NISKAYUNA — It was a half-court shot, yes, but senior star Dolly Cairns was the one taking it.
So Saratoga Springs girls’ basketball head coach Robin Chudy smiled at the sight of that shot swishing through the basket as the halftime buzzer sounded Thursday at Niskayuna High School, but she didn’t shake her head in disbelief.
“You know, I’m not [surprised], because she practices that a lot,” Chudy said. “This kid is in the gym all the time.”
But the half-court shot, that’s one Cairns spends time making sure she’s comfortable shooting?
“At the end of practice,” Cairns said, “I like to throw up a few just in case [for] situations like that.”
That 3-pointer from way downtown was one of seven Cairns made in leading Saratoga Springs to a 69-55 win against Niskayuna in a matchup pitting Suburban Council teams that both brought undefeated records into Thursday’s showdown. Cairns, who committed to play for the University of Rhode Island last summer, had a game-high 31 points in the victory.
“It’s a really good win,” Cairns said. “We really executed our defensive plan. We made our shots, but, really, defense was our main focus this game and we executed well.”
Atop that defensive agenda for Saratoga Springs (3-0, 4-0) was slowing Niskayuna (2-1, 4-1) junior Olivia Olsen, who entered Thursday’s game averaging 25 points for a Silver Warriors squad averaging 79 points per game. The Blue Streaks were able to limit Olsen — who offered several emphatic blocked shots on defense — to 14 points, but sophomore Heather Schmidt scored 20 for Niskayuna and senior Natalie Prian added 13.
Freshmen Natasha Chudy and Lauren Patnode each scored 14 points for Saratoga Springs, last season’s Section II Class AA runner-up. The Blue Streaks led 21-9 after one quarter, and Niskayuna never was able to catch up from there despite the game’s middle quarters featuring fast-paced, quality play from both teams. Saratoga Springs used a mini-run at the end of the third quarter to bring a 52-43 lead into the fourth, and the Blue Streaks maintained at least a nine-point lead the rest of the way.
“I certainly don’t want them to hang their heads,” Niskayuna head coach Sarah Neely said of her players. “There’s things that we did that we need to improve on offense and defense, but it’s early in the season and we have to build from what we learned in this game.”
So far this season, Niskayuna has shown it has the potential to compete with the top teams in the Suburban Council. Saratoga Springs is one of those likely contenders, and the Silver Warriors were a fantastic shot from Cairns away from getting into Thursday’s halftime only down three points.
“I think they have something special,” Neely said of her group. “We need to keep improving on it, and I think this year could be really exciting for us.”
Years ago, Cairns was a potential star. Called up the varsity ranks midway through her seventh-grade season, the 5-foot-7 lead guard has improved each season.
“My confidence level has gone up through the years,” Cairns said.
Earlier this season, Cairns became her program’s all-time leading scorer. Besides all the points Cairns provides, Robin Chudy’s team has learned to lean on the star guard as a coach on the floor.
“She’s been around for so long that we just take for granted all the great things she does — and that’s one of the things, the leadership on the court, which is awesome,” Chudy said.
Averaging 30.3 points per game, Cairns has been a model of consistency so far this season. The senior has scored 31 points twice, 30 once and 29 in the Blue Streaks’ other game.
Wins, though, are what Cairns covets, and Saratoga Springs has four of those through four games this season, a stretch in which Thursday’s 14-point win was the most competitive game the Blue Streaks have played.
“Just a great team win, overall,” Cairns said.
Saratoga Springs 21 16 15 17 — 69
Niskayuna 9 22 12 12 — 55
Saratoga Springs scoring: Cairns 11-2-31, Ray 2-3-7, Claeson 1-1-3, Chudy 5-4-14, Patnode 6-0-14. Niskayuna scoring: Owens 1-2-4, Souky 1-0-2, Schmidt 10-0-20, Prian 4-3-13, Olsen 7-0-14, Endres 1-0-2. Scoring totals: Saratoga Springs 25-10-69, Niskayuna 24-5-55.