Heather Fiore is a realist. She’s also an optimist.
The Colonie coach displayed both of those outlooks this week as she prepared the Lady Raiders for Saturday’s Class AA regional final with Section III champion Cicero-North Syracuse and the nation’s top female high school player, Breanna Stewart.
“We can’t not think about playing against the top player in the country,” said Fiore of Stewart, a 6-foot-4 University of Connecticut-bound star whose basketball resume is as long her wingspan. “She’s going to score her points. We all know that. But we can’t be intimidated and not go out and play our game.”
The Class AA regional final is one of three set for Hudson Valley Community College, and five for Section II teams. The winners all advance to next weekend’s state public school final four.
Unbeaten Watervliet plays Section VII’s Saranac at 11 a.m. in a Class B game to kick things off at HVCC. Averill Park meets Jamesville-DeWitt of Section III in the 12:30 Class A game, with the “AA” game scheduled for a 2 p.m. tipoff.
Hoosic Valley and Argyle will be on the road. The once-beaten Indians play Section X’s Tupper Lake at noon at SUNY-Potsdam in Class C. The Lady Scots meet Indian Lake/Long Lake in the Class D game at SUNY-Plattsburgh, also at noon.
Colonie’s game relies heavily on the team concept. Junior guards Sydnie Rosales and Jaclyn Welch and senior forwards Kawandi Young and Ashley Loggins all are averaging in double figures for the 19-2 Lady Raiders. Fiore is hoping that balance will be enough to offset whatever numbers Stewart — announced Wednesday as the 2012 Naismith Award winner — produces.
“Their next highest scorer, senior guard Brittany Paul, averages about 12 points per game,” said Fiore. “Our top four all do that. If we can contain her [Stewart] and play good defense on everyone else, I think we have a good chance.”
The Lady Northstars are 18-3. Two of their losses came to California schools — St. Mary’s and Los Angeles Windward — in the Nike Tournament of Champions in late December. Stewart had 33 points in the 63-55 loss to St. Mary’s, but got just 14 in a 49-45 loss to Windward, which is still alive in the California 4AA state tournament.
She has also put up eye-popping efforts, like a 29-point, 28-rebound effort against defending Florida large-school champion Doctor Phillips, and a 44-point, 14-rebound game against Utica Proctor.
Stewart, who has played on four U.S. national teams, hit for 30 points as the Lady Northstars downed West Genesee, 69-33, for their fourth straight sectional title.
Given that Stewart plays both inside and on the wing, Colonie’s defense will have to be a team effort.
“She can handle the ball, she can shoot the three, she can drive, she rebounds. She can do it all,” said Fiore. “We’re going to be aware of where she is on the court, and try to put a lot of pressure on her.
“We want someone on her when she catches the ball, so she has to make a quick decision what to do. We want to make her work for her points.
“We work a lot on our defense, and we take pride in it,” said Fiore. “And our defense leads to a lot of our offense off the fast break.”
On the offensive end, Fiore would be very happy to see her four scoring threats combine for around 60 points.
“I think that balance has been our biggest advantage all year,” said Fiore. “It makes it hard for teams, because on any night, any of the four can have a big game.”
And Colonie scores in a variety of ways.
Rosales has great range and will also go to the basket. Welch can hit the three. Loggins is fearless in driving to the basket. Young can score anywhere inside, and can also get out on the break.
“That also makes us tough to defend,” said Fiore. “We’ve got the capability to score from the outside or inside.”
And Rosales is capable of taking over the game, as she demonstrated in last weekend’s win over Albany. She calmly hit a pair of threes — the second from long range — in scoring 11 consecutive Colonie points as the Lady Raiders took control.
“Sydnie is more than capable of doing that, if that’s what we need,” Fiore said.
Watervliet, 22-0, is returning to its home away from home as it looks for a second state semifinal berth in three years. Junior point guard Ailayia Demand scored 22 points, and forward Mikayla
Deguire added 21 points and 17 rebounds in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Tamarac.
“It was a tough road getting here,” said Lady Cannoneers coach Gordie Johnson, who got his 200th win earlier this season. “I think now we’re starting to play better basketball.
“We’re really excited about going back to Hudson Valley and playing in front of a lot of our fans.”
Averill Park, which like Colonie will have had a week between games after beating Scotia-Glenville in the Section II final, is seeking a third consecutive trip to the state semifinals.
Class A tourney MVP Brooke O’Shea had a tremendous two-way game against Scotia. The 16-5 Lady Warriors are also capable of hitting threes, and Bridget Carney gives them a presence down low.
Hoosic Valley smothered Moriah, 71-20, in the regional semis, and Jacquelyn Miller hit for 31 to lead Argyle past Hammond to get to today’s game.