For the first time since 1980, both the Newfield boys and girls basketball teams were crowned IAC champions in the same season. For the girls team, the victory ended a very lengthy drought, as that year was the last time the Trojans won the conference championship. The boys, on the other hand, had won five times during that span but were recovering from falling short last year to Moravia.
The boys game against Marathon was an intense back-and-forth 57-54 contest in which the Trojans overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win. Freshman point guard Jalen Hardison, who had a game-changing nine steals, discussed the change in mindset at halftime.
“We came into the second half and we were down,” Hardison said. “We knew we needed some type of fire to come back in the game. We had to get it going on defense first, then the offense comes with that.”
While Hardison has just two IAC Championship appearances under his belt (he was a starter on varsity as an eighth-grader last year), the 56-46 loss to Moravia still hung on his mind. “It feels really good, especially after it was a tough loss last year,” Hardison said. “This year, we had a chip on our shoulder. We came in and we knew we had to win.”
They were able to accomplish that, but the chip still remains. Last year, the team was eliminated from the playoffs in the semifinal round of the Section IV tournament. A hard-fought win over Marathon gave them plenty of confidence heading into the tournament.
“It keeps our confidence high,” Hardison said. “Once we win a big game, it gets us going. We know we want to keep going because we have a chip on our shoulder. We just want to keep winning.”
For the girls, they came into the IAC Championships with just one loss on their record. That did not change, as they defeated Union Springs 48-37. Ending the 40-year championship drought meant a lot to coach Brandon Steinorth.
“It’s been 40 years,” Steinorth said. “It’s a huge monkey off our back. I think I can smile a little wider and breathe a little better. Now going into sectionals, you can play that much looser. What if we lose in the first round or the second round [of sectionals]? We still want to win basketball games, but after tonight, nobody’s going to be able to take that away from them. They’re excited that’s going up on the banner.”
Fortunately, they did not lose in the first or second round and will play Union Springs in the Section IV semifinals on Wednesday, March 4. Considering the Trojans had lost three IAC Championships in the last five years, Steinorth was ready to pull out all the stops to prevent it from happening again.
“I was ready to go to Cameo.com and call up [former Buffalo Bills coach] Marv Levy and have him send me a video about losing four championships,” Steinorth said. “I’m glad we get to avoid that. Playing in this gym helps. It’s just a different environment with the size of the gym. That was one of our biggest advantages, having played in this gym in the past.”
The IAC Championships are played at Tompkins Cortland Community College, a much bigger space than what Newfield is used to at Sue France Gymnasium, which Steinorth touched on. Adjusting to the bigger court is one thing, but adjusting to personnel changes is another.
“We’re fighting through some injuries and whatnot,” Steinorth said. “Adrianna Royce, who’s started for us the whole year, went down with a knee injury in Ithaca. We’re not the deepest team on Earth and without her, we’re even more thin.”
Newfield has been an adaptable team all year. They’re able to find success with different styles of play depending on what opportunities present themselves. However, Steinorth does have an identity he’d like to see the team stick to.
“In practice, what I say to them is, ‘Don’t convince yourselves you’re good jump shooters. Get to the rim,’” Steinort said. “They’ll make a couple in practice and I’ll look at them and say, ‘Don’t convince yourself. Don’t do it.’ The truth is, when a team packs in on defense like that, at some point, you need to shoot the ball. We shot the ball very very well in the first half.”
Both the Newfield girls and boys had less than a week to prepare for the Section IV tournament. The girls are the top seed in the Class C bracket, while the boys are ranked third. There are no breaks in the Section IV playoffs.
“I told my wife that’s the tricky part about this situation,” Steinorth said. “You need to be ready for tonight, but you need to start preparing for next week as well.”
The girls continue their Section IV run on Wednesday, March 4, against the same Union Springs team they played at the IAC Championships. This time, it’s at SUNY Cortland. Newfield boys were slated to play Delhi on Tuesday, March 3, but results were not available at press time.
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