With an all-senior starting five, Shenendehowa turned in a banner 2007-08 season, winning Suburban Council division and tournament titles, and the Section II Class AA championship. Along the way, the Lady Plainsmen presented coach Ken Strube with his 500th victory.
“We lost some great players. That was the first time in 29 years that I started five seniors. We lost a ton of experience,” said Strube, Section II's all-time wins leader in girls' basketball with 512. “With that said, we have a ton of potential with this crew. The kids from the junior varsity lost one game. I like what I've seen.”
There's also six veterans, led by 6-foot junior Marissa Ray, who are eager to make their mark on a program that went 21-3 last season and secured its ninth sectional championship.
“So many teams have at least three starters back. We graduated five starters, and people may take us for granted,” said Strube, whose losses include Daily Gazette first-team all-star Barb Shea. “On paper, we look vulnerable, but they'll see this group is more than capable of carrying on the tradition.”
With such a heavy player turnover, Strube realizes it may take some time before his team hits full stride. Only two seniors dot his roster in 6-1 Kyra Rhoades and multi-sport standout Mandy Ferro.
“My area of concern is the transition of roles,” Strube said. “These players have to be primary players, where last year they were in a reserve role. It took Carey Turner eight, nine games last year before she stopped looking over her shoulder.”
Shenendehowa's cast of lettermen also includes Kayla Wheeler, Allie Setter and Roz Alexander. The JV graduates are led by freshman Emily Weber and sophomore Maggie Smith.
“We've got decent size and decent speed, and we shoot well,” said Strube. “I haven't had this kind of balanced outside shooting since our 1999 state title team.”
Strube is looking for fierce defense — a Shenendehowa trademark — to complement the offense that will be triggered by guards Ferro, Alexander and the raw but promising Smith. Shenendehowa's pressure-all-over defense gave up over 50 points only three times last season, and only once against a Section II team.
“They played phenomenal defense last year. That group was special,” Strube said. “We'll see relatively early how far this group has progresses or what we have to work on.”
Shenendehowa will be competing this season in the league's restructured North Division with Ballston Spa, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Niskayuna, Saratoga Springs and Shaker. The South Division includes Section II Class AA runner-up Bethlehem, Class A champ Averill Park, Class A runner-up Mohonasen, Colonie, Columbia and Guilderland.
The new coaches are Don Juron at Burnt Hills, Paul Brosious at Mohonasen and Emily Caschera at Shaker.
“The league is going to be crazy this year. There's so many good players and good teams,” said Strube. “If I had to, I'd give Bethlehem the nod because they have five of their top seven back from a team that lost three games, all of them to us. If that last one went three more minutes, they might have been Section II champions.”
Bethlehem features Gazette first-team guard Meg Olsen,
6-1 Alex McCullough and Taylor Teal, each a starter on last year's 21-3 team, fellow seniors Catlin Dole and Paula Gadomski and 6-0 sophomore Jaci Oskam.
“Two years ago, we reached the [sectional] semifinals. Last year, we got to the final,” said Bethlehem coach Mark Nealon. “Expectations are high, and we want to keep working hard to be in position to reach them.”
The Eagles have big-game experience in several sports, with Olsen and Teal a part of the school's unbeaten soccer team, and Gadomski and newcomer Julie Landrigan a part of its championship volleyball team. The Eagles also have great size and long arms to go with their skill and athleticism.
“We can present matchup problems for other teams,” said Nealon. “That's a big strength of ours. We have the size to run a tough zone, and in man-to-man, we can keep people in front of us ”
Katie Duma may be the most difficult to contain, with the junior guard anchoring Averill Park's large returning group that also includes Brittany and Brooke O'Shea, Amber Dushensky, Lauren Nunziato and Katie Hawes. Duma, a second-team Gazette all-star, collected 11 points and 10 rebounds in the Warriors' 55-26 Section II title-game win over Mohonasen as part of her superb sophomore season.
"Katie Duma is one of the best four, five players in the area," said Strube.
Mohonasen has a strong one-two punch in seniors Nicole Adach and Michelle Aviza, as well as lettermen Ashley Tallman, Dayna Lashin and Lea McClain, to head up Brosious' first edition. In eight seasons at Schenectady Christian, Brosious guided his teams to 127 wins and four sectional finals, with his Falcons taking the Class C crown in 2006.
The league has several young players with star potential, including Shaker freshman Lauren Woods and Colonie's Tehresa Coles, a 10th-grader, and Sydnie Rosales, an eighth-grader.
Coach: Ed Snyder.
Last year's record: 0-14 league, 1-19 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Linda Webber, junior Alaina Greco, junior Amanda Callanan.
BURNT HILLS-BALLSTON LAKE
Coach: Don Juron.
Last year's record: 3-11 league, 9-13 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Georgie Ferrow, junior Jenna Juron, junior Emily Ostrom.
Coach: Sarah Neeley.
Last year's record: 12-2 league, 14-7 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Emily Bayly, senior Lisa Rufer, junior Kim Fagan.
Coach: Mike Hall
Last year's record: 6-8 league, 10-12 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Staci McElroy, junior Kala Crawford, senior Marie Davison, junior Kathleen Hannan, senior Casey Harkins.
Coach: Emily Caschera.
Last year's record: 2-12 league, 4-17 overall.
Top returning players: Freshman Lauren Woods, senior Crista Sturgeon, senior Aden Alexanian, junior Erica Houle, sophomore Adrienne Devine.
Coach: Ken Strube.
Last year's record: 13-1 league, 21-3 overall.
Top returning players: Junior Marissa Ray, senior Kyra Rhoades, junior Kayla Wheeler, sophomore Allie Setter, senior Mandy Ferro, junior Roz Alexander.
Coach: Sean Organ.
Last year's record: 9-5 league, 18-6 overall.
Top returning players: Junior Katie Duma, junior Katie Hawes, junior Amber Dushensky, junior Brittany O'Shea, freshman Brooke O'Shea
Coach: Mark Nealon.
Last year's record: 13-1 league, 21-3 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Meg Olsen, senior Alex McCullough, senior Taylor Teal, senior Paula Gadomski, senior Catlin Dole, sophomore Jaci Oskam.
Coach: Heather Fiore.
Last year's record: 8-6 league, 10-11 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Shayla Madden, senior Lauren Kross, senior Kari Kipper, sophomore Tehresa Coles, sophomore Amy Jefferson, eighth-grader Sydnie Rosales.
Coach: Kathleen Smith.
Last year's record: 9-5 league, 12-10 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Rachel Burek, senior Gabi Regan, senior Lucy Tremblay, senior Jackie Osterdahl.
Coach: Frank Cacckello.
Last year's record: 5-9 league, 8-13 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Alicia Bowman, senior Jen Madsen.
Coach: Paul Brosious.
Last year's record: 4-10 league, 9-14 overall.
Top returning players: Senior Nicole Adach, senior Michelle Aviza.