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Thursday, 25 February 2016 11:12

Saratoga Girls Basketball: Bright History, Bright Future

By | Sports

The Saratoga Girls varsity basketball team had a successful season this year. I would like to congratulate Coach Robin Chudy and her staff on their accomplishments, and especially the girls, a young team with a bright future on the horizon. Coach Chudy mentioned that they won a sectional game for the first time in quite a while. 


Here's a little history about the post season play of girls basketball at Saratoga over the past 15 years: In 2001 and 2002, they made it to the final four of AA Sectional play; in 2008 they won a first round game at Schenectady, and in 2010 the Lady Streaks defeated Bishop Maginn, also in the first round, both years losing in the quarter finals.


Before that, in 1998 I was enticed to coach the girls after my retirement from the boys program.  I saw a game in 1998 when the Saratoga girls were playing archrival, Shenendehowa.  Saratoga lost that game by 40 plus points. I thought that coaching the girls would be a great challenge for me as a basketball coach, especially after 27 years of coaching the boys. The Shen girls always had the reputation of winning lopsided contests throughout the league. The Lady Plainsmen were at a much higher level than any other team in the Suburban Council, especially with their infamous full court pressure defense.


In 1999, the girls coaching position opened and I had already retired from the boys program. I felt a need for a new challenge as a basketball coach. Given the position, I knew it was important for me to get other people involved in this program, people who could help the girls with their game and plant the seeds for success.  I asked Rich Johns to assist me, he was so good with kids and knew the game, and we had a long history of coaching together. I went after Steve Lombard, the current principal at Saratoga Catholic Central. Steve had an extensive basketball background and I thought we could use his help at any level. Coach Annie Testa, now Ann Sweeney, was a student teaching at that time at Saratoga and she asked me if she could get involved.  We took her into the program through the suggestion of Sue Hoffman, her supervising teacher, and saw her as a good role model for the girls.  In addition, there were tenured coaches, Michael Carney the JV coach, Frank Smith was the freshman coach (later the freshman position was vacated by Coach Smith and the late Brenda Adams took the job) and Warren Dart who was the modified coach.


We had the good fortune of having one of the most influential parents, a workhorse, John Irving, who was already involved with the program. John had organized the travel program for Saratoga's younger girls, with the help of Dave Wickerham. John and I became good friends, and I was able to get him involved with much more than the travel team. We teamed up to develop a viable booster club, with the help of long time Blue Streak supporter Clayton Chubb and his late wife Barb. John Irving, Rich Johns and I reinstated a somewhat defunct preexisting girls summer basketball program- eventually it became the leader in the area.  We added to the off-season a scholastic indoor summer basketball league with two Saratoga teams and teams from Ballston Spa, Burnt Hills, Salem, Schuylerville, Hoosic Valley, Stillwater, Saratoga Catholic, Mechanicville and Lake George.  Also, for the Saratoga's girls we had two one-week sessions of basketball camps.


With the help of Robert Stulmaker, Director of Athletics, I requested new, gender appropriate uniforms to replace all of the antiquated hand-me-down from the boys.


I had a somewhat unintentional subtle challenge after a discussion with a coach who was in the program, he said that a couple of problems existed for the Saratoga girls, they couldn't shoot from the outside, or play man to man defense. This became a personal challenge and I had to prove him wrong. I was confident we could teach those skills to anyone willing to work.  Also, in my first meet-the-players night I made a promise to the Saratoga parents and the girls, that before I retired we will defeat Shenendehowa. In the SSHS girls basketball history, never did the Lady Streaks defeat the Plainsmen.


In our first year we were able to win 7 games. We won an opening season invitational tournament at Cohoes by upsetting Shaker, a Suburban Council rival. The excitement was building. This gave me a belief that our off-season program would eventually evolve into paying dividends for girls hoop. 


After 13 total wins in the initial 2-year period, we actually became contenders in one of the most prolific girls' basketball leagues in New York State.  The 2000-2001 season was the beginning of a Blue Streak rebirth of competitive girls basketball, the Lady Blue Streaks were no longer the doormat of the Suburban Council. Our regular season record was 14 wins and 6 losses. In the 2001 sectionals, we were a number 6 seed in our AA bracket. We won our first round game by 8 points against number 4 seed Amsterdam. We moved on to play the number 1 seed, tournament favorite, our archrival, Shenendehowa. Shen, league champs, with only one loss, defeated us twice during the regular season. This was a game to remember. We broke the curse - the Lady Streaks upset Shen by 18 points, we literally ate up that notoriously infamous full-court press. We went off to the Final Four at Hudson Valley, due to a slow start, we lost by 11 to the number 2 seed in the semifinals to Catholic Central of Troy. Our season ended with a more than respectable 16 and 7 record, in addition, one of our girls was an AA All-Star Sectional Team pick.


The following year, with an identical regular season record of 14 and 6, we again traveled to Amsterdam, and both schools had the same seeding from the previous year. This time we pulled off another upset over the Rams, winning by 3 points. We had a steal in the last 7 seconds while up by one, and made 2 foul shots to ice the win with just 2 seconds on the clock.  On to Bethlehem for the quarterfinals, the Suburban Council Gold Division Champions, a team that narrowly beat us during the regular season. The Eagles had a 6'5" center, committed to Holy Cross, the league's top scorer and rebounder, so we knew we had our work cut out for us.  We did it again, with an upset win by 9 points.  A few days later we fell to top ranked Colonie, a number one seed, by 12 in the semifinal of our second consecutive Final Four. Shenendehowa earned the AA Championship in 2002 by defeating Colonie. We mirrored our previous year's record of 16 and 7, and again had a girl named as a Sectional All-Star.


In the time period between 2002 and 2006 the girls varsity program went .500 or better in almost every season, as well as having two other wins over Shenendehowa. Mike Hall took the varsity position in 2006, stepping up from coaching the freshmen team, and along with Rich Johns as his assistant they kept things going. I volunteered to coach and help Annie Testa, who became the new freshmen coach. Hall and Johns led the program to a first round 2008 AA Sectionals victory by upsetting Schenectady High School. After 2 years at the helm Coach Hall, had to leave because of family commitments. In the 2008-09 season Coach Johns took the head coaching position, having Coach Testa as his paid assistant and me as his volunteer assistant. In the 2010 sectional play Saratoga was up against Big Ten Runner Up, Bishop Maginn, and won with an upset. Also, during the 2008-09 season we brought in the late Mike Nolan, as a volunteer assistant coach, he was a very successful retired basketball coach from South Glens Falls and was a big help. Rich Johns decided to retire at the end of the 2010 school year, and as things go, it wasn't going to be the same for me so I decided not to coach any longer.


A note: Coach Nolan passed away in January of 2010 from complications from lung cancer, a sad moment for us all. 


That’s a summary of how Saratoga Springs High School Girls' Basketball succeeded historically over the past couple decades, especially during the post-season sectional play. How it grew from obscurity into a competitive program, with contributions from many people and especially the girls from those teams. I have always believed in the necessity and the importance of an off-season program - this was a philosophical approach I started with the boys in 1974-75 with summer leagues and camps. These programs were springboards for Saratoga High School Basketball, and it was the girls and boys who were willing to put time into their game that made this the real story!


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