BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Two seasons ago, the core group of this year’s Niskayuna Girls Travel Basketball Junior B team played together for the first time and barely finished above .500.
This season, the squad completed an undefeated regular season Feb. 15 with a 55-27 smashing of North Colonie, and heads into the Capital District Girls Basketball League postseason tournament Feb. 28 and March 1 as the top seed.
“We’ve really connected as teammates this year,” said Lila Conners, one of the team’s top scorers.
“We’re able to trust each other and work better together.”
The Junior B squad is made up of 11 seventh-graders, 10 of whom are in the Niskayuna Central School District, while one attends private school. After treading water during its first season together, head coach Steve Souky said the core of this year’s Junior B team made it to the postseason’s Final Four last season before its 15-0 regular season in 2014-15.
“We’ve always focused on skill work more than plays at practice, and all the kids are phenomenal ball-handlers. They can really dribble,” said Souky, whose daughter Emma is on the squad. “We also have three or four girls that can really shoot it. … As a team, we shoot about 70 percent at the foul line.”
The coach said the squad had a strong AAU season together after its travel season a year ago. Still, Emma Souky said the Junior B team was surprised this season when it got off to such a hot start.
“I didn’t think we could be this good,” she said.
In the eighth game of the season, the Junior B team picked up a victory against rival Albany. That win, Steve Souky said, cemented the team’s place as the top dog in the league.
“We were the last two undefeated teams,” he said.
The Junior B team plays in a league consisting of clubs from around the region made up of seventh- and eighth-graders, though the rosters of competitors in the Junior B team’s division are nearly all filled with seventh-graders.
Niskayuna plays Schalmont in its postseason opener Feb. 28 at Bethlehem. With a win, the Niskayuna squad would advance to play later that day against either No. 8 Brunswick or No. 9 Guilderland.
If the Niskayuna squad makes it through the Feb. 28 rounds, it would have a semifinal game March 1 in Clifton Park before a potential championship game later that day in Averill Park.
While the club’s players were excited for the two-day tournament, they said it is also sad to see their magical season coming to a close.
“It’s a little bittersweet, just because it’s going to be over,” said Conners. “But we’re all excited to try to get to the championship.”
“We’re all friends, and we always have fun together,” said Emma Souky. “There’s no drama, ever. We all love each other.”
Besides Conners and Emma Souky, other team members are Sophia DeAngelo, Katie Hessler, Nora Lennon, Allison Malatesta, Ava Mygeri, Olivia Piraino, Natalie Prian, Kate St. Lucia, and Lizzie Stoffer. Marcie Stoffer is the team’s assistant coach.
The Niskayuna squad enters the postseason as the only team in the league to own wins against each member of the rest of the field.
Prian said the Junior B squad is a confident bunch heading into the tournament. “We’ve beat them [all] once, so I think we can do it again,” she said.