BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — In the days leading up to the Shenendehowa boys basketball team’s March 27 semifinal contest in the Federation Tournament of Champions, senior guard Thomas Huerter said it was tough, at times, for the Plainsmen to stay focused at practice. Their dream season now had an expiration date, and there was nothing they could do about it.
“It was very bittersweet,” Huerter said of the team’s final practices.
“[That the season could end] was in the back of our minds the whole postseason,” said junior guard Petar Bebic. “We kept on winning, but we knew it was going to end eventually.”
The Plainsmen lost in that semifinal at UAlbany’s SEFCU Arena, but a victory that night against Wings Academy would have extended Shenendehowa’s season only one more day. That knowledge chipped away a bit at the spirit of a squad that had spent its season pushing toward the public school state championship it had won March 22 against Brentwood.
“If we had won this [Federation] tournament, it still would have hurt [because it was over],” said junior guard Kevin Huerter. “It’s deflating, but we’re proud of our accomplishments, the year we had. It was going to end at some point and we knew that — we just didn’t want it to.”
“We made the season as long as possible, minus one day,” senior forward Brandon Fischer said.
The Plainsmen’s lone loss in the 2014-15 season came with their 44-35 defeat to Wings Academy, a loss that followed 25 consecutive victories for head coach Tony Dzikas’ squad. In the process of its 25-0 start, Shenendehowa won its first Section II title since 1996, and its first regional and state championships since 1987. Dzikas said a single loss in what essentially amounted to a bonus tournament for the Plainsmen did nothing to diminish their historic campaign.
“Despite the disappointment of tonight, it’s not going to take away how much pride I have in what was accomplished this year,” he said after his team’s loss. “We had a great group of young men who gave their heart and soul to Shenendehowa, the basketball program. I’ll remember them forever and they’ll always be a part of my life. I’m certain of that.”
All season, the Plainsmen had been focused on winning a Section II title. Once they had topped Guilderland to achieve that goal, though, Thomas Huerter said the Plainsmen began to dream bigger.
“In the locker room after that game, we all said how we weren’t done,” he said. “We wanted to keep winning and keep that feeling.”
Shenendehowa’s defense carried it in 2014-15. In 26 games, the Plainsmen allowed an average of 42.2 points per game and kept opponents to fewer than 40 points on 11 occasions. In one stretch, Shenendehowa went four consecutive games allowing 28 or fewer points.
Offensively, the club relied on its pair of Huerter brothers to carry it on a nightly basis, but Shenendehowa’s effort on the defensive end of the court was always about the entire team working together. Using their 3-2 zone defense, the Plainsmen’s pieces always were shifting in unison, communicating verbally and with hand gestures in an effort to shut down opponents.
The bond and cohesion developed during the course of years playing together helped to make such a stingy defense possible. With no more games to play together this season and with five seniors set to graduate, the Plainsmen will have a different look when they come together for their 2015-16 season.
This year’s state champions, though, will always be connected.
“We’re a tight group and that won’t change,” said Fischer. “We’ll be friends throughout our lives.”
Shenendehowa boys basketball, by the numbers:
- 2014-2015 Season Record: 25-1
- Average points scored: 67.3
- Average points allowed: 42.2
- Average victory margin: 25.1
- Largest victory margin: 53 (vs. Niskayuna)
- Smallest victory margin: 4 (at Colonie)