BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Early last week, it hit Joe Murphy.
Sorting through items for the Shenendehowa girls’ basketball team’s Feb. 5 Senior Night against Niskayuna, the fourth-year head coach started to lament the players he’ll lose when this season closes.
“I just can’t believe these guys are finally graduating,” he said. “They’ve been with me for so long.”
Since Murphy took over the Plainsmen prior to the 2012-13 season, his program has largely been built around this year’s eight-deep senior class. Carly Boland and Samira Sangare have been around since the start of that first season; Morgan O’Brien, Victoria Pardi, Sydney Quinn, and Paris Smith joined at the start of the next season; and, Courtney Guiry and Erica Ryan were around by the time Shenendehowa’s march to a Section II Class AA title began in the 2013-14 postseason.
“They were all there,” Murphy said.
They’re all here this season, too, as Shenendehowa — ranked as high as No. 3 in the state this year with a 15-2 record through Feb. 1 — appears likely to collect to a Suburban Council title and assume the position as favorite in this year’s sectionals. But what Murphy most likes about the first group he’s taken from its freshman to senior seasons has little to do with its on-court production.
“People comment to me on how well the play together, but they all get along together off the court, too,” Murphy said. “They’re a great group of kids — who play basketball.”
Through Feb. 1, members from this season’s Shenendehowa senior class have been a part of 66 victories. Since all eight hit the varsity level, they’ve lost five total games — one of which was a regional final, while another was a sectional title game.
“They just keep getting better and better,” Murphy said. “It’s been really fun for me to see them grow, to watch them change.”
Boland, the team’s top star, said the best part about that success has been experiencing it with girls she’s played with for so long.
“We’re very happy with who we did it with,” Boland said. “We’ve won all these games with our best friends.”
“We’ve been together since, like, second grade,” O’Brien said.
Shenendehowa lost its first games of the season Jan. 30-31 while in the Bronx for a hoops showcase. While those losses took away the Plainsmen’s undefeated season, this group of is used to using its rare defeats as fuel to come back stronger. That’s been the case throughout the 2015-16 season, O’Brien said, which has been aimed toward the singular focus of winning an area title after last year’s championship-game loss.
“We learned a lot from that,” she said. “It was a good experience and we grew from it. We’re worker harder now and we know what our end goal is for this year.”