the girls he works with.”
Davenport’s basketball success translates over to the boys program as well, as longtime Wildcats coach Lee Fisher amassed 553 victories over 39 seasons before retiring in 2015.
Davenport’s home court currently bears Fisher’s name, and it likely won’t be long until Preston joins him inscribed on the hardwood.
“I worked with him for a few years before I took over the girls team,” Preston said. “Just a perfect gentleman, he’s everybody’s role model, he really is.”
On top of all the wins and awards as a basketball coach, Preston totaled 426 wins and 24 division titles in 32 seasons as the head coach for the Wildcats’ girls soccer team until 2014, when he stepped down.
All told, that is 1,126 varsity wins for Preston. The only personal accomplishment that seems to be left is the state coaching wins record. Current Irvington coach Gina Maher holds the lead with 733 wins, which leaves open the possibility of Preston snatching the record down the line.
Depending on when either coach decides to retire will ultimately determine the record-holder and if Preston does indeed take over as the wins leader, expect him to deflect the attention right back to his players, because the players are who it’s always been about.
“It’s not about me, it’s more of celebration over the years of what the kids have accomplished,” Preston said.
Davenport 55, Jefferson 14
Jefferson.... 6 0 4 4 – 14
Davenport.... 16 21 6 12 – 55
JEFFERSON: Seneca Schaefer 1 0-2 2, Olivia Eppich 1 0-0 2, Kelly Slicer 1 0-0 2, Amber Cole 1 0-0 2, Kathryn Gardner 3 0-0 6. TOTALS 7 0-2 14.
DAVENPORT: Elizabeth Gerster 5 0-0 10, Cassie Pierce 2 0-0 6, Jessica Zuill 3 0-0 8, Arianna Gonsalves 1 3-4 5, Jenna Lubbers 5 4-4 14, Morgan Falcone 2 0-0 4, Kayla Mace 1 0-0 2, Cadence Losie 2 0-1 4, Maddy Christensen 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 23 7-9 55.
Three-point field goals made: J 0; D 4 (Pierce 2, Zuill 2).