CLIFTON PARK — Shenendehowa girls’ basketball guard Kaleigh Montanez passed up a good shot for a better opportunity.
It wasn’t a step backwards on the court to get behind the 3-point line for a long-distance shot with a bigger playoff — it was a decision made to further her own development, and wasn’t one that every player is eager to suggest taking.
“We thought we would bring her up [to varsity] as a freshman,” Shenendehowa girls’ basketball coach Joe Murphy said. “She said it would be better for her game if she stayed on JV for a while and honed her skills.”
The request paid off for Montanez and the Plainsmen program, which is off to a 7-0 start and ranked No. 2 in the state’s Class AA poll.
“She had a great JV year as a ninth-grader,” Murphy said. “She came up last year and was one of the first kids off the bench and she had a couple key games for us.”
Now the 6-foot-0 junior Shenendehowa starting guard is making a major impact in her second varsity season. Her personal nine-point run midway through the second half on Friday night propelled the Plainsmen past Averill Park in a 66-50 Suburban Council win between two state-ranked teams.
During the scoring run, Montanez showed off a variety of skills. She scored from the perimeter, with shorter jump shots and with a lefty layup.
“When I was young everyone thought I was going to be a [power forward] or a [center] because of my height,” Montanez said. “I realized I’m a shooter and I’ve transitioned to the [perimeter] and that’s worked to my advantage. I like playing guard more, even though I did play in the post in the beginning.”
Her drives down the left side of the lane are smooth, and she can seemingly still catch defenses by surprise when she drives to her personal strong side.
“I can use my right [hand] to my advantage, [but], of course, I love taking it left,” Montanez said.
Montanez’s first year on varsity was a condensed-due-to-COVID season that included practicing against and playing with both Meghan Huerter — now playing at Providence College — and then-junior Jillian Huerter.
“They set a precedent for this school, this team,” Montanez said of the younger sisters of NBA player Kevin Huerter. “They are hard workers and I look up to both of them. It’s nice playing on a team where girls know how to compete, how to play.”
Shenendehowa graduated four seniors from last season’s squad, and Montanez saw her role change this year. Now, along with Bri Carey and Jillian Huerter, Montanez is one of the team’s top standouts after serving as a role player as a sophomore.
“I was the first off the bench to try and keep the energy going in the game,” Montanez said of her role last season. “It really prepared me for this year because varsity is a much faster-paced game compared to JV.”
Montanez’s decision to not rush her development has paid off for the Plainsmen.
“She’s evolving, she’s not just a shooter anymore,” Murphy said. “She’s attacking the rim, she’s becoming a better passer, a great rebounder. Her length in the [defensive] zone is a big advantage for us.”
And she isn’t done improving.
“I want to grow as a player and as a teammate,” Montanez said. “I want the younger kids on the team to look up to me as one of the leaders of our team. I just want to make a name for myself this year.”