As I wrote in the previous post, this was not the Western team of old, but the Hudson Valley girls still produced one impressive Empire State Games opener. They beat the hosts 100-39 at Niagara University’s Gallagher Center behind 24 points from John Jay rising junior Raegan Knox.
Knox erupted in the first half as Hudson Valley jumped out 25-4 and 50-17 at halftime. She poured in six 3-pointers to lead four players who scored in double figures.
“It was exciting,” Knox said. “My teammates just did a great job finding me. I was hot and they just got me the ball every time. Everybody on this team can score. It’s great. You never feel like all the pressure’s on you, so I love playing on this team.”
Ossining sophomore Saniya Chong added 18 points and a number of remarkable assists. Late in the first half, Chong ducked to the hoop and scooped an underhanded pass to Haldane’s Liz Milner for a layup.
Chong also hit a pair of 3’s. More importantly she displayed a new-and-improved jumper with a quicker release, higher arc, more backspin and a softer touch.
Chong said she started working on it by shooting one-handed close to the hoop. She kept extending it further and further away from the basket as her form improved.
“My shot had been really off, so I’ve just been working on it and working on it really hard,” Chong said.
As I said in the previous post, Hudson Valley featured playmakers all over the court. Chong led that department, but Teneka Whittaker, Felicia DaCruz, Brittani Lai and Liz Milner — and to some extent Knox and Lillian McCabe — gave the team multiple players on the floor at all times who are accustomed to dominating the ball. It allowed them to play with pace for 40 minutes. Dan Ricci subbed players every three or four minutes, often swapping all five out at one time for a new five.
A new addition to the team was Albertus Magnus senior Katelyn Spicer, an alternate who replaced Carmel senior Brittany Horne. The 6-foot-2 Horne obviously would’ve been one of the top players on the team, but she decided recently to play in an AAU tournament in Washington D.C. with the Gauchos after college coaches requested that she attend the event.
For today, Horne’s absence wasn’t critical. And it needn’t be if Hudson Valley wants to attain its main goal with the girls who are here.
Of course, none of the players on Hudson Valley have played on this team before, but there is something to be said that this is the defending champ. Hudson Valley won gold in 2005 and 2008 and silver in 2006 and 2007.
As you can probably imagine, some teams comes to the Empire State Games hoping to compete for a medal — possibly gold. The girls came here for gold and gold only. They have broken every huddle since May saying exactly that: “Gold.”
“From the past years, the Hudson Valley girls basketball team has had so much history,” DaCruz said. “Really, coming in this year since starting practice in May, we just knew we’re going to set this goal. We really want this gold medal. We’re going to work as hard as we can, try our best and work together as a team. We hope we can come out with it.”
Here’s the box score from today’s game:
Hudson Valley (1-0) … 50 50 — 100
Western (0-1) … 17 22 — 39
Hudson Valley scoring: Raegan Knox (John Jay) 9-0-24, Teneka Whittaker (Lourdes) 3-4-11, Saniya Chong (Ossining) 7-2-18, Felicia DaCruz (Albertus Magnus) 5-1-12, Brittani Lai (Edgemont) 3-0-6, Lillian McCabe (Rye) 3-0-8, Alexis Martins (Irvington) 3-0-6, Hayley Kanner (Scarsdale) 2-0-4, Katelyn Spicer (Albertus Magnus) 1-0-2, Liz Milner (Haldane) 4-0-9.
Three-pointers: Knox 6, Chong 2, McCabe 2, Milner 1, DaCruz 1, Whittaker 1.
Hang tight. Later this afternoon, I’ll post some recruiting updates for the seniors on the team.