CLIFTON PARK — Unlike a year ago, Shenendehowa senior center Cat Almeida is healthy and happy.
The foot injury that derailed her junior basketball season has long since healed. The smile she now flashes is one of a modest champion.
“This year, everything has gone good,” the 6-foot-5 Almeida said.
It got even better for the all-star center and her teammates last Saturday when they won a rubber match with Saratoga Springs 62-54 and captured the Section II Class AA girls’ basketball title. Almeida had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the game to clinch the tournament most valuable player award, after producing 19 points and 15 rebounds before that in a 62-50 semifinal win over Colonie.
“I had no expectations of that,” Almeida said of her MVP award. “I knew I wanted to win sectionals. I tried to do my part and contribute.”
Almeida’s playoff contributions were limited last year when Shenendehowa beat Columbia in the quarterfinals 56-41 before a 49-45 loss to Bethlehem ended its hopes of stringing three consecutive titles. Almeida had missed the final six games of the regular season with a stress fracture in her left foot.
“I kept playing on it, but eventually I had to stop,” Almeida said. “When I was cleared to come back, I wasn’t in shape. I also had the flu. Not at my best.”
In neither game could she display the offensive skills and defensive prowess that Quinnipiac — the No. 1 seed and defending champion at this weekend’s MAAC tournament in Albany — can’t wait to get. Almeida came off the bench and sank three foul shots against Columbia. She started against Bethlehem and had a pair of baskets.
“She hadn’t played in a month. She was not up to her normal self,” Shenendehowa coach Joe Murphy said. “[After the Bethlehem game] I told her it was on me for giving her so many minutes. Still, she took that loss hard. You could see she wasn’t going to let that same thing happen.”
Almeida scored 18 points when Shenendehowa (21-2) began this year’s playoffs with a 59-42 win over Niskayuna. That was among 17 double-digit outings for the three-year varsity player.
“Since the beginning of the season we’ve talked about keeping that chip on our shoulder,” said Almeida, who came into the campaign as Shenendehowa’s only returning starter. “Last year we got ahead of ourselves and looked too far forward. This year our thought is, ‘Every team is going to be good.’ We’ve prepared the same for every team.”
Almeida isn’t the same player she was last season, even before her injury. She is averaging nearly 13 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game heading into Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. regional matchup with West Genesee (20-3) at Onondaga Community College.
“She’s a gym rat and she works hard. She got better,” Murphy said. “Obviously her perimeter game has gone to another level. Her post moves are more polished. Her rebound numbers are up. Her points are up. Her shooting percentage is up. When she has her mind set on attacking the rim, she’s tough.”
Almeida is a smart and willing passer, too, who is surrounded by a cast of quality perimeter shooters. Shenendehowa made nine 3-point baskets against Saratoga, with Anna Milham and Katelyn Watrobski both nailing three while scoring 15 and 13 points, respectively.
“Our inside-outside game is part of why we’re so successful,” Almeida said. “If they double down I’ll look for a shooter. If I pass the ball, more than not, something good is going to happen.”
So many good things have happened for Almeida this season, including a recent nod on the Suburban Council all-star first team. Earlier on, the 18-year-old high honors student was named a team captain along with Milham and Jess Wagoner.
“Her personality is top-five of all the kids I have coached,” Murphy said. “She has a good soul. She is a good person inside. She puts the team first. She supports her teammates. She doesn’t care about stats. She cares about the wins.”
In other regional finals Saturday, Class B Mechanicville (18-7) will play Canton (20-2) at 2:45 p.m. at SUNY Potsdam; Class C Cambridge (22-1) will meet Moriah (17-3) at noon at Beekmantown High School; and, Class D Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons (14-8) will play Westport (19-1) at 1 p.m. at Hudson Valley Community College.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.
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Categories: High School Sports, Schenectady County, Sports, Your Niskayuna