JOHNSON CITY, NY - A self-proclaimed gym rat, Kristi Dini didn't mind being on the road this weekend coaching the Hudson Valley girls team at the BCANY Summer Hoops Festival. Coaching is a passion for her and something she admits that she would choose to do as much and as often as she could.
Coaching on Sunday though may have been even a bit more special for her as her Hudson Valley squad was able to make the BCANY title game on her birthday. Her team all knew that she was celebrating a special day and in the end the team wouldn't let their leader down as they were able to hold off a talented Rochester team 69-60 for the championship, making it a day that Dini will always remember.
Both teams didn't have easy roads here as both needed to come back from semifinal game deficits to get into the title game. Hudson Valley fell behind by as many as 11 before rallying with a big second half to down Adirondack, while Rochester struggled in the early going with Central but ultimately was able to pull through as well.
Along with being the top two seeds in the tournament, both were unbeaten as well entering the title tilt so it was going to take a supreme effort to pull out a victory and bring the BCANY championship back to either Rochester or the Hudson Valley.
In the early going in this one it was a back and forth contest with Makaila Wilson (Penfield '18) doing a great job in the opening minutes of getting her Rochester team comfortable against the pressure of Hudson Valley as she was able to knock down perimeter shots and put her team up 18-16 with 9:48 to go in the half.
Hudson Valley climbed back though with Abby Weeks (Our Lady of Lourdes '17) getting in the paint and fighting for buckets down low as an undersized and tough forward to give her team the lead back. Natalie Alfieri (Westlake '17) was another strong performer for Hudson Valley as well in the later portion of the second half which allowed them to build up a lead of as many as 28-20 in the final 2 minutes.
Rochester though closed the half strong as Dyaisha Fair (Edison Tech '19) was able to break the Hudson Valley defensive pressure and make strong moves to the rim, while Annabelle Hinds (Northstar Christian '17) was able to connect on back to back buckets late and make it just a 30-28 Hudson Valley lead heading into the half.
The ever animated Dini made sure that she got her point across at halftime as birthday or not she wanted better defensive understanding out of her team as she was not happy with the second and third chances they were giving Rochester, and she also wanted her team to do a better job on the glass, and that is where the interior duo of Lauren Schetter (Beacon '17) and Maddie Siegrest (Our Lady of Lourdes '18) came into play.
Siegrest at 6'2" was one of the bigger players on the court, while Schetter was an undersized 4 at just 5'9" though she played much better and they both were able to get in good positions inside to finish and allow the 2-point halftime lead to bump all the way up to 12 with just over 9 minutes to go in the game.
Alfieri was still a major weapon from the outside as well, with Katie Popp (Rye '17) also starting to get in a rhythm offensively as well.
It all was starting to look good for Hudson Valley until they took their foot off the gas it seemed with about 5 minutes to go. Rochester started to feed the ball inside a bit more getting Kayla Jackson (Aquinas '18) in positions to score, and with Hinds and Wilson getting it going more once again as the half went on Rochester began to chip away, getting within 62-58 with just over a minute to play.
Free throws would be what decided this one, and with Popp and Lindsay Halpin (Irvington '17) going 7 of 8 from the FT line combined in the closing minute, Hudson Valley was able to hold on and make it a winning weekend closing out the game strong and taking home the 69-60 victory.
It was truly a balanced scoring attack for Hudson Valley as Alfieri led the way in the championship game with 14 points, though Popp added 12 and Schetter chipped in with 11 as a total of 9 Hudson Valley players scored to pace the team to the title.
Jackson led the way in defeat for Rochester with 19 points with Wilson adding 17 points as well in what was a disappoints championship game defeat.
A team in every sense of the word, Hudson Valley never relied on one player this weekend, making sure everyone got involved and had a major contribution at some point this weekend, and while the girls for Hudson Valley were celebrating, Dini watched with pride in what her girls were able to accomplish.
It's the first time since 2012 that the Hudson Valley girls were crowned BCANY Summer Hoops Festival champions, and it would be special regardless for Dini, but having the win happen on her birthday she admitted made it just that much more special.
"I'm a gym rat, I love the game," Dini said after the win. "I have been doing this now for 4 years and this year the tournament here just so happened to land on my birthday and for me this is definitely a nice birthday present."