Setting the Scene: Weather in the 518 forced me to look elsewhere for a game that was happening. Plans to hit WNY later in the week opened my eyes to other areas. Enter this game. Reigning NYSPHSAA Class D state champion Copenhagen has a different roster makeup and identity this winter, but once again, they’ve ripped through their area schedule. An 11-2 start featured losses only to Watertown (Class A) and Heuvelton (S10 D). Hammond, who figures to be one of New York’s finest in the Ds and a frontrunner in the Section X field, has barely been pushed in their limited regular season schedule to date. This intersectional matchup was only their 8th game of the season, but they’ve made their presence felt already with double digit wins in every game including 20+ point wins over primary area Class D competitors Heuvelton & Hermon-DeKalb. Not often do I go to the Tug Hill on a weeknight, but this was a good barometer sort of matchup to get my first look at both this season.
Hammond 78, Copenhagen 25
75 Words or Less: I came in respecting the level of talent Hammond displayed on their roster, but I guess I had never seen what it looks like when they’re firing on all cylinders until now. After falling behind 7-3 in the opening minutes, the Section X reps turned on the jets & flew away with an eye-opening display. Each of the first two quarters ended with 15-0 runs, and they turned the game into a show of force.
THE FULL STORY
It was clear from the opening tip that both teams relied on their superior athleticism to be impactful, and it came in different ways – Hammond is athletic in all ways but their size, length, and ranginess stuck out, and it was team speed along with scrappiness that stood out for Copenhagen. For about four minutes, the hosts had the upper hand. Aubree Smykla (Copenhagen 2023) hit three jumpers off the catch, two midrange Js & a left wing three, to take a 7-3 lead at the midway point of the 1st quarter. Hammond broke the press following the three and got a Landree Kenyon (Hammond 2024) layup on the other side, and it was off to the races from there. Their length & activity defensively, especially in the half-court, took hold as Copenhagen struggled to get clean looks & even connect passes at times. On the offensive end, Ava Howie (Hammond 2025) got loose. She scored on three consecutive occasions, and after a Kenyon finish, Howie dialed up long distance to continue her flurry. The opening frame ended with another Kenyon bucket as the two joined forces for a 15-0 quarter-ending flurry to put Hammond up 18-7.
For about four minutes in the 2nd quarter, Copenhagen kept pace. For the next four… different stanza, same song. Smykla broke a 5+ minute drought with a make for Copenhagen, and the hosts got their first non-Smykla points as Madison Cheek (Copenhagen 2024) got fouled shooting a left wing three and went perfect at the stripe to make it 25-12 with 4:25 left in the half. It wasn’t necessarily the same culprits in the 2nd quarter, but the Hammond run had the same potency. Sadey Sprabary (Hammond 2023) had back-to-back buckets and added another after two Hailee Manning (Hammond 2023) free throws as their frontcourt presence really started to take hold against a smaller opponent. Howie reentered the chat with a three to force a Copenhagen timeout, then Zoey Cunningham (Hammond 2023) got her first points and Sprabary capped the run the way she started it. The end result was another 15-0 quarter-ending run and a 40-12 Hammond lead going into intermission.
The second half went much like the first. Copenhagen competed but had no answers for a Hammond team that put it all together and wouldn’t be denied. Kenyon & Manning did the damage on the scoreboard in the 3rd quarter as the frontcourt continued to establish dominance. They scored Hammond’s first 12 points of the frame, one that they modestly added to their lead in as they went to the 4th up 55-19. Before being taken out for the final minutes, Howie had another scoring spurt alongside Kenyon in the final frame. The two combined for 16 points in the first 4+ minutes of the quarter as the margin exploded into the fifties.
Ava Howie and Landree Kenyon led four Hammond players in double digits with 23 points apiece. Ava was a presence throughout but did the heavy majority of her scoring damage early & late; Landree found her production in the books evenly distributed with at least 5 points in every quarter. Sadey Sprabary had 10 in the 2nd quarter alone and added 13 in total to the cause; Hailee Manning chipped in with 12. Copenhagen was paced in the books by Aubree Smykla’s 9 points – she had all of them in the game’s first 9+ minutes.
Next Up: Compared to most teams in NY, Hammond has barely played this season. Over two months since their first practice, this was only their 8th game of the season. Although they only have 15 scheduled this season, it’ll at least feel like a normal schedule for the next few weeks as they get to a 2-3 game per week norm. Their next one is interesting as they welcome an Edwards-Knox team that played them tougher than most to their gym on Thursday. Beyond that, look for January 30 (at Hermon-DeKalb) and February 8 (home against Heuvelton) to be noteworthy regular season matchups. It’s back to Frontier League play for Copenhagen, who looks to finish out the regular season strong and will more than likely have a chance to play for their league’s D division championship in a few weeks prior to sectionals. They welcome South Lewis and LaFargeville to their gym on Wednesday & Friday this week.
- Blowouts usually don’t come with many thoughts, but this one has perhaps an abnormal amount. Stay with me if you have a few minutes.
- I’ve been doing this long enough to know what it looks like when a team ‘puts it all together’ and plays at/toward their max, even if it’s a team I don’t get to see that often. With that said, it’s clear that this was a max type performance for Hammond where pretty much every part of what they do was firing on all cylinders. And with that in mind… when it all clicks like this, Hammond is really good. They have alphas (that I’ll get into more detail about in a minute), highly capable complimentary players, they check all the physical boxes (size, length, general athleticism, toughness). If it’s a half-court game, they have some skill-based players that can produce offensively in that setting. If it isn’t – or if they’re having an off day in that regard – they can get out & score in transition, turn defense into easy offense, and manufacture points on the offensive glass. It doesn’t always all happen at the same time, but what they showed on Monday is a complete performance where it did. As good as any team in New York’s Class D field when that’s the case.
- And you can’t be a good team without good individuals. There are some very good guards in this year’s Class D field (Madalyn Barrows at Oxford, Mandy Brink at Panama, etc.). There are some very good frontcourt players in the Ds, whether it be true posts or big wings/tweener types (Joleen Lusk at Cherry Valley, Abbey Schwoebel at Boquet Valley, Vanessa Hall at Andover/Whitesville all come to mind among others). But is there a better combo in New York’s Ds than Ava Howie and Landree Kenyon at Hammond? Maybe comparable, but I don’t think better. Kenyon is a last name that’s synonymous with Hammond basketball & athletics in general, and Landree is no exception. The 2024 plays more of a forward role for them but looks like she can play at the wing too as a legitimate 6 footer, a luxury at any level but a rarity in the Ds. She was a force in the paint against a smaller Copenhagen team with several rim finishes and a rebound count that definitely got into double digits. She also displayed as a mobile forward that can break out & finish in transition, even leading the break on some occasions, and she flashed the range and showcased as a capable spot-up perimeter shooter. Howie is a 2025 but her court presence as a lead guard speaks older than her age. She’s up to about 5’8″ with a pretty refined game, something I don’t often see from North Country guards at a younger age. Ava shoots it well with consistent mechanics from beyond the arc or in the midrange, and it looks like she has the strength on the shot to push it out to college range when needed. She moved off the ball well within their half-court offense and got a couple easy ones that way, and it seemed like she recognized how to be assertive in creating for herself while also setting the table for others. I’ve had a little more opportunity to watch Ava in the past with a couple viewings during AAU season with her North Country Crush team, and it appears as though she’s putting in time because she’s continuing to develop. Two players with definite futures at the collegiate level if they choose to pursue.
- One more thought about Hammond. Where I worry about them most might be from their schedule. This is one of New York’s most talented Class D teams without question – and I’ve seen the vast majority of the better ones in person this season – and they’re only playing 15 games in the regular season. They should be considered a favorite in Section X though Heuvelton among others will give them battles – it always happens come playoff time. It sucks for them that they have a limited number of games and very few (if any) challenges. Whether it’s due to competition (not many close games, not playing from behind or being battle-tested) or even just experience in general (not playing in a big gym with no walls behind baskets, etc.), there is a slight bit of worry in my head for them because if they make it to mid-March like they have the potential to do, they’ll bump into teams considerably more battle-tested with a more complete four-month season experience. Would’ve liked to see a nonleague schedule where they try to get Indian River/General Brown/Canton types and if that doesn’t work, get in a competitive holiday or MLK tournament at least in the Syracuse area which is the closest major upstate NY city to them. Hopefully that will be the case next year as they should still be highly competitive.
- It’s somewhat impressive that Copenhagen, last year’s Class D state champions, have experienced this kind of regular season success. Not only did they graduate program cornerstones in Raegan Dalrymple & Charli Carroll, but it made them completely change their style & system as a team. They went from a team based around the bigs (that could still play with pace if needed because of those forwards’ mobility) to a guard-oriented group that plays with pace out of necessity. Just a completely different look, even though much of their rotation was there last year too, so it’s something to see them not really miss a beat against their local competition. Monday was an instance in which their home court actually hurt them in reality – stylistically, they’re better off playing a team like Hammond on a 94×50 where they can better utilize that team speed and also have more of an opportunity to space & stretch the length of their zone out. Plus they just ran into a buzzsaw with how well Hammond played, so there’s that.
- The point about this year’s Copenhagen team looking completely different than recent years brings up another one. There are certain challenges of high school coaching that get brought up all the time – not much pay for the number of hours put into the job, parent stuff that always seems to pop up, etc. One thing that I don’t think gets mentioned much is that good HS coaches have to adapt to what they have available. You can’t just wish a 6’2″ kid into existence at a public school. You can adhere to certain program principles & expectations regardless of roster makeup, but you also have to be a chameleon in regards to system & style in order to best utilize your team’s strengths and/or mask its weaknesses. Coaching at the collegiate level is more difficult in many respects, as you’d expect since it’s their full-time job – attention to detail within your team’s system and emphasis on scouting opponents along with several other things are just at a different level. But I’d say that high school coaching is even more difficult than college coaching in this regard. You can’t just stick to one system/style regardless of your team at the HS level and expect consistent success. Adapting to what you have & making the most out of their abilities is an art.
- Side note: I’m at games pretty much every night and have the opportunity to meet/interact with more than my share of people in all different roles. Copenhagen’s athletic administration is up near the top of the list for me with how kind & helpful they are. Really, everyone I interacted with on both sides at this game were all class to me. Nothing but good things to say about this trip.
- Other side note: secured the bag. Literally. Bag(s) of River Rat cheese curds now in the refrigerator. A Watertown area staple! No Jreck sub or Croghan bologna though – maybe next time.