The road isn’t any easier, but for the Albany High Lady Falcons, the goal is getting closer.
“They were right there last year,” said first-year head coach Decky Lawson, an assistant when Albany fell to Colonie in the 2012 Section II Class AA final. “They saw that they could compete with anyone.”
Albany (12-0, 17-1) wrapped up its third Big 10 title Tuesday and will open the postseason one week from Friday, hosting the winner of a Shenendehowa vs. Niskayuna first-round game in the top half of the “AA” bracket.
Suburban Council North champ Shaker (15-1, 17-1) is on the same side of the bracket, drawn up Wednesday, as Albany. Unbeaten SC South winner Bethlehem (16-0, 18-0) and Colonie (12-4, 14-4) are the projected semifinalists in the other half.
Their third straight Big 10 title wasn’t as easy as it might look for the Lady Falcons, who were without standout guard Emia Willingham-Hurst, who was injured midway through one game and missed her next four games in early January.
With the 2012 league MVP sidelined by injury, the other players stepped up.
Cara Waterson picked up the scoring, Melissa Canty became more of a force underneath and the other players raised their games.
“Mylah Chandler, Ariel Greer, India Terrell, Melissa Canty, Ayanna Hunter, they all came through,” said Lawson. “The thing a lot of people overlook with Emia is her defense. Mylah and India really stepped up on defense.”
Bethlehem had little trouble running the table during the regular season, winning by comfortable margins. Coach Matt Bixby points to the Lady Eagles’ defense as an overlooked reason for the success.
“People see that we score a lot of points, but they don’t always realize that it comes from the defense,” he said. “We’re giving up about 34 points a game. That means we’re getting stops, rebounding and getting into our offense.”
Despite having only two seniors on the roster, Bethlehem does not lack experience.
“These girls have played so many AAU games and high school games that experience is not a factor,” Bixby said. “They have basketball experience.”
Shaker has been a major player in the “AA” brackets the last three years, winning the title in 2010.
“I think maybe we’ve been overlooked a little, and we’re more of the underdog this year,” said Lady Bison coach Emily Caschera-Blowers. “Considering we lost two outstanding players — Mackenzie Rowland and Lauren Woods — to graduation, to be where we are says a lot about the girls and our program.
“Sectionals are different, there’s a different feeling because it could be one and done. But the girls have stepped into their roles and really done well this year.”
Troy was placed atop the Class A bracket, ahead of unbeaten returning semifinalist Holy Names, three-time defending champion Averill Park (13-5) and Foothills Council champion Queensbury.
Last year’s Class A runner-up, Scotia-Glenville, got a No. 7 seed. The Lady Tartans, who lost starting point guard Angie DiJohn to a knee injury prior to the season and three-time Foothills MVP Cassie Broadhead three games into the season, still managed to finish second in the league.
Defending champ Watervliet and Tamarac could be headed for a Class B rematch as the top two seeds, and 2012 state champ Hoosic Valley got the top spot in Class C.
The tournament opens Friday with five preliminary games in both Class B and C.
All of the finals, with the exception of Class AA, are set for March 2 at Hudson Valley Community College. The “AA” final will be played March 4 at the Times Union Center as the opener of a double-header with the boys’ Class AA game.