Photo: Jalay Knowles. Credit: John Meore/The Journal News
Saniya Chong’s Ossining teammates have the best vantage point to witness her knifing drives to the hoop, long 3-pointers and plentiful assists.
“Seeing some of the shots she makes, it is amazing,” freshman forward Shadeen Samuels said. “But she does it during practice so we know it’s coming.”
Even if the novelty of watching Chong has worn off, her younger teammates might want to lace up their sneakers and strap on their kneepads a little slower this weekend.
The Federation Tournament of Champions Class AA final is important not only because it marks the end of Chong’s high school career, but because it will also serve as a showcase of the outstanding core that will keep the Pride contenders for seasons to come.
“Now, we know when we are done,” sophomore center Jalay Knowles said. “Coach (Dan Ricci) said that it’s better to know that we are finished rather than lose and have a sudden end to the season. I know it’s my last game with Saniya, it’s hard.”
Ossining will face the winner of PSAL champion Murry Bergtraum (25-2) and CHSAA winner Bishop Ford (24-7) at Albany’s Times Union Center on Saturday at 6:45 p.m.
Chong, who has scored a Section 1-record 2,962 points, has been aided by increased production from her supporting cast, particularly during the postseason.
Knowles and eighth-grader Andra Espinoza-Hunter scored 14 points apiece in the state final against Gates Chili. Samuels’ scoring output was crucial in the Section 1 tournament while Knowles nursed an ankle injury.
“We know we are going to come back and be underdogs with Saniya leaving,” Knowles said. “Everyone might expect us to lose. We want to earn their respect, come back and win another section title and another state championship.”
Samuels and Knowles form a tall frontcourt and Espinoza-Hunter has already notched 97 3-pointers.
“They are going to be our leaders; I met with them already,” Ricci said. “They’ve been around me the longest and they know what I expect. With those three, Madison Strippoli, Abby Squirrell and Stephanie Svoboda, that’s six quality kids to build around. It will be a small roster in terms of numbers but we’ll still be pretty deep and pretty big.”
Even if Samuels moves to guard, Ricci is still left with 6-foot forwards in Knowles, Squirrell and Strippoli.
“I wanted the ball in Saniya’s hands 95 percent of the time because of the level she plays at,” Ricci said. “(Next year) it will be more of a motion, moving offense. More of pounding the ball inside.”
Class AA Federation Final
Ossining (22-4) vs. Bishop Ford (24-7)/Murry Bergtraum (25-2) winner
When: Saturday, 6:45 p.m.
Where: Times Union Center, Albany