Both teams feel like they could have done better this year, but for the boys, it was still good enough to give them an opportunity to seek on court redemption in the sectionals: They finished their MHAL season at 8-6, with a 3-3 record against divisional opponents.
“I feel that, yes, we can always do better,” said senior guard Lucas Veltrie. “But we played hard, and it’s still not over. We definitely have a chance to go far in sectionals.”
The Sawyers opened their season winning their own Shane Geisler memorial tournament and picked up big wins during the regular run against teams like Ellenville and Wallkill; the former finished 11-3 overall and look to be the kind of opponent the confident Saugerties team will have to oust if they want to continue playing well into March.
That win against Ellenville, a stunning 69-51 home win on January 28, was symbolic of what the Sawyers are capable of when they’re firing on all cylinders: A high-octane offense led by perimeter shooting coupled with a stifling defense.
“In the Ellenville game, we were shooting the ball very well and played great defense against a good team to win by double digits,” said Veltrie.
Senior point guard Connor Hicks agreed.
“The team’s best performance was against Ellenville, a team that had the best player in our league,” he said. “We came in like our backs were against the wall and that we had to prove something. Sure enough, we came in, shut him down, and blew them out. We played the hardest basketball we’d played all season. That team went on to play in the MHAL championship game.”
A 72-70 home overtime win against Wallkill on January 14 was also regarded as significant by some Sawyers because it showed their ability to close out when the game was on the line.
“In the Wallkill game we had four people in double-digits and really became closer as a team with the win in OT,” Veltrie said, adding that one of his personal top moments during the season was icing that game with a pair of late free throws.
Senior guard Nick Gruccio said one of his highlights came in a road win.
“If I had to pick one it would be the FDR game when we beat them at home for their senior night and almost couldn’t get home because they did stuff to our bus,” he said, noting the vandalism the team’s transportation took after coming away with a 45-44 win.
Hicks also noted that he enjoyed some good-natured hazing at the expense of the team’s youngest players.
“My fondest memories from this season included getting the sophomores to man up,” he said. “We teased them mercilessly, made them sweep floors, empty water jugs, but it was all in good fun. I had a lot of fun with them, and everybody on this team for that matter.”
But it wasn’t all high points for the Sawyer boys, and if they draw upon their victories for inspiration as they head into the sectional playoffs, they might also look back upon their disappointments.
“One thing we really wanted to do though was win the division and get a shot at winning MHAL’s, but we came up just short of that goal,” Hicks said. “That was especially disappointing as a senior. Everybody knows how bright the future of this program is, and we all know that this team is going to be winning divisions for years to come, and will probably go further than that. But winning a division is something we really wanted to do this year, so it’s a bit disappointing.”
Gruccio said it was difficult to look back at the season when there was still basketball to be played.
“I feel like this season was a great year, but it’s not over so I can’t really say how I feel yet,” he said. “I believe the fondest memories for my season are yet to come.”
For the girls, the season was also not without its disappointment, but it was also a year full of potential. That potential, in a 4-10 overall season with a 2-4 divisional record, may not be realized in the standings until next year.
“I feel like our record doesn’t reflect how we played,” said senior center Rebecca Curley. “We went into overtime multiple times against good teams, but just came up short at the end. We improved a lot as the year progressed.”
Though Curley and other strong senior players like Emily Rowan won’t be a part of the team’s winning future, the strides the Sawyers made this year couldn’t have happened without them. Not only did they leave their mark, but they also helped some of the team’s new blood find their rhythm.
“I felt that this season was a big step up for some of the younger girls including myself,” said junior shooting guard Jamie Whittam. “The game is much faster but by the first couple games we really were able to step up.”
Curley said the team’s best performance might have come in a 70-59 overtime road loss.
“The level of intensity that we played with in the Ellenville game is a game that comes to mind,” she said. “I think that our team’s best performance was the Ellenville game, and the last home game against Wallkill on senior night. We unfortunately lost both games, but they were good games. We went into overtime against Ellenville and lost by 11, which is such an improvement from last year because Ellenville creamed us. We came to play that game; we hit the majority of our shots. And everything that we’ve been working at just came together.”
That senior night game, a 41-37 loss to Wallkill, provided Curley with some of her own personal highlights for the year.
“Against Wallkill, I hit my three and then Emily Rowan hit a three, and we stole the ball multiple times in a row right after that,” Curley said, adding that she was also thrilled to sing the national anthem before the game. “We played like a team, and none of us got mad during the game and had an attitude. It was the last game, and we all just had such a good time and played good.”
Whittam said the team came together over the course of the year, making them stronger as they look forward to 2011-12.
“Throughout the season we all became the best of friends,” she said. “Of course there is going to be drama, we’re teenage girls. But overall we knew we were a team and had to stick together through it all. That’s probably the best part about our team; we stick together no matter what.”
Whittam said the team’s performance wasn’t all about their win-loss record.
“You might read in the paper, ‘Saugerties girls’ basketball has a losing record,’ but you never really saw how we played,” she said. “We could have had such a good game, all our shooters were on, our posts (were)getting a lot of rebounds, and you don’t see in the paper all the charge fouls and how well we kept up with other teams. A lot of the time we would keep right up with every team right until the very end.”
Junior guard Martene Henriksen agreed.
“We really showed Saugerties what girls’ basketball is about this season,” she said. “For every game, we’ve given our hardest, and that’s all you can ask for. A couple of games were very tough losses because of how close the score was, but we always looked ahead.”
The players said the second year under head coach Steve Buonfiglio was a success, who gave the team considerable enjoyment with his use of “text talk.”
“I liked having coach Buonfiglio as our coach this year,” Curley said. “He picked up on the lingo that we use at practice and started using it, it’s really funny.”