On more than one occasion this season, head coach Tony Dzikas said this year’s Shenendehowa boys basketball team was a once-in-a-lifetime group.
With the 2014-15 high school hoops season concluded, it’s tough to argue with Dzikas. Using a stingy defense and the brotherly duo of Kevin Huerter and Thomas Huerter, Shenendehowa breezed through an undefeated regular season before capturing its first Section II title since 1996 — and its first regional and state championships since 1987.
All in all, not too shabby for a squad that did not break into the state rankings until January and operated with a permanent chip on its shoulder.
“Nobody thought we’d win this,” junior guard Kevin Huerter said after the Plainsmen topped Brentwood, 76-63, in the March 22 state championship game at the Glens Falls Civic Center, five days before the Plainsmen’s season ended with a 44-35 defeat in the semifinals of the Federation Tournament of Champions against Wings Academy.
Shenendehowa spent its 2014-15 season dismantling opponents and building a gritty reputation. The Plainsmen started three players standing at least 6-foot-5, had nobody on their roster shorter than 6-foot-1 senior guard Drew Lewis, and used their size as the foundation for their vaunted 3-2 zone defense.
Dzikas’ oft-repeated mantra for the Plainsmen was that “if you try to stop everything, you’ll stop nothing,” and his defensive goals for his players each night were to stop penetration and control the glass — but the Plainsmen often did stop everything. The team’s combination of athletes with size and court acumen created a defense that allowed an average of 42.2 points per game and kept opponents to fewer than 40 points on 11 occasions. In one stretch, Shenendehowa went four consecutive games allowing 28 or fewer points.
Offensively, the Plainsmen relied heavily on brothers Kevin Huerter and Thomas Huerter. Seemingly once a game, the brothers connected for an alley-oop with Kevin Huerter making the pass to Thomas Huerter for the flush, but the duo was more substance than style. Kevin Huerter was a triple-double threat throughout a campaign in which he averaged a team-best 17.5 points per game and took top player honors for the Suburban Council, the Section II Class AA tournament, and the state championship tournament. Meanwhile, Thomas Huerter averaged 15.6 points per game, was a first-team Suburban Council choice, and was an all-tournament selection for Section II, the state championships, and the Federation Tournament of Champions.
While the Huerter brothers earned most of the individual accolades, Shenendehowa was able to get strong performances, night in and night out, from a bevy of players in its rotation. Senior forward Brandon Fischer was a double-double machine despite playing through ankle pain; junior guard Petar Bebic’s smooth shooting helped to space the floor; Lewis, plus senior forwards Matt Alverson and Erik Kromer, were defensive stalwarts; sophomore guard Luke Hicks provided scoring punch when needed; and, junior forward Michael Gillooley and sophomore forward Mike Pizziketti rounded out the Plainsmen’s 10-man rotation with strong minutes when called upon.
“We’re [undefeated] because on different nights, different guys step up,” Dzikas said after his team’s first postseason game.
Shenendehowa blitzed its way to a 19-0 regular season and grabbed a pair of lopsided postseason wins before things got tough. The Plainsmen topped Guilderland for the Section II title, 47-42, before needing overtime in a 70-64 victory to advance past Henninger in the regional championship.
In the state semifinals, Shenendehowa trailed Mount Vernon late before pulling away for a 60-52 victory. The Plainsmen trailed at halftime in the state championship before taking a 76-63 win against Brentwood.
Five days after topping Brentwood, Shenendehowa’s 25-1 season ended with its lone loss. After that game, Dzikas reiterated how special of a group this year’s Plainsmen had been for the program.
“We had a great group of young men who gave their heart and soul to Shenendehowa, the basketball program,” he said. “I’ll remember them forever and they’ll always be a part of my life. I’m certain of that.”