An explosive scorer, the leader of a dominant undefeated team, an indomitable force in the post and twin sisters who led their team on an historic three-year run make up The Daily Gazette All-Area girls’ basketball first team for the 2021 season.
Though the season was cut down to less than six weeks due to COVID-19 restrictions as basketball players waited for the state, then local health officials, to give approval for “high” risk athletic competition, the Gazette’s first team is one of the most impressive casts in recent memories with five seniors, all of whom will be playing at Division I collegiate programs next winter.
Four are returning first-team selections — Shenendehowa’s Meghan Huerter, Guilderland’s Valencia Fontenelle-Posson, Niskayuna’s Olivia Olsen and Cambridge’s Sophie Phillips — with Cambridge’s Lilly Phillips joining her twin sister in earning a spot this season on the first team after taking a spot on the third team for the 2019-20 season.
Here’s a look at the accomplishments of this season’s first-teamers.
VALENCIA FONTENELLE-POSSON, GUILDERLAND
Guilderland coach Chuck Mack challenged Fontenelle-Posson in a variety of ways this winter, and his star senior delivered in every way on a team full of young players.
“She could have said, ‘Let me do my thing,’ but instead she bought in,” Mack said of the two-time Daily Gazette All-Area first-team selection. “I asked her to push the ball up and move the ball, and she brought everyone else up.”
The Siena College commit showed that unselfish side by consistently feeding and cajoling her underclass teammates, and delivered in a big way when she got the ball back. The school record-holder in every significant offensive category averaged 29.6 points in a 5-5 season with highs of 37 and 35 twice. Her output included a school-record seven 3-pointers against Saratoga Springs, and 43 of them overall while shooting 47% from beyond the arc.
“We worked a lot of shooting from NBA range and shooting off the dribble,” Mack said of the 5-foot-10 guard’s preseason prep. “She wanted to get 300 shots up every day. She did her work. Constant, constant work.”
Aside from her scoring exploits and superb ball-handling, the repeat Suburban Council first-team all-star averaged 9.8 rebounds with a high of 20 against Albany, and 4.9 steals with a high of nine against Bethlehem.
“Older coaches would say she has a nose for the ball,” Mack said. “She got steals every game and she also got a lot of deflections. She did a heck of a job on defense.”
Fontenelle-Posson just missed a triple-double when Guilderland beat Bethlehem 80-66 with 35 points, 12 rebounds and those nine steals in three quarters of work.
“I wanted her to fill the stat sheet up aside from scoring, and look what she did,” Mack said. “The kid is pretty special.”
Fontenelle-Posson scored 1,826 points in her four-year varsity career despite the extra defensive attention she received. Only 19 Section II girls have scored more.
MEGHAN HUERTER, SHENENDEHOWA
The Suburban Council MVP as a senior, Huerter led the Plainsmen to the Section II Class AA championship in her junior year, then followed that up with an undefeated, if abbreviated, senior season.
“From her junior to senior year, her overall ability to create her own shot has gotten better,” Shenendehowa coach Joe Murphy said. “In the championship game, she was taking and making shots I haven’t seen — side-step, pull-up [jumpers] off the bounce after she got by her defender — and she got to the rim better. The talent is always there, but just improved.”
Huerter averaged 19.9 points per game in her final year and shot 48% from the floor, including 54 3-pointers. She led the Plainsmen on the boards, averaging 8.2 per game to go with her average of four assists and two steals per contest. She ends her Shenendehowa career as the program’s all-time leader in made 3s with 193.
As expected, the 1,000-point scorer improved from her junior to senior year. She was efficient, too, and made the most of her on-court time.
“With our scoring [depth], she didn’t play a ton in the fourth quarter this year,” Murphy said. “I think she played in the fourth quarter five of our 15 games.”
But Huerter’s impact wasn’t limited to her scoring.
“She was one of the best captains I’ve ever had as a leader,” Murphy said. “Even in timeouts, she did a lot of the talking.”
Part of that leadership was making her teammates better.
“She is a scorer, first and foremost, but she’s just a great passer,” Murphy said. “People don’t even realize that about her game and she is so unselfish. She would rather other kids get the open looks than her take a tough shot.”
The next basketball stop for Huerter is Providence College, joining a fellow first-team selection in Niskayuna’s Olsen.
“Physically she’s a college athlete already and she hasn’t even started their workout program,” Murphy said. “She set some massive screens this year that you don’t ever see from guards as high school players. She plays the game at such a high IQ level. I think she’ll fit right in.”
OLIVIA OLSEN, NISKAYUNA
She scored her career’s 1,000th point early in her senior season, and reaching such a milestone is no small thing for a high school basketball player.
For Olsen, though, getting the chance to score any points this season meant as much, if not more, than how many the 6-foot-2 forward was able to score.
“The milestones, she wanted to accomplish them — but I think she just wanted to play more than anything,” Niskayuna head coach Sarah Neely said of her program’s star for the last three seasons. “That’s what makes her so special, and different from some other kids that are very talented. She always puts the team before herself and just wants to play.”
Whether a high school basketball season was going to happen during the 2020-21 school year was a question that didn’t receive a positive answer until months after teams normally start practicing. Once Olsen was able to get on the court with her Niskayuna teammates, the Providence College-bound standout dominated. Olsen debuted with a 28-point effort that saw her score 16 points in a stretch of five-plus minutes in the third quarter, and never let up from there. The daughter of James Olsen, a former star at Schenectady High School who later played at The College of Saint Rose, Olivia Olsen averaged 23.3 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks per game during her senior season.
“She just plays so hard,” Neely said.
Away from the court, Olsen was someone Neely counted on to always keep her team on track.
“She takes everyone under her wings, and makes sure everyone around her feels good and that everything is taken care of around her — and then she worries about herself,” Neely said.
Olsen finished her Niskayuna career with 1,114 points, second only to former Niskayuna star Kate Fagan.
A repeat choice as a first-team selection, Olsen received recognition from The Daily Gazette following all three of her full varsity seasons. Olsen was a third-team selection as a sophomore.
SOPHIE PHILLIPS, LILLY PHILLIPS, CAMBRIDGE
Of all the positive attributes his daughters possess, Cambridge coach Bob Phillips is particularly proud of their we-before-me approach.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Phillips said of his senior twins. “I’ve been lucky to coach a team-oriented group. It’s been team first, and Sophie and Lilly are right there with that.”
Since their freshman year through this abbreviated season, the twin guards scored a healthy amount of points, but contributed so much more with their ball-handling and sharing, rebounding, defense and encouragement. And the Indians won in a big way including a state Class C title in 2019, and a four-season 81-4 record.
“We had a group of seniors that had success before them, but didn’t get over the hump,” Bob Phillips said. “Sophie and Lilly pushed the team over the top.”
Cambridge won three Section II championships and two regional crowns with the twins putting up points and doing the other necessary chores at an accelerated level.
“Their skill set is something a lot of kids can’t do. Their length allows them to do what other kids can’t do,” said Bob Phillips, whose daughters are both nearly 6-foot-0 tall. “Their knowledge is also above-average. They’ve watched a lot of basketball and played at a high AAU level. They are students of the game and that’s key for them.”
During Cambridge’s just-completed 9-0 season, UAlbany-bound Lilly Phillips averaged 17.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.4 steals. Rhode Island-bound Sophie Phillips averaged 16.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.7 steals.
They concluded their high school careers with double-doubles in a 57-38 win over Greenwich, with Lilly Phillips collecting 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Sophie Phillips getting 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“Since they were little kids they’ve been very competitive with each other,” Bob Phillips said. “Learning to walk, kicking a soccer ball, basketball. When one leap-frogged the other, the other one would say, ‘I want to catch up.'”
Sophie Phillips, who is a Daily Gazette All-Area first-team repeater and the 2020 state Class C Player of the Year, scored 1,475 points in her career. Lilly Phillips, who earned all-state first-team laurels in 2020, finished with 1,216 career points. They rank No. 2 and No. 3 in Cambridge basketball history in scoring.
“They are gym rats,” Bob Phillips said. “They love the game, plus, they have a drive. What they’ve done is a culmination of a lot of hard work.”
Valencia Fontenelle-Posson, 12, 5-10, Guilderland
Meghan Huerter, 12, 5-10, Shenendehowa
Olivia Olsen, 12, 6-2, Niskayuna
Lilly Phillips, 12, 5-11 Cambridge
Sophie Phillips, 12, 5-11, Cambridge
Rylee Carpenter, 12, 5-10, Shenendehowa
Natasha Chudy, 10, 6-2, Saratoga Springs
Payton Graber, 11, 5-7, Schalmont
Anna Jankovic, 12, 5-8, Averill Park
Antonia May, 12, 6-0, Amsterdam
Andie Gannon, 12, 5-10, Amsterdam
Maddisyn Mahoney, 12, 6-2, Shaker
Allison O’Hanlon, 9, 5-8, Duanesburg
Abby Ray, 12, 5-8, Saratoga Springs
Amelia Wood, 11, 5-11, Averill Park
Suburban Council: Jenalyse Alarcon (Troy), Jillian Huerter (Shenendehowa)
Colonial Council: Karissa Antoine (Schalmont), Erin Huban (Albany Academy)
Foothills Council: Sydney Hart (South Glens Falls), Anna Lee (Johnstown), Makenzie Smith (Broadalbin-Perth), Jackie Stanavich (Amsterdam)
Wasaren League: Chloe Goverski (Mechanicville)
Western Athletic Conference: Alexis Wright (Berne-Knox-Westerlo)