By Jay Young
Without a doubt, Chautauqua Lake could not have claimed its first-ever New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C girls basketball title without a roster full of dedicated players, a confident coaching staff and the unending support of fans and parents.
Chautauqua Lake’s Jenna Einink puts up a shot against Tapestry Charter in the Section 6 Class C championship game.
P-J photo by Jay Young
But much in the same way, there is also no doubt about the player who was responsible time and again for willing the team to win no matter the circumstances - Jenna Einink.
Teams win titles, but no individual was a bigger part of the 2013-14 Chautauqua Lake girls basketball team than Einink.
The standout junior led the Lady Thunderbirds in points and rebounds, was named the most valuable player of the Class C state final, was an All-Western New York second-team selection and the Most Valuable Player of Division 2 West.
Now, Post-Journal Player of the Year can be added to that list.
During Chautauqua Lake's state championship season, Einink exceeded already lofty expectations with 19.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.0 steals, 3.9 assists and 2.8 blocks per game on her way to becoming the school's career leader in several categories.
"I think what separates the good players from the great ones is the fact that the great players want the basketball when the game is on the line," said Chautauqua Lake coach Eric Schuster. "From day one, Jenna has been that type of player that you know you can count on in crunch time."
Einink's play this past season inspired her teammates, coaches and those lucky enough to be watching from the stands.
Of course, like all great players, what Einink does off the stat sheet is just as important as what she does on it-maybe even more so.
There are plenty of girls who drain scores of buckets and pick up rebounds, but there are far less who make their teammates better at every turn.
"Jenna's the type of player who realizes there is room for improvement, another step on the ladder, so to speak,'' Schuster said. ''She is always working hard to not only improve her own game but also (that of) her teammates.''
On offense, defense, the bench, at practice and off the court entirely, Einink lifts all to her level.
Despite spending most of her time playing down low in the post, the junior dished out 98 assists. That is a stat that you really don't expect to see from a forward/center who leads her team in points.
But then again there is a lot about Einink that you don't expect.
The way she shares the ball, the way she tirelessly runs the floor, the passion that she has to win and the smile that is on her face through it all.
"Jenna Einink is one of those athletes that rarely comes around and when they do they are able to lift up a program almost all by themselves," said Chautauqua Lake athletic director Josh Liddell.
Liddell has had the opportunity to watch the Lady Thunderbirds basketball program grow exponentially in the years since its inception and understands full well the way Einink has built up the team since her first day on the court.
"She has played varsity basketball since seventh grade and was team captain beginning in her freshmen year,'' he said. ''With a year still left, Jenna has already become the Chautauqua Lake career leader in points, rebounds, blocked shots, steals and free throw percentage."
There is plenty of reason to think that those numbers will continue to climb next season during Einink's final campaign in a Chautauqua Lake jersey.
In retrospect it sounds like the junior pretty much had the perfect season, but there were plenty of opportunities for her to falter.
During both the final and semifinal games at the state championships, Einink didn't start out on her best foot.
The Lady Thunderbirds couldn't buy a bucket in the opening minutes of their semifinal against Haldane and for a while it looked like the pressure was taking its toll. Einink began the game on a shooting cold streak that could have proved disastrous, but she shifted gears without missing a beat.
She battled back from her shooting woes by dishing the ball off to red-hot Courtney Hewes and the always reliable Ashton Albanesius, all the while ramping up her defensive pressure and spurring on her teammates.
That type of offensive frustration would have crippled a lot of talented players, but Einink just turned her game in another direction.
The final provided its own special challenge.
After moving past Haldane to face Hoosic Valley for the title, Einink still was not able to find the shooting rhythm that she had shown during the regular season.
The junior shot below 30 percent from the field in both of Chautauqua Lake's games in Albany, but was as big a part of those wins as anybody. When her shot went cold she turned to the things that she could control, leadership and effort.
As it turns out, those attributes are much more valuable than statistics.
"Jenna's greatest asset is her versatility. She can literally play any position on the court both offensively and defensively," Schuster said. "Jenna spent more time this year playing behind the arc as opposed to her usual post position. I thought her scoring would stay quite consistent, but I thought her rebounds would be down, but that wasn't the case at all.''
In the end it didn't really matter where Einink was playing on the court, who her opponent was, or what the stakes were.
She overcame every obstacle on the court and is still getting better.