BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Against an uncommon opponent, an unusual tactic was needed for the Niskayuna girls’ basketball team to secure a much-needed victory.
Playing host Dec. 29 to Schalmont in a non-league game, head coach Sarah Neely had her zone-heavy Silver Warriors turn to a man-to-man defense midway through the second quarter. Her team responded to the ploy with a decisive 18-4 run, leading to a 62-41 Niskayuna victory.
“We haven’t played a lot of man-to-man this season — and, especially the past couple games, we’ve looked really good in our zones,” Neely said. “But [Schalmont] has a lot of outside shooters, so [our zone] didn’t work great for us. Once we went man, it clicked.”
While Neely and Schalmont head coach Jeff Van Hoesen each wanted a win from a matchup pitting Schenectady County squads, both also took the day’s contest as a chance to try out new things away from the pressure of league play. For Niskayuna, that meant ditching its traditional zone defense for a full-court, man-to-man approach, while Colonial Council-based Schalmont viewed its opportunity to play a Suburban Council foe as a means to expose weaknesses it needs to fix before the postseason rolls around.
“We knew it was going to be a big challenge playing a [Class AA] school. This is an absolute challenge. We had to stay poised, stay together as a group,” Van Hoesen said. “This really gave us a chance to work on some things and see some new things.”
Like, how to deal with a 6-foot-3 post player such as Niskayuna sophomore Olivia Owens. The Silver Warriors star scored 15 points on six shot attempts while grabbing 13 rebounds.
“She does an awesome job,” Van Hoesen said of Owens. “She’s an unbelievable threat for them.”
Early in the matchup, Schalmont was able to stay with Niskayuna. Using a perimeter-based attack, Schalmont took a 17-15 lead early in the second quarter before Niskayuna made its defensive switch.
“They were killing us. It got ridiculous,” said Niskayuna senior guard Deirdre Schutzman, who had 10 points and five steals. “We were in a 2-3 zone, then a 3-2, and then coach had us go into the man.”
Upon the switch, the Silver Warriors sandwiched halftime with their 18-4 run. While the pressure defense helped force 25 Schalmont turnovers, Niskayuna also experienced some technical issues with its new look.
“It was really tempting to try to double down on players since we’re always doing that in our zone,” Schutzman said. “That got us a few times.”
For Niskayuna, senior forward Olivia Souky scored a game-high 19 points, while senior guard Taylor Green added seven points. Schalmont junior guard Sydnee Metzold scored 17 points to lead her team.
After playing Schalmont, Niskayuna turned around the next day and defeated Voorheesville — another Colonial Council squad — with a come-from-behind 49-46 win. Niskayuna used a 19-5 third quarter to overcome a 25-17 halftime deficit.
Against Voorheesville, both Owens and Souky scored 13 points to lead the Silver Warriors. Niskayuna improved to 3-6 with the win.
Before her team played Voorheesville, Niskayuna’s Green said getting a clean sweep of its winter break games was crucial for her squad.
“Our record isn’t great right now, but if we can get these couple games, get a couple wins, it will build up our confidence and prepare us for the harder games later in the season,” she said.