Considering the number of times Northville's Ryan VanNostrand and Broadalbin-Perth's Dan Schulz put their teammates on their backs, took the game in their hands and made good, you'd think they'd have broader shoulders.
Neither go-to player was of noteworthy stature, but both carried great store of that immeasurable something we like to label with terms like "clutch," "go-to" or "guts."
Schulz scored all 12 of his team's fourth-quarter points in last year's Section II Class B semifinal win over Ichabod Crane, then led the Patriots with 13 in a seven-point loss to Hoosic Valley in the final. He also was the Fulton County Athlete of the Year.
VanNostrand was held to 12 points in the Falcons' Section II Class D championship win over St. Johnsville, but in a regional win over Section VII's Westport he scored 13 of his game-high 22 in the first 5:10 of the second half. The scoring burst lifted Northville out of a three-point hole to a seven-point advantage. In his team's 21-point loss to Chateaugay in the state quarterfinals, he led the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Both had what it took to guide their teams to success, but both also had caps and gowns waiting at the end of the year.
The Falcons also lost another solid option and distributor, point guard Josh Dietrich, to graduation. Dietrich didn't throw in the numbers VanNostrand did every night, but served just as often to steady his team.
Now the teammates that remain are left looking around for the next player with ice water running through his veins.
Even if the Falcons or Patriots find that next reliable shooter/defender/rebounder/leader in the final minutes of their games, it is no guarantee of a return to the Section II championship game or beyond. Last season, both teams had the luxury of knowing where to look from the first tip-off. Now, they have to spend a portion of the season learning who they are without last year's lead men.
B-P coach Tucker Gifford said he doesn't know who it is yet, if there is a next guy on this team. There isn't always.
The Patriots have seven returning seniors, though, each a candidate for the job.
Rob Norgard's timely points and rebounds in the final minutes of the sectional finals kept his team in the game. Brian Blake added eight points against a Hoosic Valley defense that held the Patriots to 37. Justin Boyles has the height and potential to play a larger role this season.
Both Gifford and returning senior Shane Hathaway said after the loss in the finals there was a good chance for the team to return - that the 2007-08 season served as a building block for the Patriots.
Northville's returning sectional champions include Jordan Williams, who chipped in 11 against Chateaugay and 19 in the sectional title game against St. Johnsville. He was named the Class D sectional tournament's most valuable player. Williams' slashing attack is often effective and only lost potency last year on the occasions he let his body get ahead of him on his drive to the hoop. The addition of a reliable outside shooting game would certainly make him a top candidate for late-game consideration, as he seems to be mostly unaffected by the weight of pressure situations.
Sophomore coach Ryan Gander said during the preseason he sees a lot of talent on this squad, perhaps more than he had to work with last season. He said Michael VanNostrand is struck from the same mold as his older brother, the one that makes physical post players with a nose for the ball and basket. He also has a trio of point guards that are vying for a starting spot and court time. That competition in the practice gym also may breed a new star.
Playing against each other in practice or other teams in scrimmages will do little for either team in their search for replacements for VanNostrand and Schulz. The real search will begin this weekend. Northville plays Johnstown to open the Andy Palmer-Canajoharie Basketball Tip-Off Classic in Friday's first round. B-P will play Cohoes in a neutral-site game Saturday at Scotia-Glenville.