Two of the greatest point producers in Section II history, a backcourt duo that propelled its team to a new level and a star center who anchored a championship run make up the starting five on The Daily Gazette All-Area Girls' Basketball Team for the 2018-19 season.
Graceann Bennett of Lake George eclipsed 2,000 points for her career, and Harmony Philo of Gloversville set a number of 3-point records as she pushed past 1,800 points. Dolly Cairns and Kerry Flaherty played lead roles as Saratoga Springs reached its first Section II large-school title game, and Cat Almeida snared the most valuable player award after Shenendehowa won it.
Here is a glance at the accomplishments of each of the All-Area first-team selections.
(Photos: Peter R. Barber/Daily Gazette, Erica Miller/Daily Gazette, Jenn March/Courtesy of The Post-Star.)
CAT ALMEIDA, SHENENDEHOWA
Almeida's value to Section II Class AA champion Shenendehowa went way beyond the 12.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game that the 6-foot-5 Quinnipiac-bound senior center provided.
"She did a lot of good, positive things that didn't show up in the box score," Shenendehowa coach Joe Murphy said. "People had a tough time pressing us because we could go over the top and find her. When teams doubled her that set up perimeter shots because she's such a good passer and she would find who was open. On defense she blocked shots, but also altered shots and gave us an intimidating presence."
All of those things helped Shenendehowa (21-3) string 20 wins, the last three against Niskayuna, Colonie and Saratoga in the sectionals when the Plainsmen secured their third title in four years. Almeida averaged a double-double in those playoff games, including 19 points and 16 rebounds in the semifinals and 10 points and 11 boards in the championship-clincher.
"She wanted to win," said Murphy, whose team was upset by Bethlehem in the 2018 sectional semifinals when Almeida's play was limited due to a foot injury. "Winning was more important to her than the stats."
It was an improved Almeida that led Shenendehowa this season. Her scoring output included 21 3s.
"She got better. She put in a lot of offseason work," Murphy said of the first-team Suburban Council all-star. "Her dribbling, range, footwork — everything went up a level."
GRACEANN BENNETT, LAKE GEORGE
Neither opponents nor two knee surgeries could curtail the 6-foot-2 Georgetown-bound center who guided Lake George to five Adirondack League titles and poured in 2,171 career points for the No. 6 spot on the all-time Section II list.
Over her six-year varsity career, Bennett averaged just under 18 points and 13 rebounds.
"She has a passion for the game like I've never seen. Very motivated. You don't have to push her," Lake George coach Rob Tefft said of this winter's overall Section II scholar-athlete girls' basketball award winner. "She is a student of the game, too. She studies it. Watches it. She soaks it all in."
This season the repeat Adirondack MVP averaged 22 points, 12.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.6 blocks and 2.5 steals for the 19-3 Warriors. When they beat Rensselaer in a sectional game, she collected 26 points, 22 rebounds and 10 assists.
"She is a tremendous passer. It's always team first," Tefft said. "If she is doubled or tripled, she'll find you rather than force something. She is very unselfish."
That, Tefft noted, is among the reasons Georgetown sought out the multi-talented senior who could be seen posting up at one moment and leading a fast break the next.
"What they liked is she is a great teammate," he said. "They liked how she is the first one off the bench. How she supports the other girls. She is a tremendous teammate."
DOLLY CAIRNS & KERRY FLAHERTY, SARATOGA SPRINGS
Saratoga's fortunes began to take a turn for the better when Cairns, just a seventh-grader, and Flaherty, then an eighth-grader, joined the varsity for the 2014-15 season. This winter, the Blue Streaks played for their first Section II championship after the two guards joined for 50 points in a 69-42 semifinal win over Albany.
They combined for another 45 afterward in a 62-54 loss to Shenendehowa.
"We brought them up when our program was in a rough spot," Saratoga coach Robin Chudy said. "They stepped right in, and we've had a winning program ever since. It shows other girls what can happen when you really work at something."
That work ethic elevated Flaherty to a first-team all-star spot in the Suburban Council after she made second and third in previous years. Cairns was selected the Suburban Council Player of the Year after a prior pair of first-team nods. Flaherty averaged 18.3 points with 49 3s and was a superb 85.6 percent (95 of 111) from the line. Cairns averaged 17 points with 43 3s and was a equally adept at the line at 89.6 percent (95 of 106).
"In the games they didn't score the most, they did everything else," Chudy said.
Flaherty excelled defensively, averaged 2.5 assists and the same amount of rebounds, and scored 20 points or more eight times with a high of 27 twice. She reached double digits in every game for the 17-6 Blue Streaks.
"She's very smart and knows where to get to," Chudy said of the 5-foot-8 Flaherty, Saratoga's Holy Cross-bound team captain who piled up 1,398 career points. "She is very fast and can stop on a dime and pull up, which creates a lot of space for herself. She can also create and drive."
As the point guard in this backcourt equation, the 5-foot-7 Cairns found Flaherty often over the years with her exquisite ability to handle the ball and feed.
"Her passing is unbelievable," said Chudy, who saw Cairns average 3.8 assists as well as 5.5 rebounds. "She can hit anyone from anywhere."
The junior can score some, too, with her quick release and super-quick moves. Cairns is up to 1,479 career points, and is 39 shy of the school record. Cairns scored in double figures in every game but one this season, with highs of 29, 27 and 26.
"That kid puts in ... I can't tell you. It's crazy," Chudy said of the Gazette All-Area first-team repeater and Division I college prospect. "From practices, she goes and works out. She works out in the morning. She is 100 percent committed."
HARMONY PHILO, GLOVERSVILLE
The key cog in Gloversville's basketball revival, Philo closed out her four-year varsity career with 1,837 points for the No. 17 spot in area history. The Foothills Council MVP and Gazette All-Area first-team repeater averaged 25 points per game this season and sank 83 3-pointers to boost her Section II career record in that category to 284.
She tied her own school mark with eight 8 3s early in the season, and amassed 38 points for the first of two times, in a win over Glens Falls. The Queens College-bound senior also had an outing against Johnstown with seven 3s and 37 points. Philo scored in double figures in every game and hit on 88.6 percent from the line (132 of 149) for the 16-6 Dragons.
"That's one piece of her game," Gloversville coach Molly D'Arcy said of Philo's 3-point proficiency. "We could put her in any position depending on the matchups we had, and she would be comfortable in that role."
From point guard to post player and everywhere in between, Philo set a school record with 551 points this season (she had 518 as a junior), while anchoring Gloversville's 3-2 zone defense with her grit and smarts.
"We shifted her to a lower position because we knew she could handle it," D'Arcy said of her 5-foot-9 team captain. "She communicated well with the other girls and was very good boxing out and rebounding."
Philo represented Gloversville at the recent Section II girls' basketball scholar-athlete dinner.
"She gets it done in class, too," D'Arcy said. "She is a determined young lady. When she sets her mind to something, she gets it done."
Philo was in seventh grade in 2013-14 when Gloversville brought back varsity basketball after a two-year hiatus. Two years later she was in the starting lineup and making things happen.
"We lost five seniors, and this year she stepped up not only as a leader for us, but as a secondary coach," D'Arcy said. "She was good with the younger girls and played a significant role in our development."
Cat Almeida, 12, 6-5, Shenendehowa, 12.4
Graceann Bennett, 12, 6-2, Lake George, 22
Dolly Cairns, 11, 5-7, Saratoga, 17
Kerry Flaherty, 12, 5-8, Saratoga, 18.3
Harmony Philo, 12, 5-9, Gloversville, 25
Hope Sullivan, 11, 5-8, Queensbury, 18.6
Meghan Huerter, 10, 5-10, Shenendehowa, 12.2
Ahniysha Jackson, 11, 5-7, Albany, 16.9
Jackie Stanavich, 10, 5-9, Amsterdam, 16.2
Kelsey Wood, 11, 5-10, Averill Park, 16.4
Hailey Ballard, 11, 6-0, Queensbury, 16.3
Valencia Fontenelle-Posson, 10, 5-10, Guilderland, 20.3
Olivia Olsen, 10, 6-2, Niskayuna, 17.5
Aliyah Wright, 12, 5-4, Colonie, 13.1
Sophie Phillips, 10, 5-11, Cambridge, 17.5
Colonial Council: Olivia Barringer (Voorheesville), Grace Field (Holy Names), Payton Graber (Schalmont), Breanna Lott (Mohonasen), Sabrina Pressley (CR).
Foothills Council: Andie Gannon (Amsterdam), Brinley Inglee (Hudson Falls), Kendra Lavery (Gloversville), Ashlyn O'Neil (Scotia), Makenzie Smith (BP).
Suburban Council: Jenalyse Alarcon (Troy), Ava LaClair (Bethlehem), Graci Serravillo (Guilderland), Lexi Van Vorst (Columbia), Amelia Wood (Averill Park).
Wasaren League: Molly Brophy (Greenwich), Emily Erickson (Tamarac), Charli Goverski (Mechanicville), Lilly Phillips (Cambridge), Logan Thayne (Hoosick Falls),
Western Athletic Conference: Abby Lombardoni (Fonda), Ava Megyeri (NDBG), Madison Meyer (Duanesburg), Avery Mills (Mekeel), Alexis Wright (BKW).
Other: Deja Beauford (Hudson), Sydney Gagnon (North Warren), Amanda Godfrey (Fort Ann), Megan Hughes (Warrensburg), Molly Zahnleuter (Emma Willard).