ROTTERDAM — The Schalmont girls’ basketball team got back to work Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s state semifinal opponent General Brown after taking Monday and Tuesday off to regroup.
“We needed that for our minds and our bodies,” sophomore center Karissa Antoine said after the Sabres watched film of the tall and athletic champions from Section III. “It was good for us. We’re 100% ready to go.”
The longest and most successful season in the annals of Schalmont girls’ basketball will end either Saturday or Sunday at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Of course, the Sabres are hoping the completion comes Sunday with one final victory in the Class B state championship game.
Schalmont already has 25 wins, the last two coming against regional foes Gouverneur and Saranac that set up a semifinal game with another first-time final four participant in General Brown.
“Once this run comes to an end — and we hope it ends with a state championship — we’ll look back and know how special this season was,” Schalmont coach Jeff Van Hoesen said. “For now, the [semifinal] game is our focus. We’ll watch more film. They’ll watch film on their own. We’ll be prepared.”
Schalmont (25-1) and General Brown (23-2) meet Saturday at 2:15 p.m. after the first Class B semifinal between Waterloo (Section I, 25-0) and Putnam Valley (Section IV, 18-7) at 12:30 p.m. Sunday’s title game is set for 11:45 a.m. at HVCC.
“This is so exciting,” Antoine said. “All of our hard work paid off, and we don’t want to stop here. We want to get the big one.”
“We’re ready to go, and play and leave it all out there,” said Siena Hallberg, who joins with fellow seniors Payton Graber and Haley Burchhardt, Antoine and freshman Gianna Cirilla in Schalmont’s starting lineup. “If we play well and play as a team, we could go far.”
Playing well will be essential against a General Brown team that has lost only to Class A Indian River by scores of 50-47 and 55-53. Since that second defeat, General Brown has won seven in a row capped by Sunday’s 72-52 regional win over Norwich when Kori Nichols led four double-digit scorers with 19 points.
“They are a decent shooting team, but they really like to get to the hoop,” Van Hoesen said.
“They are a very smart team. They back door and cut a lot. Communication is going to be big for us,” Hallberg said.
The Sabres’ man-to-man defense has been a strength, and only one team has reached 50 points against them. That was back in late December when Class AA Colonie posted a 57-49 victory, and the Sabres have won 20 straight games since that defeat, six postseason wins.
“We went from playing good defense to playing great defense,” Antoine said. “We know where we have to be. And we know if a girl gets by, we’re going to get help. It’s an awesome feeling to know the team will back you up.”
The close-knit team from Rotterdam showed its depth in Sunday’s 54-30 win over Saranac when Graber and Antoine both ran into foul trouble, which gave sophomore Mikalea Frank and eighth-grader Arianna Brandon key minutes off the bench.
“Both came in and helped us extend the lead with Karissa and Payton out with foul trouble,” Van Hoesen said. “What I liked was seeing Karissa and Payton cheering on their teammates non-stop during that stretch.”
Graber finished with 19 points against Saranac, Burchhardt had 18 and Antoine managed 10. They’ll be asked to anchor the offense in the final four competition just like they did in helping the Sabres get there. General Brown uses a 2-1-2 zone defense, and in the Section III tournament, the Lions from just outside of Watertown gave up 15, 26 and 28 points as part of their run.
Schalmont has produced 192 3-point baskets as part of its offense. When Schalmont beat Fonda-Fultonville 73-35 for the Section II title, Burchhardt nailed five first-half 3s to help stake Schalmont to a big lead. In a 50-33 semifinal win against Ichabod Crane before that, Graber sank eight 3s and Hallberg had her season-high with four 3s.
“Kevin Curtis was the varsity [boys’] coach when I was working with the younger teams,” said Van Hoesen, a 1995 Schalmont graduate who directed both the freshman and JV boys teams before taking over the varsity girls’ squad 12 years ago. “A lot of our offensive sets, I learned from him.”
Van Hoesen had taken four previous Schalmont teams as far as the Section II semifinals.
“The fifth time was the charm getting over the hump,” Van Hoesen said. “Then, we win regionals and that gave me another week to work with these seniors.”
Schalmont is ranked No. 2 in the state sportswriters poll, one spot ahead of General Brown. Waterloo is ranked No. 1 and Putnam Valley is ranked No. 4.
“We’re all confident, but we’re humble. We know it’s not going to be easy,” said Graber, Schalmont’s career scoring leader and the Section II tournament MVP. “They [General Brown] are an athletic team with some great players. We know it’s going to be tough.”