TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – After only graduating one player from last year’s NYSAISAA C Division runner-up, expectations were naturally high coming into this season for Hackley.
But did they think they would still be undefeated at this point in the season?
“We went into the season expecting that we were going to do well because we had five returning starters,” Hackley junior forward Allie Coppola said. “But I don’t think anyone expected to be 22-0.”
Top-seeded Hackley stayed unbeaten with a convincing 68-26 victory over No. 4 Rye Country Day at home on Friday in the NYSAISAA Class C semifinals.
“In the beginning I never thought we’d be undefeated,” Hackley senior guard Nia Yancopoulos said. “Once we started winning I didn’t want to lose. All of us have really put in the extra effort because we don’t want to lose the undefeated season. Our goal is to go 23-0.”
Hackley will get that chance when it faces No. 6 Poly Prep on Sunday in the NYSAISAA Class C championship game at the Fieldston School in the Bronx at 1 p.m.
Coppola sparked the Hornets with a game-high 30 points. She dominated in the third quarter, scoring 14 points to help give them a 52-20 lead.
“We knew we couldn’t let up, so we just started the second half thinking it was 0-0,” Coppola said. “We had to play as hard as we did in the first half.”
Coppola, who recently scored her 1,000th career point, is the Hornets’ leading scorer and has been on varsity since eighth grade.
“Allie is a seasoned player,” Hackley coach Shelagh Amann said. “She is that go to player. The game was ready to be taken but she just buckled down and did it. They were paying a lot of attention to Nia, so that opened up the middle.”
Hackley had a considerable advantage in the post over a RCDS squad they defeated 46-33 back on Jan. 18. They used a high-low offense to consistently feed Coppola and sophomore Stefanie Frolo (12 points).
“It took them a little while with the zone to get the high-low going, but as soon as [RCDS] went to a man, we just kept dumping it down every single time,” Amann said.
Yancopoulos was on fire in the first quarter, sparking the Hornets to a 20-11 lead by knocking down four 3-pointers. She was motivated after senior Tricia Gorman sprained her knee early in the first quarter, forcing her to miss the rest of the game.
“As soon as Tricia went down, I felt that I needed to put more on my shoulders,” said Yancopoulos, who finished with 15 points. “I just was feeling it and people were able to get me the ball.”
In the second quarter, Coppola and sophomore Alexandra Mueller (seven points) scored 13 of Hackley’s 15 points to propel them to a 35-14 halftime lead.
The Hornets held the Wildcats to just three points in the second quarter and 12 points total in the second half.
“I said to the girls in the pregame, ‘What you really have to do is play defense,’” Amann said. “If you play defense the offense will come from there.”
“Our coaches emphasize defense all the time,” Coppola said. “We know who their strong players are offensively, so we tried to be a little more focused on them and box out.”
The Wildcats were led by junior Carolyn Binder and freshman Nereida Mendez, who scored nine and seven points, respectively.
After going 21-5 last year, the Ivy League Champion Hornets have grown as a unit this season.
“We have that team chemistry down,” Yancopoulos said. “There were little kinks that we had to work out last year and those are gone. Our team is really meshing well at the perfect time. You can’t beat us on the inside, you can’t beat us on the outside. We have everything, we’re really balanced.”
After suffering a four-point loss to Staten Island Catholic in last year’s title game, the Hornets are focused on finishing the job this year. Hackley defeated Poly Prep twice during the regular season by scores of 56-28 and 50-34.
“I think the loss last year is going to help us,” Coppola said. “We’ve been working all season for this. We didn’t come this far to stop here.”