Payton Graber and her Schalmont girls’ basketball teammates were so hyped to finally open their season that the first few minutes of Friday evening’s game against Rotterdam rival Mohonasen ended up being played at Warp Factor 9.
“We’ve been waiting a while,” Graber said, “so we were ready to get back and play.”
It was a fast-paced flurry at both ends of the floor in the opening minutes, but as things started to settle down, it was junior star Graber who allowed Schalmont to assert its dominance.
Graber scored 20 of her game-high 27 points in the first half — including 11 points during a first-quarter run that helped Schalmont take charge of the game for good — as the Sabres rolled to a 74-25 Colonial Council victory.
“We started off a little slow, but it’s our first game in what, 10 months?” Graber said. “We’ve got to get back into our groove, but once we did we played well together.”
Haley Burchhardt added 12 points, and Karissa Antoine scored 10 for Schalmont as all 74 of the Sabres’ points came from players in 11th grade or younger.
Schalmont has just one senior, Mya Cordy, on its roster, and while there might not be any stakes for this abbreviated season, Graber and her teammates are planning to use the next month as a springboard towards big-time ambitions for the 2021-22 campaign.
“It’s not like we’re not going to take this season seriously,” Graber said, “but, this is more like a work-up to next season, hopefully to get a [state championship] or a sectional title. This is a practice round, but also we’re taking this seriously.”
“Our goal going into this season is just to get better every day and get better every game,” Schalmont coach Jeff Van Hoesen said. “Once we’re done with the schedule on March 13, we want to look back and say that we improved and have more building blocks going into next season.”
It was Graber’s smooth attacking of the basket that allowed Schalmont to shrug off a sloppy, back-and-forth start to the game that saw both teams commit multiple turnovers while playing at a breakneck early pace.
“I think we probably broke the record for most turnovers in a short period of time — by both teams,” Mohonasen coach Doug Holden said.
With Schalmont trailing 6-4 midway through the first quarter, Graber scored 11 points during a 15-2 run to close the quarter and put the Sabres up double digits the rest of the way. All of Graber’s points during that stretch were the product of penetrating drives through the Mohonasen defense that led to an array of layups and nifty floaters.
“She’s been shooting well at practice,” Van Hoesen said. “I knew she would find her stride at some point. I knew the kids’ legs, on both sides, were going to take a little bit [to come back], their wind was going to take a little bit. Playing with the masks, it’s definitely a little different for these guys, but they’ve got to get used to it.”
Schalmont poured it on in the second quarter, outscoring Mohonasen 23-5 to lead by 29 at halftime, and the Sabres cruised to victory in the second half.
Jahd’dah Lennon, the lone senior on a Mohonasen team that also started three freshmen and a seventh-grader, paced the Warriors with nine points.
“We’re young, we’re building,” Holden said. “The thing I’m most proud of is them taking what I talked to them about at halftime and trying to apply it in the second half.”
Schalmont 19 23 19 13 — 74
Mohonasen 8 5 6 6 — 25
Schalmont scoring: Graber 12-1-27, Burchhardt 5-2-12, Antoine 5-0-10, Boyd 3-0-8, Hallberg 2-0-6, Frank 1-3-5, Spezza 2-2-4, Cirilla 1-0-2. Mohonasen scoring: Lennon 3-3-9, Richmond 2-0-5, Petrocci 1-2-5, Rifenburg 1-0-2, Quenneville 1-0-2, Whipple 1-0-2. Scoring totals: Schalmont 31-8-74, Mohonasen 9-5-25.