With high-caliber girls’ hoops programs at two high schools, this time of year is generally hopping — both Kingston High and John A. Coleman Catholic High entered the Section 9 postseason as the top-ranked team in their class. Only one team still remains.
The Tigers went into the playoffs looking to defend their four-year reign as Class AA champions in a season which they overcame the loss of a strong senior class to remain a dominant league force. But after a tough 49-41 loss to Warwick in the sectional title game at SUNY New Paltz, the Tigers are left reflecting on the season rather than gearing up for regional action.
“Losing is always going to be tough, so I took it pretty hard,” said Shamari Brodhead, a junior who returned to Kingston this season after one year at Coleman. “I felt even worse that we couldn’t get it all for our senior, Sarah Longto.”
In prior years, Longto was primarily utilized as a defensive stopper and rebounder who created opportunities for the team’s primary scorers like Rachel Coffey and Charlise Castro. As the team’s starting center and veteran varsity leader, Longto accentuated her game this season with an eye on offense, especially a fadeaway jumper.
“I feel this year the season ended too early,” Longto said. “However, losing nine seniors last year and coming this far this year is a nice feeling. A highlight was playing at New Paltz, even though we lost in the finals.”
Longto helped keep the Tigers in the game against Warwick with what has become a typically strong showing, scoring 23 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. She scored 10 of her points in the final frame, helping Kingston come back from a 17-point deficit with just over five minutes remaining in regulation. Brodhead added six points in defeat, while Heavenly Rayford and Tricia Sentar each added four.
“I thought we were physically prepared but mentally we weren’t,” Longto said.
Lyric Blanch, a freshman reserve guard who seems likely to be a big part of the Tigers’ future, was pragmatic.
“Going into the sectional game nobody expected us to win,” she said. “It was hard in the locker room we all said we wanted to come out number one because we wanted to show everyone that Kingston didn’t make it that far because of Coffey and them; we always make it this far because the hard work we put in every practice. It hurt and everyone was hurt in the locker room but we had nothing to lose because Warwick has mostly seniors and we had two. Next year, we’ll be the team to beat, not them.”
Blanch, Rayford and Brodhead are among the crop strong players expected to return next season as head coach Steve Garner looks to build on the strides his young squad has already taken. They’ll have to continue the journey without Longto.
“It’s hard knowing that I won’t be wearing a Kingston jersey next season,” she said. “I love playing for Coach Garner; he’s a great coach.”
While Tiger girls’ basketball is over for the season, Coleman’s journey still continues. The Stateswomen overcame an atypically brutal shooting performance in the Section 9, Class D title game at SUNY New Paltz on Monday to beat Livingston Manor 44-34. Coleman went 16-for-72 from the field, and hit just 12 of their 38 free throw attempts.
Still, they played well enough to advance to the regional round, where they’ll face off against Section 11 champion Shelter Island in Friday’s matchup at SUNY New Paltz. The winner of that game will move on to the state Final Four.
“Our Sectional game was not what we had expected,” said junior Kate Davis. “We couldn’t find a rhythm and it was difficult to run our offensive sets, but the score ended up in our favor. For me, that Sectional title meant a lot. I know that some of my teammates hadn’t been in a Sectional championship, but for the past two years I got to experience the Stateswomen win back-to-back Sectional titles from the sidelines. Kate Shults and I would always talk about how it would feel when it was ‘our turn’ to step on the court and fight for that same prize. We’ve always been motivated to go and get it ourselves, so it was a special win for us.”
Despite their offensive struggles, the Stateswomen still managed to make the most of a balanced attack against Livingston Manor, with Makenzie Burud tallying 10 points, Shults and Emily Curley scoring nine each, Davis adding eight and Nicole Curley coming off the bench to contribute six.
Freshmen Emily and Nicole Curley transferred to Coleman from Saugerties this year with an eye on being a part of the success that head coach Guy Leonard has carved out. While pundits wondered whether Leonard would be able to maintain his program’s success with last year’s mass exodus through graduation, but this season has answered those concerns. The Stateswomen are 17-2 heading into Friday’s action, and no one on the team is in a hurry to see their run come to an early end.
“Going into the Sectionals as a freshman, I was a little nervous at first,” said Emily Curley. “But after the first couple minutes I adjusted to the game. Even though we lacked on foul shooting, I knew that we could do other stuff to win the game, like outside shooting, rebounding, and boxing out. Most of our team hasn’t had a Section title, but to win it as a team I am so proud of all of us. We all contributed no matter what it was. I am very excited to have the chance to return to the Final Four. I feel if we all give it our all, try our best and don’t give up, we can do it.”
The players on the team credit Leonard with knowing how to get the best out of them and turning them into winners.
“Guy Leonard is the best coach I have ever had,” said junior Whitney Beecroft. “Every day I come out of practice feeling that I’ve gotten better and learned something new. Every day he pushes us to do our best and never gives up on us.”
Nicole Curley agreed.
“He is the best coach that I have ever had,” she said. “He pushes me to do my best and to give everything I have, and I love it. In the long run, him yelling and screaming at me is only going to make me better. He is a hilarious coach and I’m glad I have three more years with him.”
Davis also credited the team’s resolve and determination for not only their success, but how much fun they’re having with it.
“Our team has grown inseparable this season, and I’m so glad I get to share the court with these girls,” she said. “I think it’s because of our chemistry off the court that really helps us on the court. We’ve stayed motivated throughout the entire season to make it past the regular season. Our determination is what pushes us to play our best. When we’re struggling in a game or during practice, our teammates are always giving positive reinforcement to pick us back up. I’m very excited to play in the state Final Four. This is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Because Kingston High plays in Class AA and Coleman in D, the two schools won’t ever face off against one another in the postseason. But despite the vast difference in size, it’s still tempting to wonder how such a matchup might play out. Would Kingston dominate the smaller school, or would Coleman come out on top? For the players on both teams, it’s an intriguing proposition.
“We’re not afraid to play anyone,” Emily Curley said. “I love a challenge.”
“We are not scared to play anyone,” she said. “We have great athletes on this team, and when we put our minds together we can all do great things as one.”
Davis said she thought the two teams actually played a similar style of basketball, which could result in a hotly contested game.
“It would be a challenging matchup because both teams play aggressive,” she said. “We would be excited to play against them.”
Kingston players would also welcome the challenge.
“I think playing Coleman would be interesting and would be a strong match up,” said Longto.
“Personally I love Coleman,” she said. “They are a great team and have amazing coaches. If I could play them I would because it would make a statement around this town, it would just be a great game and I would have so much fun.”
Perhaps no player on the roster of either team knows more about the possibilities of such a matchup than Brodhead, who spent last year playing for Leonard’s club before returning to Kingston.
“Playing there, I don’t believe that just because they’re Class D that we’d blow them out,” she said. “I think it would be an interesting game, although I obviously have hope that my team would win.”