TROY – Several members of Rye’s girls basketball team have been on the roster since 2014, sharing back-to-back seasons of heartbreak in the Section 1 semifinals at the Westchester County Center, and the joy of winning sectional and regional titles to earn a berth in the Class A state semifinals this year.
When the Garnets walked off the court at Hudson Valley Community College following a 61-55 loss to Floral Park Friday in a state semifinal, players were hugging and consoling each other until reaching the bench for the postgame awards ceremony. Even then, Rye refused to let go of one another.
Senior Ali Imam wrapped her arms around junior Katie Popp, moments before being named the Garnets’ sportsmanship award winner for the tournament. Rye head coach Dennis Hurlie may not have had the same tears in eyes as his players, but the mutual pain was firmly planted in his chest.
“I’m hurting for the girls,” he said. “I’m hurting because they’ve given such a tremendous effort all year, they were easy to coach, they bought in, they’re good to one another.
“Most teams are going to end their season with a loss, but you don’t want this group to end with a loss. I really wanted them to get in that state final and have a chance at winning it.” .
Buoyed by first-team all-state guard Kaela Hilaire, the Knights (24-1) moved on to Saturday’s state final against Jamesville-DeWitt. The Albany recruit scored a game-high 26 points, most of which came while being guarded by all-state Rye forward Maddie Eck.
“We thought we had a good game plan coming into it, we just didn’t execute,” she said. “Kaela Hilaire is a huge part of their success, obviously, she’s a great player. … If we limited her, we thought we’d be fine and we’d keep their other players at bay.”
Faith Balletta added 11 points and 15 rebounds for the Knights. Natalie Hickman chipped in with 12 points for the Knights, who got to the free-throw line more than twice as many times as Rye.
Eck anchored the Garnets (22-5), scoring 15 points to go with 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists en route to all-tournament team honors. Popp led the team with 18 points, while adding eight rebounds.
Eck, an Amherst-bound senior captain, said she’ll look back fondly on her Rye career.
“I honestly never even imagined getting here,” she said. “To finish my senior year here, in the state semifinals, it’s unbelievable.”