EDITOR'S NOTE: With graduations scheduled for this week, the following question was posed to sportswriter Jay Young: "What was your most memorable sports moment during the 2013-14 school year?" The only requirement was that it had to involve an event in which he personally covered. Following is his choice.
When I first made the drive out to Troy in March to cover the Chautauqua Lake Lady Thunderbirds' run at a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C championship, I didn't know what to expect.
As a green sportswriter without much experience covering girls basketball, the only knowledge I had to draw from was based upon the season that wasn't even over yet.
All that I really knew was that the Lady Thunderbirds were certainly impressive against their rivals in Section 6. Carried by a talented roster of mostly juniors and an equally affable and talented coach, Chautauqua Lake appeared to have all its ducks in a row heading into the most important part of a season.
But, then again, I didn't have the best idea of what made championship teams tick, especially on the basketball court where my own athletic career was of no relevance.
Now with the benefit of hindsight, I understand what it took for the Lady Thunderbirds to push themselves over the top and give their school its first team state title. Even when it looked like Chautauqua Lake had every reason not to live up to its expectations, the squad pulled through in stunning fashion.
Eric Schuster's team started its semifinal game against Haldane, the No. 1-ranked team, and in the opening minutes it looked like it was in for a rough ride. Playing with elimination on the line, the Lady Thunderbirds saw a pair of easy buckets lip out of the basket in the opening minutes, while the Lady Blue Devils made it 2-0 early.
I, like many of the fans who made the drive to Hudson Valley Community College, winced a little bit after watching those early shots just narrowly miss their mark. Jenna Einink, who had been the best player on the floor for the Lady Thunderbirds on multiple occasions during the season, just could not find her shooting rhythm.
If you would have asked me before the game what would happen if Einink didn't shoot the ball well, I would have expressed some serious doubts. What became clear after the rough opening minutes, however, was that Chautauqua Lake was going to win, even if they missed some early shots, and even if their most dominant player was having an off night.
After averaging around nine points per game during the season, Courtney Hewes exploded with 19 against Haldane. She shot 80 percent from beyond the arc, had four rebounds and six steals. In the end, the Lady Thunderbirds found a way to win, 61-39, to advance to the title game.
Once there, it was the same story on a different day for Chautauqua Lake as it suffered a rough start against Hoosic Valley, after Laura McGreevey sunk a pair of threes early. Even after watching Schuster's team make the necessary adjustments against Haldane, I gave another wince when McGreevey struck those two shots.
O' yee of little faith.
After struggling against Haldane, Einink stood tall at the end of the first quarter on championship Sunday. With time winding down, the junior threw up a heavily contested trey that struck the back of the rim and seemed to hang in the air forever.
When that basket fell, the doubters were silenced, and Chautauqua Lake was on its way to hoisting the Class C trophy.
That weekend I had the chance to watch a team succeed when fate gave it every reason not to, and it was a pleasure to see.