The streak started in 1998 in a league that doesn’t exist any more, when Jenn Golden was hurling no-hitters and Duanesburg’s softball team had a lineup loaded with .300 batters.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” Eagles coach John Conway said. “It’s been 19 years, and the more I look back at it, the more I think, ‘How did this happen.’ ”
Duanesburg will be going after its 20th consecutive league championship this spring, and its 16th straight in the Western Athletic Conference. Duanesburg softball is the WAC’s only varsity team that has won its division in every season since the Schoharie County League and Tri-Valley League merged to form the circuit in the 2001-02 school year.
“We’re really proud of the streak,” Conway said. “There are some great programs in the WAC, and to win every division title is something special. Things can happen. Things can go awry. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, and we’re ready to go out and fight for it again.”
Duanesburg started winning more battles than the rest in 1998 when it secured the first of four straight Schoharie County League crowns. The Eagles went 49-0 in the league during that stretch and made their first state final four appearance. Even more success came as a member of the WAC.
“We’ve had so many great players, the year-round softball kids, and we’ve been blessed with drawing good athletes from other programs and developing them,” Conway said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have kids who are really excited about softball.”
Senior pitcher Alexa Lombardoni and senior shortstop Jenna Lees — who hit a school-record eight homers in 2016 — will lead the Eagles this season in the reshuffled WAC, which has them coupled with Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Fort lain, Schoharie and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville in the small-school division. Cassidy Schaffer, Morgan Hoffman and Annabelle Rieseler are also back from last year’s edition that went 10-1 against WAC foes and 15-7 overall after a win and a loss in the Class C sectionals.
“We’ve got a nice group of kids,” said Conway, who also coaches wrestling and golf at Duanesburg. “We’re excited about this team. There are a lot of nice things going on here.”
The streak, or course, is among them. Duanesburg kept it alive with a Southern Division-clinching 5-2 win against Middleburgh last May. Both teams were 8-1 heading into that make-or-break game, with Duanesburg’s loss coming against the Knights 3-2 in eight innings earlier in the season.
“That was our first league loss in over 80 games going back to 2009, and the kids regrouped and won the rematch,” Conway said. “We’ve had some great streaks during the streak. We’ve had a lot of close games, but we haven’t lost more than five or six games since we joined the WAC.”
Duanesburg is 6-for-6 in overall WAC title games (WAC Cup), beating Northern Division winner Mayfield 6-1 for the 2016 top spot behind Lombardoni’s no-hit pitching and three RBI.
“She was our second baseman in eighth, ninth and 10th grade,” Conway said of Lombardoni, the 2016 Southern Division MVP. “She took on the pitching last year and did very well. She threw a one-hitter in that big game against Middleburgh.”
Duanesburg’s big-game win list since 1998 is lengthy and includes seven Section II Class C championships. Both the 1999 and 2006 teams got out of Section II with Class C-CC playoff wins and won regional and state semifinal contests.
“We play teams higher than us [in class] every year in non-league games,” Conway said. “I’ve had some great coaches working with the kids. The kids play hard and they have a lot of pride. All of those things have helped us win.”
The one constant has been Conway, who took over as the Eagles head coach in 1998.
“I played softball for 28 years,” the 59-year-old Conway said. “I can translate what I know and what I learned to these kids.”
Here are a few more Section II teams to watch this spring.
NISKAYUNA BOYS’ LACROSSE
Untested at the defensive end but loaded up front with a cast led by All-American Lucas Quinn and Mike Doxie, Niskayuna is looking to bounce back in a big way after its 81-game Section II win streak and hopes for a repeat state title were halted by Shenendehowa in the 2016 area Class A final. Niskayuna had prevailed in four straight Section II title games before Shenendehowa’s 15-14 victory.
GUILDERLAND GIRLS’ LACROSSE
Over the last decade, Guilderland established itself as a force both in the Suburban Council and in the Section II tournament, with 10 straight Class A title-game appearances, six championships and four one-goal defeats. The Dutchmen are led by All-American midfielder Kerry Gerety and Suburban Council first-team stars Kadi Futia, Haley Kmack and Courtney Rafferty.
SARATOGA CENTRAL CATHOLIC BASEBALL
For years a WAC Northern Division power, Saratoga Central Catholic joins the Wasaren League this spring with the likes of 2016 Section II Class B champion Hoosic Valley and Class C finalist Greenwich. The Saints were the Section II Class BB runner-up to Schalmont last year, and bring back Connor Farrington, Terel Tillman, Kaden Learch, Zac Cronk and Nicholas Winslow from a 21-2 edition.
BALLSTON SPA SOFTBALL
So what will the Scotties do for an encore after their historic 2016 season that featured the programs’s first Section II and regional championships? Ballston Spa graduated only two seniors, including all-state second-team pick Ashlyn Kersch, and brings back her sister Lauren, as well as Megan McMahon, Grace Thompson and Sarah Pritchard.
SHENENDEHOWA GIRLS’ TRACK & FIELD
You can expect more championships and records from the Shenendehowa girls, who excelled during the cross country and indoor track and field seasons. The deep and talented outdoor group features weights specialist Jill Shippee, distance runners Julia Zachgo and Hannah Reale, and sprinter/jumper Alex Tudor, who helped lead the school’s basketball team to a spot in the state Class AA semifinals.