Undefeated girls hoops squad heads to playoffs

Members of the Niskayuna Girls Travel Basketball Junior B team are shown at a Feb. 23 practice in Niskayuna. Top row, from left, are head coach Steve Souky, Nora Lennon, Natalie Prian, Sophia DeAngelo, Lila Conners, Lizzie Stoffer, assistant coach Marcie Stoffer; bottom row, from left, are Emma Souky, Ava Mygeri, Olivia Piraino, Kate St. Lucia, and Allison Malatesta. Missing from the photo is Katie Hessler. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)Members of the Niskayuna Girls Travel Basketball Junior B team are shown at a Feb. 23 practice in Niskayuna. Top row, from left, are head coach Steve Souky, Nora Lennon, Natalie Prian, Sophia DeAngelo, Lila Conners, Lizzie Stoffer, assistant coach Marcie Stoffer; bottom row, from left, are Emma Souky, Ava Mygeri, Olivia Piraino, Kate St. Lucia, and Allison Malatesta. Missing from the photo is Katie Hessler. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

BY MICHAEL KELLY
Gazette Reporter

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.

Olivia Piraino, a member of the Niskayuna Girls Travel Basketball Junior B team, is shown at a Feb. 23 practice in Niskayuna.

Olivia Piraino, a member of the Niskayuna Girls Travel Basketball Junior B team, is shown at a Feb. 23 practice in Niskayuna. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

“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.

Emma Souky, a member of the Niskayuna Girls Travel Basketball Junior B team, is shown at a Feb. 23 practice in Niskayuna. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

Emma Souky, a member of the Niskayuna Girls Travel Basketball Junior B team, is shown at a Feb. 23 practice in Niskayuna. (Michael Kelly/Gazette Reporter)

“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.

About the Author

Michael Kelly
Michael Kelly is a sports reporter for Your Clifton Park and Your Niskayuna, weekly print publications of The Daily Gazette. Kelly grew up in Clifton Park and graduated from Shenendehowa High School in 2006. He is also a 2010 graduate of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism. Kelly's work has been honored by the New York News Publishers Association, the New York State Associated Press Association, and the Associated Press Sports Editors. His work has previously been featured in The (Amsterdam) Recorder, The Saratogian, and Albany Times Union.