Greg and Graham Dolan witnessed first-hand what it’s like to win a state championship.
They were part of the fan wagon last March as Williamsville South, coached by the Dolans’ mother Kristen, captured the school’s first New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association girls basketball title.
The Dolan boys celebrated the accomplishment like many and couldn’t be happier for their mother.
“We’re an extremely competitive household,” said Graham, a senior. “Greg and I, we just wanted to do the same thing, just get states and have a few bragging rights for ourselves.”
One year later, the Dolan boys have their chance.
Williamsville South is one of four boys Section VI basketball champions who are now two wins away from claiming state public schools titles. South (22-3) begins its quest for the Class A crown at 9 a.m. Saturday at Glens Falls Civic Center against Troy (19-5) of Section II. The winner advances to the championship game at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“They had an amazing season last year,” said Greg, the Billies’ do-everything sophomore point guard who averages 18.4 points and 6.0 assists per game, of the South girls. “It definitely fired me and Graham up to get to Glens Falls this year, especially after losing in Far West Regionals last year.
“Unfortunately my mom’s season came to an end but we’re lucky enough to keep playing.”
The area’s other champions – Olean (Class B), Middle Early College (Class C) and Panama (Class D) – embark on their title quests Friday in Glens Falls. It’s just the fourth time Section VI has sent four teams in the same season to the state final four since it expanded to five classes in 2004.
This year marks the end of a 36-year run for the NYSPHSAA boys basketball tournament in Glens Falls. Next season the event shifts to Binghamton for the first of three years under a new contract between that city and the state.
While Olean (2008) and Middle College (2010), past state champions and multi-time state final four participants, are quite familiar with Glens Falls Civic Center, this is a new experience for Gabe Michael’s Williamsville South team and for Panama.
Michael said his team is going to approach Saturday morning’s tilt just like any other game. The coach said it helps that South is facing a team that is similar to Amherst, which it beat in the overall Section VI final. Troy has a quality big man in 6-foot-11 Jack McLaren (12.0 ppg) and slick sophomore guard in Daniel Bouie (20.5 ppg), who have the potential to take over a game.
Sounds like an opportunity for the Billies to use the same game plan on Troy as they did to slow down an Amherst crew led by St. Bonaventure commit Amadi Ikpeze and T.C. Brown.
“I think rebounding is going to be the key,” Michael said. “If we can hold them to one shot, that will help. That and handling the moment.”
South, which has eight seniors, enters this contest as a calm, confident bunch – almost a mirror image of its floor leader, Greg Dolan. The sophomore long ago showed he was adept at making correct decisions with the ball. He’s now doing more than just thinking pass and setting up his teammates. He’s attacked the basket with more frequency as he increased his points per game average by 5.4 points and averages one more assist than his freshman season. Older brother Graham also has increased his points per game from about 10.0 to 14.5. Seniors Myles Hall and Jordan Buell are threats from beyond the arc. Senior Matt Foster, a first team All-WNY football player, has been tough to play against in the paint since missing the early part of the season with an injury.
“You have to take advantage of having a team like this because this only comes around every four or five years,” Michael said. “It would be really special” if they won it all. “I started coaching with these seniors. I’ve grown attached to them. It’d be nice to send them out with a championship.”
Randall Rich feels the same way about his Middle Early College Kats. He has nine on his roster. Seniors Gary Foster (18.4 ppg) and JoJo Staton (18.3) lead Middle College in scoring, but the team has six players averaging more than five points per game. MEC’s opponent, AuSable Valley (20-3) of Section VII, receives scoring contributions from eight players.
This trip to Glens Falls continues a pattern for the Kats. They have made it to the final four each even year since 2010.
“It probably has something to do with playing at home and winning close games” during regionals “and the even years there seem to be a lot of seniors,” said Rich. “I also don’t think they understood how tough it would be to go into Rochester and play a very good team,” last season.
“It takes a little maturity and playing hard competition before they understand how hard it is.”
Senior guards Staton and Billy Rivera are the only holdovers from MEC’s 2014 state finalist team.
Olean (25-0) returns to Glens Falls for the first time since 2014 when it faces Hudson (25-2) of Section II. It’s the Huskies’ third visit in five seasons and they must figure out a way to slow down a Hudson offense averaging nearly 79 points per game.
“They’re running after a made basket; they’re running after a missed basket. We’re going to have our hands full,” said Olean coach Jeff Anastasia, who has won 533 games in 29 seasons and will be inducted into the state Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday morning at Glens Falls Civic Center.
In Class D, it’s streak versus streak as Panama (22-2) and its 21-game winning streak faces unbeaten Moriah (25-0) of Section VII. Coach Ed Nelson’s boys should have quite the vocal following in addition to the sweet sounds of its pep band echoing through the arena.
Panama has already announced school will be closed Friday as the first of its two state semifinalist entrants in basketball take the court. Panama’s girls are in semifinal action Saturday morning at Hudson Valley CC in Troy.
The Panthers will need to feed off of that support as they take on a Moriah team that is tall and athletic.
“We have to be a little quicker and a little smarter than them,” Nelson said.