They may be young, but they are definitely not awed.
Despite having just three senior starters between them, Big 10 champion Albany and Suburban Council champ Bethlehem have made the big game, as they square off in tonight’s Section II Class AA girls’ basketball final at 6:30 at the Times Union Center.
“We are very young. But we are young only in terms of age,” said Bethlehem coach Matthew Bixby of his 20-0 Lady Eagles, whose lone senior starter is point guard Bridget Murphy. “These girls are very experienced as basketball players.”
Standout guard Emia Willingham-Hurst and forward Melissa Canty give Albany two reasons to win the program’s first sectional title since 1998.
“Canty and Willingham are so hungry. We want it for them. It’s their senior year,” said first-year Albany head coach Decky Lawson. “I want to have practice Tuesday.”
Lawson wants his 19-1 team to draw on their experience of last winter’s loss to Colonie in the final.
“We got that taste last year, and the girls were very disappointed that we got that close, and we didn’t seal the deal,” said Lawson. “These girls are working very hard, staying after in practice, preparing for this.
“We don’t want to just be there. Being there is not enough. We want to finish it and put our mark where it is supposed to be.”
Getting to the final was also the goal of the 20-0 Lady Eagles.
“It’s one more thing that we can say we accomplished this year,” said Bixby. “We had a whole list of goals, and getting to the sectional final was definitely among them. It’s one more thing I can cross off.”
“We’ve been talking about this from the beginning,” said Murphy. “We go to practice every day and work so hard, and finally being in a sectional final is just the greatest feeling in the world.”
Willingham-Hurst is one of the premier players in Section II, and has added to her game this year, leading her team not only in scoring, but also in rebounding.
“I do whatever I do to help my teammates win the game,” she said.
Typical was her effort in a 44-40 win over Colonie in the semis, a final line that included a game-high 21 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.
Sophomore Ariel Greer came off the bench to get nine points and six rebounds.
Three other players — starters Canty, Mylah Chandler and Ayanna Hunter — had five points each. Hunter also had five assists and four steals, and Chandler had nine rebounds.
Bethlehem also spread the wealth in its 47-41 semifinal win over 2011 champ Shaker.
Gabby Giacone, one of three sophomore starters, had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Fellow 10th-grader Kaylee Rickert contributed 12 points and nine rebounds, and Murphy’s line showed 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
“We have players who get their names in the paper [for scoring], but what I always hate is that the stat line doesn’t show all the little things everyone on this team does,” Bixby said. “We truly are a team of 10. We have 10 girls who work so incredibly hard, and they’ve earned this.”