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FL girls basketball column: Saunders, McGraw thank each other for success

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Zakiya Saunders and Kristin McGraw have ruled the top of the Frontier League girls basketball scoring leaders list all season.

And, at least in part, they have each other to thank for it.

Saunders, the senior point guard for Carthage, and McGraw, the Thousand Islands’ senior that holds the school’s all-time scoring record, spent their offseason playing together for the Unity Wildcats, an AAU team based in Syracuse.

“We learned a ton from each other,” McGraw said.

McGraw first saw Saunders play in last year’s Section 3 Class A semifinal, when Carthage’s season came to an end at the hands of Jamesville-DeWitt.

Saunders finished that game with 19 points, 13 rebounds, six blocked shots, five steals and four assists, prompting McGraw’s father to approach Saunders’ parents about playing for the Wildcats, the team that McGraw has honed her skills on every offseason since her sophomore year.

That was the first time the two players met, although Saunders said she was aware of McGraw.

“I used to look at her stats and stuff, she was always ahead of me,” Saunders said.

Saunders said she had played AAU basketball in Virginia before her family moved to the area at the start of the 2011 school year.

“When we moved here, I didn’t have anywhere that I wanted to go. Her dad came and talked to my parents about their program, and we checked it out and went and tried out,” Saunders said.

A bond began to form between the two as they traveled together to Syracuse each week for practice and spent basically every weekend between March and August traveling to tournaments and college showcases around the Northeast.

The two also learned that they enjoyed playing together.

“She would always drive and create for me,” McGraw said.

“When we play with each other, it gives us a chance to do different things that we don’t get to do a lot,” Saunders said.

But, other than the occasional shopping trip, the duo said their conversations always revolve around basketball and how they can each better their respective game.

“We both just play basketball all the time,” McGraw said.

The two would routinely go to practice early, where McGraw said Saunders would show her more ways to get to the basket, and Saunders said she would study McGraw’s shot.

Each player has seen that work pay off this season.

McGraw leads the league with 19.2 points per game, and has Thousand Islands at 12-1 overall, 11-1 league. The Vikings are on the verge of clinching the “C” Division title and were ranked No. 16 in the state in the most recent poll.

Saunders ranks second in the league with 18.1 points per game and has the Comets (8-6, 7-3) in the hunt for a share of the “A” Division title. Saunders is also averaging over 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals per game.

McGraw and Saunders both said that they haven’t had a chance to play any pick-up ball together since the high school season started.

But with Saunders signed on to play for Division I University at Albany next year and McGraw still narrowing her college choices down, there will be plenty for the two to work on after the season.

“Maybe after this year, we’ll find some time to get together and help each other with our strengths and weaknesses,” Saunders said.

FL DIVISIONS STILL TO BE DECIDED

Entering Wednesday, every division in Frontier League girls basketball has yet to be decided, though Thousand Islands and Copenhagen have clinched at least a share of their respective divisions.

In the “C” Division, the Vikings will win the title outright with a win in any of its final four league games or a loss by South Lewis in any of its final three games. Thousand Islands has taken the last four regular season titles.

In the “D” Division, Copenhagen would win outright with a victory in its only remaining league game against Alexandria. If the Golden Knights were to lose and Sackets Harbor wins its last two games, the two teams would tie for the division title.

South Jefferson is on the verge of winning its 12th straight “B” Division title. The Spartans would clinch a share of the division with its next victory or the next General Brown loss. If South Jefferson were to beat General Brown in their scheduled matchup on Friday, it would clinch the division outright.

The “A” Division is down to Indian River and Carthage. The Warriors are a game up on the Comets with two games left for each team, though one of Indian River’s remaining dates is against unbeaten South Jefferson.

Because of scheduling changes this season due to Lowville moving from Class B to Class C, only the “A” and “D” Divisions will compete for league playoff titles.

FL WRESTLING TOURNAMENT SATURDAY

League coaches will gather tonight to determine seeding for the annual Frontier League wrestling tournament, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Carthage High School.

Indian River has won the last three team titles, but South Jefferson should be considered the favorite.

The Spartans, unbeaten in dual meets at 26-0, are fresh off a first-place finish in the Section 3 Duals last Saturday and hold wins over the league’s other top teams — General Brown, Indian River and Carthage.

South Jefferson has finished second and General Brown has placed third in each of the last two years.

Indian River senior Derrick Gray will enter as the only individual with multiple league championships to his credit, having won his weight class in each of the last three years.

Seven other individuals will be looking to defend their respective championships from last year, they are: Ryan Snow and Tyler Silverthorn of General Brown, Brandon Fayle and Tim Fargo from Lowville, Indian River’s Michael Mullins, Carthage senior Shayne Brady and Isaiah Riccio of Beaver River.

IHC’s Nicholas Koelmel is the only major contender that will enter the tournament with an unbeaten record, at 26-0.

Sportswriter Josh St.Croix covers girls basketball for the Times. He can be jstcroix@wdt.net

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