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From Shenendehowa's Huerter to Glens Falls' Girard III, the top Capital Region sports stories for 2018

From Shenendehowa's Huerter to Glens Falls' Girard III, the top Capital Region sports stories for 2018

Recapping the year in local sports
From Shenendehowa's Huerter to Glens Falls' Girard III, the top Capital Region sports stories for 2018
Kevin Huerter was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

As we usher in a New Year, it's the point on the calendar when we look back at 2018, which could be symbolized by a revolving door as much as anything else.

Besides terrific achievements, 2018 was about who came in and who went out. Joseph Girard III is on his way to Syracuse, Kevin Huerter wound up in Atlanta and the local Division I basketball programs were a mishmash of coach and player movement.

While a pair of Shoes came through from Troy to Schenectady, a pair of Skates slid out in the opposite direction.

Here are the Daily Gazette sports department's Top 10 stories of 2018:

HUERTER A HAWK

Kevin Huerter meant to spend the offseason between his sophomore and junior seasons at the University of Maryland gathering information on what he needed to do to get better for the next level.

Turned out, he was ready for that next level — and there would be no such thing as a junior season at Maryland for the Shenendehowa High School product.

Three years after guiding Shenendehowa to a Class AA boys’ basketball state championship, Huerter was the No. 19 pick in June’s NBA draft. The first-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks had initially declared for the draft to go through workouts to improve his draft stock for the following year, but Huerter performed so well at the NBA draft combine that he ended up staying in the draft as a first-round lock.

Through the first 32 games of Huerter’s NBA career, he had made 16 starts and 45 3-pointers.

GIRARD III SETS RECORD

Glens Falls senior Joseph Girard III has packed points within the confines of a 32-minute high school basketball game at an absurd level for years.

He packed the 2018 calendar with historic and notable achievements at an equal level.

At Amsterdam in January, he passed Lance Stephenson (2,946 points) for the all-time New York state career scoring record, then passed St. Johnsville's Caryn Kovatch (nee Schoff) for the state record, regardless of gender, in a game against Scotia-Glenville on Dec. 18, giving him 3,577 to Schoff's 3,548.

Girard announced his much-anticipated college choice on Oct. 14, donning the orange-and-navy gear of Syracuse University.

Hey, why not a Class B football state championship, while we're at it? Nov. 25: Glens Falls 55, Batavia 32. Girard ran for two TDs and passed for two more, in the Carrier Dome, where he will be jacking threes for the Orange and coach Jim Boeheim next year.

COLLEGE HOOPS TUMULT

You don't assemble a Capital Region college hoops timeline for 2018 so much as you patch it and pump it like a basketball that just rolled over a bed of nails.

Of the four Division I programs, only the Siena women's team experienced no significant upheaval. Bring your seismometer when walking through this terrain:

March 29: The core of the UAlbany men's team, Joe Cremo and David Nichols, decide to transfer to bigger programs. Both are post-graduates and won't have to sit a year by NCAA transfer rules.

April 6: Under fire, Siena men's coach Jimmy Patsos holds a press conference denying allegations that he verbally abused a student manager, among other accusations.

April 7: Nichols announces that he's going to Florida State.

April 10: UAlbany women's coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee leaves for Boston College after two seasons in Albany.

April 13: Patsos resigns after five seasons at Siena, while reiterating earlier denials. His team was 8-24 in 2017-18.

May 2: Siena hires Jamion Christian from Mount St. Mary's to replace Patsos.

May 8: Cremo, the former star at Scotia-Glenville High, picks Villanova.

May 13: UAlbany hires Army associate coach Colleen Mullen to replace Bernabei-McNamee.

Aug. 9: Just for good measure, UAlbany and Siena (sort of) jointly announce that there will be no Albany Cup, a fierce rivalry series that ran from 2001 to 2017, this season. Would've been interesting to see how the men's teams, both in a substantial state of flux, fared against each other. Alas, the ever-building squabble over venues reduced the series to rubble, for now.

FIRST-TIME CHAMPS

The Mekeel Christian Academy boys' basketball team found different ways to win, while the Stillwater girls' soccer team used a potent offense to overpower its competition. The result was the same in the end for each: a first-ever New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship.

Mekeel went double-overtime in the state semifinals and won a 42-37 defensive battle the next day with Seton Catholic of Binghamton to claim the state Class B banner. The Lions added a victory at the Federation tournament to finish with 25 and tie the school record first set by the 2007 state Class C final four team. Before Mekeel's state title-win, Lake George secured the New York Class C boys' basketball championship in coach Dave Jones' final game, and the Warriors tied the Section II record with 28 victories.

Stillwater outscored three Class C state soccer tournament opponents 15-0 after beating four teams in the sectionals by a 24-1 margin. The Warriors finished 21-0-1 after losing the New York final by one goal in 2017.

The 2018 fall season also included a second state Class B football title for Glens Falls in three years, and a third consecutive state Class B boys' cross country title for Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. The Saratoga Springs girls earned the state Class A cross country championship for the 15th time, and the Greenwich girls copped the state Class C title.

Queensbury (Class A) finally got a state baseball championship for longtime coach Jay Marra, and Ichabod Crane (Class B) and Fort Ann (Class D) won state softball titles. Ichabod Crane pitcher Calista Phippen repeated as the New York State Gatorade Player of the Year.

GREATEST DANES

Finally, Scott Marr and his University at Albany men’s lacrosse program broke through last May to secure the win it had coveted for years.

With a 15-13 victory against Denver at James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, UAlbany clinched its first-ever trip to the national semifinals. Previously, the Great Danes had been 0-4 in national quarterfinals.

The victory was the last one in a record-setting season for the Great Danes. Led by stars such as Connor Fields, TD Ierlan and Tehoka Nanticoke, UAlbany achieved its first-ever No. 1 national ranking and spent more weeks ranked atop the country than any other program in 2018.

UAlbany finished 16-3 after falling in the national semifinals to Yale, the eventual national champion.

SPA MEET

The Brown family of Mechanicville still spends most Saratoga Race Course days at their favorite picnic table in the backyard.

They spent plenty of time in the winner's circle in 2018, too.

Chad Brown shattered the meet record for trainer wins, with 46, then shared a moment with his parents upon accepting the Allen Jerkens Trophy for his second Spa title.

“A lot of pride. A lot of hard work on his part ... and I kind of choke up a little bit,” Chad's father, Jerry, said. “He made history. Right? We’ve got to kind of cry at the same time you’re happy.”

The top jockey - also for the second time - was Irad Ortiz Jr. Among his victories was the Whitney, aboard Diversify, who was trained by Rick Violette Jr. Sadly, Violette, a powerful advocate for horsemen in New York who fought cancer for years, died at the age of 65 two and a half months after one of the biggest wins of his career.

Saratoga fans were treated to the likes of CCA Oaks winner Monomoy Girl, a mortal lock for the 3-year-old filly championship, and another intriguing filly, Wonder Gadot, who was the first filly to run in the Travers since 1979. Alas, she finished last to Catholic Boy.

UCONN DOMINATES

The UConn women's basketball team reached its 11th straight Final Four on March 26 with a 95-65 demolition of defending national champion South Carolina.

Those in attendance didn't mind having to watch a blowout.

That's because, since 2015, the Times Union Center has become one of the Huskies' homes-away-from-home. A largely partisan crowd of 9,522 packed it in for UConn's second Albany NCAA Tournament appearance in four years.

The Huskies went on to win the 2015 national championship after a TU Center Sweet 16 appearance, but they couldn't duplicate that after their Albany Region championship in 2018. Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale's three at the buzzer beat UConn in overtime at the national semifinals in Columbus, Ohio.

UNION UPSET

The Dutchmen men's hockey team came into the 2017-18 season picked middle of the pack in ECAC Hockey, then exceeded expectations by threatening for a regular-season title.

Seeded second in the conference tournament, with all the apparent advantages that brings -- home ice, first-round bye -- Union was shocked by seventh seed Princeton at Messa Rink. The Tigers ended the Dutchmen's season with a game-winning 3-on-1 break with 9.5 seconds left in regulation.

A promising 2018-19 season so far includes a Belpot Trophy championship at the Friendship Four in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

RIVALRY STAYS STRONG

While the Union men's hockey has thrived, the school's football team has not.

It's been the opposite at RPI, but that doesn't mean a decades-old rivalry needs to conform to current trends.

The Engineers swept 11th-ranked Union in hockey to win the Capital Skates Trophy in October, but the Dutchmen would not go barefoot, upsetting NCAA Tournament-bound RPI 34-10 in football two weeks later to regain the Dutchman Shoes Trophy.

EMPIRE DEBUTS

They partied like it was 1999.

That's when arena football fans in Albany celebrated an Arena-Bowl championship by the Albany Firebirds.

Two years later, the Firebirds were gone, but fans reincarnated the spirit of those days on April 14, 2018, when a sold-out crowd watched the TU Center debut of the Albany Empire of the Arena Football League.

Echoes to the Firebirds glory days were all over the place, including a halftime appearance by former players and coaches. Among them were Firebirds star and fan favorite Eddie Brown, who rode out to midfield in a limo with his son, Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown.

The Empire lost their opener that night, and were also upset at the TU Center as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, by 2-11 Washington. But a crowd of 9,261 for that game suggests a resurgence of arena football love on South Pearl Street.

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