There they were, in the basement of the Schenectady YMCA, in the heart of downtown State Street. The most unheralded, virtually unknown, basketball team in the Capital Region, fighting not just to keep a winning streak intact, but claim a share of the crowded area basketball landscape.
Meet the Schenectady County Community College women’s basketball team, a collection of former Section II players put together by fourth-year head coach Dayna Torino-Newton, that has risen to the upper echelon of the Region III rankings.
Though their winning streak ended at nine games Wednesday with hard-fought 65-60 loss to Fulton-Montgomery CC, the Royals displayed the spirit Newton was looking for when she intentionally brought together a group of former high school rivals.
“I could have gone to the city [New York] gone to some tournaments, and gotten players,” said Torino-Newton, a Schalmont graduate. “That’s not what I wanted.
“I think there is a sense of togetherness with this team, that maybe you don’t get with the other teams we play. ”
That has formed a bond that the players and coaches know, but most people on the outside don’t.
“Yeah, we’re kind of the team that no one knows about,” said Bishop Maginn grad Shiann Coons. “High schools get more attention than us.”
All but one the 12 players on the roster come from Capital Region high schools, seven from the Big 10. Wednesday’s starting lineup had three players from that league — Coons, Ashleigh Creighton (Catholic Central) and leading scorer Monique Pucci, who along with her twin sister, Dominique, graduated from Amsterdam after transferring from Schenectady High. Emily Tillipaugh (Cobleskill-Richmondville) and Mohonasen grad Samantha Hall rounded out the starting five.
“I never dreamed I’d hang out with or play on a team with Mo,” said Coons. “But this group just works so well together.
“I think a lot of that has to do with coach. She’s always getting everybody together for meals and things.”
Pucci also thought it was odd at first, wearing the same uniform as a high school rival.
“It was a little weird,” said the criminal justice major. “It was like, ‘We were always trying to beat each other’s team, now, we’re teammates.’ But it’s really worked out.
“I like what coach has done, getting a team made up of players from this area.”
“They study together, train together, hang out together,” said Torino-Newton of her team. “And they’re good students. The team’s GPA is over 3.00.”
While the result Wednesday was not typical — Schenectady is now 13-4, and went into the game ranked fourth in Region III — the effort was.
“They did what they usually do, did what we asked them to,” said Torino-Newton. “They never give up. The shots just didn’t fall for us.”
Pucci had eight points at the half as the Royals trailed the No. 2-ranked Raiders, 24-20, at the break. Hall didn’t have a point, but she pulled down 10 of her game total of 15 rebounds, despite sitting with foul trouble.
The Raiders ran out to a 10-point lead in the second half, with Duanesburg’s Stephanie Rice hitting a three to make it 39-29 with 13 minutes to play. Rice, one of only two FMCC players not from the New York City area, would make just three baskets, but each would stop a Royals’ second-half run.
The Royals used their speed and hustle to close to 41-38, with Shanice Ordon (Schenectady) coming off the bench to join Pucci in harrassing the Raiders.
“Shanice is our defensive standout,” said Torino-Newton. “Monique had another fantastic game. Along with her driving to the basket and scoring [19 points], she had 10 rebounds.”
Er.Redwood 2-0-4, Woney 1-2-4, Abrams 7-4-18, Ev.Redwood 1-0-2, Chea 2-2-6, Gayle 3-0-6, Jordan 2-0-5, Garrett 5-1-11, Rice 3-0-7, Flowers 1-0-2. Totals: 27-9-65.
SCHENECTADY COUNTY CC
M.Pucci 5-8-19, Creighton 4-3-14, Coons 5-1-13, Tillipaugh 1-1-3, Hall 2-3-7, Funk 1-0-2, D.Pucci 0-2-2. Totals: 18-18-60.
Halftime: FMCC, 24-20. Three-point goals: Jordan, Rice, M.Pucci, Creighton 3, Coons 2.