By MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — It is a rarity for an undefeated Shenendehowa team to be able to claim it is flying under the radar without its collective nose growing a touch — unless, that is, the outfit in question is the Plainsmen boys basketball squad.
With a perfect record through their first eight games and an average victory margin of 27.9 points per game through those contests, the team has built itself an impressive resume this year. Yet, the Plainsmen have been left out of the first three batches of state rankings this season and are often similarly left out of best-in-the-area discussions that usually center around Albany Academy, Green Tech and Scotia-Glenville.
And that’s just fine with the Plainsmen.
“You always hope to be recognized, to be ranked like that, but it doesn’t bother us too much. We know it’s hype,” Shenendehowa senior guard Thomas Huerter said at a recent practice. “We don’t need people to think we’re good for us to be able to go out and win games.”
“We’re trying not to worry too much about things like rankings,” said senior forward Brandon Fischer. “We know what we want to accomplish.”
That goal is a simple one for the squad: to win a sectional title.
The Plainsmen boys have not won a title since 1996 and the Suburban Council drought goes back to 1999, but Shenendehowa head coach Tony Dzikas said he does not think either of those dry spells is what drives his squad.
“Kids are funny like that; I don’t think it affects them,” he said. “They’re just in it to win it this year, and all they know is they’ve never won it.”
So far, the Plainsmen have done everything they could to put themselves in an advantageous situation for the end of the season. The club recently blasted past a pair of out-of-section opponents,
Auburn and Baldwinsville, by a combined 91 points in a holiday tournament in Syracuse; star junior guard Kevin Huerter has continued to develop into one of Section II’s top players and was named the MVP of that tournament. And the squad’s defense has been exceptional, allowing only 38.3 points per game this season.
Most important, though, Thomas Huerter said, has been the degree to which the team’s depth has been a weapon, with guys such as junior forwards Petar Bebic and Michael Gillooley, and senior forwards Matt Alverson and Erik Kromer contributing in major ways.
“We knew coming into the season that we’d get a lot from a lot of different people, but we’ve had more of that than expected,” said Thomas Huerter. “A lot of different guys are playing their roles well and doing things beyond scoring.”
That depth has helped to make practices more competitive than normal for the Plainsmen, something that has helped the squad to stay focused on a day-to-day basis. There still are some days where the team lacks its full energy at practice, and Dzikas said it is on those days where he will bring up those state rankings or area discussions that leave Shenendehowa out of the mix. It is a trick he said he does not use often, but does not mind pulling out.
“It’s a four-month-long season and you have some long days in there,” he said. “On those days where we look like we’re not pushing ourselves the hardest, it’s nice to be able to say: ‘Hey, don’t act like you’re all that good because — obviously — there’s people out there that think you aren’t.’”
So, Shenendehowa will keep plugging away, first with league games this week. The Plainsmen were to play at Mohonasen on Jan. 6 and against Niskayuna on Jan. 9. Breaking that championship-less streak is something the Plainsmen cannot do too much about for a couple months, but a new set of state rankings comes out each week.
“But [being ranked] is not our goal,” said Fischer. “If it happens, it happens, but we just want to keep winning games.”
“The only rankings we care about are how we finish at the end of the season,” Thomas Huerter said.