BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Megan Gillooley remembers getting wished “good luck” a few too many times before this season started. Cam Tooley knew few had Shenendehowa pegged as a favorite within the Section II Class AA girls’ basketball scene. Finding her team’s doubters, Claire Drum said, was too easy.
“It was basically everybody except ourselves,” said Drum, a junior. “Well, and our parents.”
Yet, here are the Plainsmen, sectional champions again. After graduating eight seniors from last year’s state runner-up squad and also seeing star Sydney Brown leave the program to play prep hoops, a nearly all-new cast of Plainsmen has Shenendehowa one win away from heading back to the state final four.
“I mean, I don’t think anyone had us in this position,” said Tooley, a junior. “They would have thought you were crazy.”
“But everyone doubting us helped bring us together,” said Gillooley, another Shenendehowa junior. “We wanted to prove people wrong.”
Shenendehowa returned two players for this year’s team in Tooley and fellow junior Alexandra Tudor. Those two juniors star and score the bulk of Shenendehowa’s points, while Drum, Gillooley and sophomore Cat Almeida lead the way in providing the needed defense and extra scoring punch for head coach Joe Murphy’s team.
“Each kid here has their own speciality and they understand that,” said Murphy, Shenendehowa’s fifth-year head coach who has won three sectional titles. “They all have played to their strengths.”
That has Shenendehowa (21-2) set to play Saturday for a regional championship in a 4 p.m. matchup with West Genesee (Section III, 21-2) at Onondaga Community College. West Genesee won its sectional title with a 51-42 victory against Liverpool, a team Shenendehowa beat 73-37 earlier this season.
“With everyone we have, we’ll be fine,” Tooley said. “It’s been a team effort all year.”
During Shenendehowa’s first preseason practice, Murphy said he addressed the losses his team had sustained from the prior season. Those departures, he told his group, were no excuse and Murphy reminded his team after one of its first wins that the program’s internal expectations had not changed from prior seasons.
“Hey, we’re not surprising ourselves,” Murphy told them. “We’re Shen. We expect to go into every game as the favorite. Outside people can doubt us, but we’re expecting to win.”
The Plainsmen won their first four games of the season, and then won 13 more in a row after losing to Bethlehem in December. Still, Columbia and Shaker — teams Shenendehowa beat in the final two rounds of the area playoffs — played out most of the 2016-17 season as co-favorites, something that was fine with a Shenendehowa team that needed time for its players to grow confident and comfortable in their roles.
“Definitely not being at the top, people don’t have their eyes on you as much,” Tooley said. “We had a lot of time to prepare because of that.”
Few people now are doubting the Plainsmen. A regular-season loss to Shaker broke Shenendehowa’s 13-game winning streak, but the Plainsmen head into Saturday’s contest on a five-game winning streak during which they have avenged both of their losses.
“I can’t wait,” Tooley said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”