NISKAYUNA — Olivia Olsen is certain that it is going to happen.
Where and when the Niskayuna girls’ basketball junior can’t guess, but she is going to throw one down.
“Not in a game. Not yet,” Olsen said before the Silver Warriors began practice Wednesday. “It’s one of my goals. I’ve been working on it for a while.”
Olsen has been working on her game for only four years now, with soccer her focus before basketball took over. Her basketball dream now includes slamming the ball with a leap and a one-handed finish, and having those points count.
“If I don’t get it this year, I’ll get it next year,” the 6-foot-2 Olsen said. “I can palm the ball and dunk it. I’ve done it in practice.”
But in a game? Olsen is just waiting for the right moment.
“I’ve never seen it happen in Section II in a game I coached or I was at,” said former Shenendehowa girls’ basketball coach Ken Strube, whose three-plus-decade run with the Plainsmen included nearly 600 wins and four state titles. “I know [former Albany High School and Rutgers star] Tanya Hansen could dunk, but whether she did it in a game, I’m not sure.”
Niskayuna coach Sarah Neely said she won’t be taken by surprise should Olsen get her jam on sometime this season.
“As a 10th-grader at one of our first practices, she had a little ball, the size of a tennis ball, and she was dunking it,” Neely said. “I told her if you keep working at it, you can do this. I thought it would take her a while with a basketball. Maybe by her senior year, but I saw video of her doing it one-handed.”
Tom Huerter, who played men’s basketball at Siena College and coaches Olsen in AAU with the City Rocks, was there when the 16-year-old dunked successfully for the first time.
“It was after one of our practices this past spring,” said Huerter, whose four children have all played at Shenendehowa, including son Kevin Huerter who now plays for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “She was all by herself, and after she did it, the first thing I did was turn around to see if anyone else saw it.
“She is just scratching the surface of her ability, and her best basketball will be in college,” Huerter said. “She is so gifted athletically and moves so well. That’s what makes her a great defender. She’s just coming into her own at the offensive end.”
Niskayuna’s centerpiece before Olsen was 6-foot-4 Olivia Owens, a career 1,000-point scorer who is in her sophomore year at the University of Maryland.
“I feel blessed to have two big girls like that,” said Neely, who is in her 20th season with the Niskayuna varsity. “In many years, my tallest player was 5-foot-10.”
Olsen used her size and help from teammates to produce a career-high 41 points Tuesday in a 78-66 win at Guilderland.
“Guilderland didn’t have a lot of bigs and I had a lot of putbacks, but it wasn’t just me,” said Olsen, whose dad James Olsen was a career 1,000-point scorer while at Schenectady. “My teammates contributed with some great passing.”
Olsen scored 23 of her 41 points in the second half when Niskayuna turned around a 37-34 deficit. Olsen’s previous high was 35 points last season in a win over Schenectady.
Owens scored a school-record 42 points during her junior year in a win against Schenectady.
“I am more confident on offense, and my dribbling skills have improved,” said Olsen, who has offers from 12 Division I colleges including Villanova, Providence, Manhattan, Boston University and UAlbany. “My foul shooting has improved, too.”
Neely said she is impressed with how far Olsen has come in relatively short span.
“She was a soccer star and devoted a lot of time to it,” Neely said. “She picked up basketball and fell in love with it, and started to excel. She is one of the more athletic girls I have seen in a while.”
And now she’s dreaming of dunking a basketball in a game.
“I would not be surprised if she did, either this year or next year,” Huerter said.
Nineteen teams will head to Fulton-Montgomery Community College Saturday and Sunday for the seventh annual Western Athletic Conference Boys Varsity Basketball Coaches vs. Cancer Tip-Off Classic.
The tournament field will include a trio of section champions from last season in Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville (Section II, Class D), Wells (Section VII, Class D) and Madrid-Waddington (Section X, Class C). OESJ reached the state title game.
“It’s something we started very small,” Northville coach and tournament director John Karbowski said. “We wanted to hold games at a neutral site early in the year. We thought it would be a good way to kick off the season, and it’s gotten bigger and bigger.”
Six games are scheduled for Saturday and five games will be held Sunday capped by a 7 p.m. matchup between Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Schalmont. Admission is $5 per session.
“It’s a good event,” Karbowski said. “You can sit back and watch basketball all day.”
Karbowski said over $12,000 was raised from the past three tournaments, and all proceeds go to the American Cancer Society.
“We want to bring awareness and show that we’re all together in this fight,” Karbowski said.
Edmeston vs. Canajoharie, 12 p.m.; Richfield Springs vs. Galway, 1:30 p.m.; Salem vs. Mayfield, 3 p.m.; Madrid-Waddington vs. Fonda-Fultonville, 4:45 p.m.; Hadley-Luzerne vs. Middleburgh, 6:15 p.m.; Bishop Maginn vs. Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, 7:45 p.m.
Galway vs. Madrid-Waddington, 1 p.m.; Sharon Springs vs. Northville, 2:30 p.m.; Mayfield vs. OESJ, 4 p.m.; Wells vs. Fort Plain, 5:30 p.m.; Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake vs. Schalmont, 7 p.m.
Numbers of note
Victories for Queensbury girls’ coach Megan Bethel after the Spartans opened their season with an 81-19 win at Schuylerville. Twenty one of those victories came last season when the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate guided Queensbury to the Section II Class A final. Five players reached double point figures in the milestone win led by Hope Sullivan with 16.
Points generated by Greenville junior guard Damien Fiducia in a 98-63 non-league win over Middleburgh. Fiducia, who averaged 13.8 points in his first two varsity seasons, knocked down eight 3-point baskets.
Points scored by Guilderland junior guard Valencia Fontenelle-Posson in Tuesday’s 78-66 Suburban Council setback against Niskayuna. Fontenelle-Posson was honored prior to the game for reaching the career 1,000-point mark in Guilderland’s final game of the 2018-19 season.
Number of 3-point baskets knocked down by Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior guard Alex Jameson in a 56-53 non-league loss against Mohonasen. Jameson finished with 29 points and Shawn Gillisslee scored 27 for Mohonasen in the first victory for new head coach Graham Macbeth.
Slam dunks delivered by Albany Academy senior guard Andre Jackson in a 75-46 non-league win over Schalmont at SEFCU Arena. Jackson, who has committed to the University of Connecticut, finished with 34 points and eight rebounds.