Two Miss New York Basketball nominees and three players who could earn the same distinction next year.
That sums up best the impressive makeup of this year’s Daily Gazette All-Area girls’ basketball team.
Shenendehowa senior Carly Boland is the lone first-team repeater from a year ago. A Miss Basketball candidate, Boland leaves her program as its fourth leading scorer with 1,671 points.
Bethlehem senior Jenna Giacone was also named as one of the state’s five Miss Basketball finalists. Her talent never in question, Giacone’s leadership skills grew throughout the season.
Then, there’s the juniors. Mohonasen’s Saeeda Abdul-Aziz, Shenendehowa’s Sydney Brown and Amsterdam’s Nina Fedullo all took their games to another level. Abdul-Aziz filled up boxscores every night. Brown was at her best when the Plainsmen needed her the most. Fedullo’s all-around prowess was unmatched in the Foothills Council.
Together, the group of five players demonstrated excellence throughout the 2015-16 season.
CARLY BOLAND (SHENENDEHOWA)
A winner and fierce competitor, Boland finished off a remarkable four-year varsity career with a trip to the Class AA state championship game.
Along the way, she crafted an impeccable reputation.
“There was never any hot-dogging from her,” Shenendehowa head coach Joe Murphy said. “She just goes about it quietly and dismantles teams.”
Nothing is flashy about Boland on the court. She makes the right plays, and a lot of them. Part of that comes from natural instincts, but Murphy also knows Boland would spend several hours a week studying game footage on her own.
“She sees the game at a slower pace than high school athletes,” Murphy said. “She’s very cerebral. Her basketball IQ is really second to none.”
As a senior, Boland scored 19.3 points per game, grabbed 6.7 rebounds and swiped 3.0 steals. A hyper-efficient player, Boland only attempted an average of 8.2 field goals each game — and made 67 percent of her shots.
But in four years of coaching Boland at the varsity level, what Murphy grew to appreciate most about his star on the court didn’t make it into boxscores — defensive deflections, [asses that set up assists for others, calm leadership.
“It’s the little things that she does that make all the difference,” Murphy said.
With Boland as the lead star, Shenendehowa’s storied program added two more Section II titles and a regional championship. She closed her career with a second nod as the Suburban Council Player of the Year and her fourth bid to the league’s first team.
Her game demanded area coaches recognize her ability, and her attitude never made them think twice about doing it.
“She had the respect of all the coaches in the league,” Murphy said of Boland, who will play next season for Binghamton University.
SAEEDA ABDUL-AZIZ (MOHONASEN)
If there was a statistic to be had, Abdul-Aziz compiled it in significant numbers during her junior season.
“She’s the whole package,” Mohonasen head coach Doug Holden said of his star who has garnered interest from Providence College, St. John’s University and Siena College.
An average game for Abdul-Aziz this past season saw her register career-best numbers for most players. A regular night of work for Abdul-Aziz saw her toss in 21 points, grab 13 rebounds and block four shots. Her best nights saw her score a season-high 35 points in a two-point win against Troy and register a triple-double against Gloversville in the Section II Class A playoffs.
Where Abdul-Aziz most grew this season was in her approach to the game. A varsity member since she was in the eighth grade, Abdul-Aziz put more work into being a leader for her team.
“Her skill level is extremely high, no doubt about it, but playing on both ends of the court and involving your teammates are the things that go along with being truly great,” said Holden, in his first year as Mohonasen’s head coach. “She’s embraced that.”
He added: “Does it help us for her to score 20 a game? Absolutely. But it’s everything else, too.”
Holden said he expects his team’s gym rat to be even better as a senior.
“It’s on, and on and on for her,” Holden said of Abdul-Aziz’s work ethic. “With hard work comes results. That’s what she’s done.”
SYDNEY BROWN (SHENENDEHOWA)
The bigger the game, the better the Brown.
That’s what Shenendehowa has come to expect from its do-everything star who just completed her fourth full season of varsity basketball. When games mean more and opponents get tougher, Murphy knows Brown is going to bring it.
“She’s just that kind of kid,” Murphy said.
The season averages for Brown — 12.7 points, 9.4 rebounds — are impressive, but misleading. Her team is stacked with college-level talent. Most games, she doesn’t see the floor in the fourth quarter. Playing near the basket in her team’s zone defense, her teammates often convert turnovers into points before she gets to touch the ball.
“She scores most of her points in the bigger games because she’s playing more,” Murphy said of Brown, who will surpass both 1,000 career points and rebounds in her senior season if she stays healthy.
In this year’s Section II Class AA semifinals, Brown had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds against Shaker. The next game was likely her best of the season, as the junior scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Plainsmen’s championship win against Albany.
Brown has the attention of a number of schools, including the University at Albany, George Washington University and Marquette University. Interest in her only grows with each season.
“A lot of it comes from her ability to improve each year,” Murphy said. “There’s not a harder working kid than her in our program. She stays after practice, and she’s always working outside of the program. If there’s a basketball court, she’s there. She loves basketball.”
NINA FEDULLO (AMSTERDAM)
Whatever her team needed, Fedullo delivered it in the 2015-16 season.
“She’s always had confidence, even as a freshman,” Amsterdam head coach Eric Duemler said of his junior star. “She was quiet and not vocal, but she was confident. Now, her confidence is at a premier level. She really believes in herself and her teammates. If somebody needs to take a game-winning shot or free throw, she’s not afraid to do it. She wants to do it.”
Fedullo continued to develop new facets of her game in her third season as a varsity starter. The 6-foot junior played all five positions for Amsterdam and became more of a playmaker in a campaign in which she became her program’s first 1,000-point scorer. In leading her team to an appearance in the Section II Class A championship game, Fedullo — named the Foothills Council’s top player — was a threat on offense whether she was posting up or taking a 3-pointer from 25 feet away.
“That’s really Nina in a nutshell,” Duemler said.
Fedullo’s future is bright, with next-level interest from colleges such as Monmouth University and Saint Peter’s University. But after a season in which she averaged 19.4 points and 11.3 rebounds, Duemler said Fedullo’s focus is on capping her high school career with a sectional title.
“We’ve already talked about being hungry and taking that next step,” Duemler said.
JENNA GIACONE (BETHLEHEM)
Entering the 2015-16 season, Bethlehem head coach Matt Bixby knew a large part of his team’s fate was going to depend on Giacone.
Her ability on the court, yes. But more so her acceptance — her willingness, really — to take on a leadership role after key players, including her older sister, graduated from the program’s title-winning 2014-15 team.
“This year was definitely going to be a very different role for her,” Bixby said. “She went from always being the youngest person on a team to being the oldest, the most experienced player on the team. That’s a big transition for any kid to make.”
The statistics show Giacone did her part on the court, averaging 16.8 points per game, plus 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 55 percent from the field. Where the senior, bound for the University of Dayton, helped the Bethlehem program the most, though, was with her eagerness to lead and take younger teammates under her wing.
“She really embraced that,” Bixby said.
Throughout her senior season, she showed off her all-around game and next-level court awareness with her passing. Late in the regular season, Giacone also scored her 1,000th career point. That type of grind-it-out milestone was one of her final examples for her younger teammates.
“It’s very easy to talk about how good you want to be,” Bixby said. “It’s harder to do the work.”
Player, school, grade, average
Carly Boland, Shen, 12, 19.3
Saeeda Abdul-Aziz, Mohon, 11, 21.0
Sydney Brown, Shen, 11, 12.7
Nina Fedullo, Amsterdam, 11, 19.4
Jenna Giacone, Bethlehem, 12, 16.8
Rebekkah Dean, Mekeel, 10, 14.7
Ayanna Hunter, Albany, 12, 10.7
Selena Lott, Columbia, 11, 24.3
Cece Mayo, Shaker, 11, 17.5
Sophie Tougas, Glens Falls, 9, 17.9
De’Janaire Deas, Holy Names, 12, 16.2
Caitlin Estes, Scotia-Glenville, 12, 15.0
Julia Hampton, Mayfield, 12, 20.3
Jordan Hipwell, Ballston Spa, 11, 16.6
Samantha Laranjo, Averill Pk, 12, 11.5
Suburban Council: Leah Dollard (Albany); Emily Wander (Bethlehem); Erin Fouracre, Aliyah Wright (Colonie); Grace Heeps (Columbia); Olivia Baumann (Guilderland); Olivia Owens, Olivia Souky (Niskayuna); Dolly Cairns, Kerry Flaherty (Saratoga Springs); Shyla Sanford (Shaker); NaSeyah Dix (Schenectady); Cam Tooley (Shenendehowa); Shalie Frierson, Sabrina Wolfe (Troy).
Foothills Council: Brady Santiago, Giuliana Pritchard (Amsterdam); Lucy Tougas (Glens Falls); Jasmine Gonzalez, Harmony Philo (Gloversville); Bri McKinney (Hudson Falls); Claire Guzielek (Johnstown); Emily Vallee (Schuylerville); Mary Kate Palleschi (Scotia-Glenville); Alexa Brown (South Glens Falls).
Colonial Council: Emily Padalino (Albany Academy); Abby Fountain (Catholic Central); Maya Nicholas (Cobleskill-Richmondville); Nerea Brajac (Cohoes); Miranda Nethaway, Julianna Taylor (Fonda-Fultonville); Lydia Williams (Holy Names); Paige Niemeyer (Ichabod Crane); Nylasia Sutton (Lansingburgh); Rachel Strijek (Schalmont); Rachel Blow, (Voorheesville); Ali Changa (Watervliet).
Western Athletic Conference: Monique Britton, Shayla Lyons (Berne-Knox-Westerlo); Cassidy Schaeffer (Duanesburg); Maddy Ritter (Galway); Soren Shirley (Fort Plain); Kaylee Bumpus (Mayfield); Lyndsey McCoy, Bre Palmatier (Middleburgh); Lexy Rychcik, Jessie Show, Liz Singleton (Mekeel Christian Academy); Morgan Wilson (Northville); Sarah DelVecchio (Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons); Emma VanDeCar (Saratoga Central Catholic).
Others: Lesha Tenney (Loudonville Christian), Abby Higgins (Stillwater).