Empire State Games Preview: Adirondack teams set sights on medals

The Adirondack Region open men’s basketball team edged New York City in its Empire State Games debut

The Adirondack Region open men’s basketball team edged New York City in its Empire State Games debut in 2006 on a last-second tip-in by Josh Duell. The local contingent hasn’t won a contest since.

“Adirondack has always been competitive, but the chips haven’t fallen our way. We’re hoping to change that,” said first-year Adirondack head coach Rich Gilooly. “Our goal is to come home with a medal, and we’re hoping it’s gold.”

Adirondack hasn’t reached the gold-medal game since 2004, and hasn’t won it since 1990. Gilooly believes he has a mix of players willing to do what it takes to become the region’s breakthrough team of 2008.

The scholastic women’s soccer team earned that label a year ago with its first gold-medal performance since 1995, going 4-0 and outscoring its opponents, 21-5, in one of the Empire State Games’ most dominant showings in Westchester.

“Rich [Gilooly] has that compet­itive fire, and he’ll have his team completely prepared,” said Adirondack Region director Lynn Chabot. “Maybe this is the year for them. I know he has high expectations.”

“Our motto is ‘Earn Victory,’ ” Gilooly said. “We believe if we do everything we’ve prepared to do, execute, work together, defend, we’ll do enough to earn those victories.”

Team gold has been difficult to attain for the Adirondack Region at the annual amateur sport fest­ival, which will play out for the 31st time Wednesday through Sunday in Binghamton and surrounding areas.

Three Adirondack soccer teams and the scholastic women’s ice hockey team finished on top last summer, with five golds marking the region’s all-time high in 1991 in Albany.

Adirondack claimed two team golds the last time the Empire State Games was held in Binghamton in 2004, and three when it was staged there in 2000.

“The competition is so difficult every year,” said Chabot, who, for 19 years, played and coached soccer for the Adirondack Region before becoming its director in 2004. “It’s very difficult to win. We have the largest geographic region, but the fewest number of people to select from. The other regions have very concentrated populations, or bigger pools, to choose from.”

Adirondack did not win a team gold medal until 1984, when its scholastic men broke through in soccer. It wasn’t until 1987 that Adirondack captured multiple team golds, with four, and has secured four on seven different occasions.

Its 68 team gold medals are the fewest among the six regions all-time, with Western leading the pack at 202, followed by Long

Island at 155.

Long Island won a Games-high eight team golds in 2007, one of them coming at the expense of the Adirondack open softball team.

“Our athletes have a lot of pride, and they always give it their all. They’re not afraid to get dirty,” said Chabot. “Not all of the time, but sometimes, they pull off something special.”

Adirondack hasn’t won a gold medal in basketball since the 2003 scholastic men’s team knocked off Central for the grand prize. Adirondack has had only two title-game participants in basketball since, with the open men losing to Long Island in 2004 and the open women losing to Hudson Valley last summer by two points.

“Eighteen years is a long time,” said Gilooly, an assistant men’s basketball coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “My guys want to do well for themselves, but they also want to represent the region in a positive way. They don’t want to go 0-3, like last year. They want to come back with a medal.”

Holdovers from last year’s team include former Schenectady High School stars Brian Ledbetter (Saint Rose) and Durett Miles

(Le Moyne), Bob Berry (Duanesburg, Alfred), Sam Simmons (Newburgh Free Academy, RPI) and Zach Bye (Scotia-Glenville, Saint Rose).

Bye, who played for Hudson Valley Community College’s once-beaten team over the winter, will represent Adirondack in the torch relay as part of Wednesday night’s opening ceremonies at Binghamton University.

“What we were looking for were 10 guys who made the best team,” said Gilooly, who selected his players from a tryout that started with 60 candidates. “We were looking for guys not only from a talent perspective, but guys who were willing to be part of a system.

“That was our focus from day one, and the chemistry has been great. We have guys who are going to play together and are not going to give up. I’d coach these guys for a whole season if I could.”

“Team sports are so different than individual sports in that chemistry has to be developed in a short period of time,” said Chabot. “If it doesn’t, that team is at a disadvantage.”

Ledbetter said the team has successfully meshed throughout its

numerous practices, and will go

into the games as a coheesive unit.

“A lot of people may not think so, but I think we can make some noise out there,” said Ledbetter, who will be playing for the third time with the open team.

“The difference now is that, although we may not be as talented, a lot of guys are playing their roles the right way. There are a lot of selfless players, and that’s what it takes.

“Coach had a vision of what he wanted to do when he selected this group.”

The rest of the team includes former Section II standouts

Talor Battle (Bishop Maginn, Penn State), Garret Bishop (Saratoga Springs, HVCC), Mike Grimes (Catholic Central, Oneonta), Jeff Howe (Niskayuna, Geneseo) and Evan Lane (Saint Rose), who

as a high school senior carried Sharon Springs to the Section II Class D championship. Bye and Simmons, an All-Liberty League first-team selection, are the team captains.

“These guys are willing to do a lot of things to try to get a medal, and playing defense is among them,” said Gilooly. “At the defensive end, we want to make it hard for the other team to score. We want to disrupt what they want to do, and we want make them pay for their mistakes.”

Adirondack opens Thursday against Long Island, takes on Central Friday and meets defending gold medalist Western Saturday at Binghamton University’s Events Center. The medal games are Sunday.

“In the three or four years I’ve played Empires, we’ve only won a few games,” said Ledbetter, a member of Schenectady’s last Big 10 title team in 2005. “I’m looking for some hardware. We all are.”

While the Adirondack open men’s basketball team has won only two gold medals (the other came in 1980), the open women’s soccer team has amassed a region-best nine, all of them coming since 1987.

The open women played in six straight finals and won four of them before last year’s bronze-medal performance.

“A lot of people are expecting them to do well,” said Chabot of the open women’s soccer team, which has Betsy Drambour as its new head coach, and features the likes of North Carolina’s Ashley Moore and Ohio State’s Caitlin Colfer. “They’re loaded.”

Six players from the 2007 gold medal-winning scholastic soccer team have moved up to the open level, including Shenendehowa graduate and Siena-bound Ashleigh Barone.

Barone led the 2007 scholastic team with five goals, two of them coming in a 5-1 title-game rout of Hudson Valley, before scoring 22 goals last fall for her Section II champion high school team.

Barone helped the Adirondack scholastic women medal for the fifth year in a row, and for the 18th time in 19 years.

Adirondack had lost in gold-

medal games in 2005 and 2006 to Western before securing its fourth title. Among Adirondack’s five returnees is Kylie Watt, who had a goal and an assist in the title game.

The Adirondack scholastic women’s hockey team won its fifth gold medal, but first since 2004, last year, going 5-0, while the scholastic and open men’s soccer teams also placed first. The scholastic men went 4-0, and did not allow a goal in regulation.

The Adirondack softball team lost in the gold-medal game for the second straight year, after winning its only championship in 2005.

Adirondack has eight returning players from 2007, including Amanda

Schettini, Amber Maisonet and

Michelle Connors, but will be without ace pitcher Casey Halloran.

“We have basically the same defense and offense,” said Mike DiNova, who has coached every Adirondack softball team, starting in 1986. “My concern is how our pitchers are going to do. Jen Mineau pitched well for us last year, but she only pitched seven or eight innings.”

Returnees Courtney Brinkman and Amanda Ferro, and newcomer Brittney Rose out of Schenectady, are the other pitchers. They’ll be trying to help Adirondack reach its seventh title game since 1999.

“Getting there is a big accomplishment,” said DiNova. “This tournament is so tough, so fine. A couple of mistakes, and just like that, you’re out of the medal hunt.”

Though gymnastics is not an

official team sport, Adirondack won silver at the scholastic women’s

level in 2007. Adirondack won

other bronze medals last year in open men’s volleyball, scholastic men’s fencing and scholastic

women’s basketball and field hockey.

Adirondack has never medaled in open men’s and women’s fencing, which was first contested in 2004, and in scholastic women’s lacrosse, which became part of the ESG in 2001. This year’s Adir­ondack lacrosse edition includes seven players from two-time Section II Class A champ Guilderland in Amanda Best, Amy Branchini, Corinne Chatnik, Bridget Daley, Jen Madsen, Chelsey Newman and Danielle Tetreault.

The Adirondack scholastic men’s lacrosse team includes seven players from four-time reigning Section II Class A champ Niskayuna, led by Georgetown-bound All-American Dan McKinney.

Every Adirondack volleyball team is dotted with players past and present from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s powerhouse high school program, including scholastic-level twins Mike and Christina Pelletier, and 6-foot-1 open star Sarah Morton, who competes at Syracuse University.

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