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Zhaneia Thybulle, Elmont: State championship or bust

Elmont's Zhaneia Thybulle (15) puts one up and

Elmont's Zhaneia Thybulle (15) puts one up and scores during the Nassau High School girls basketball Class A finals between Elmont and North Shore on March 3, 2018 at Farmingdale State College. Credit: Bob Sorensen

It’s state championship or bust for the Elmont girls basketball team, especially after the Spartans got a taste of the state Class A Final Four last season.

Eventual state champion Jamesville DeWitt (Syracuse) defeated Elmont, 70-42, a year ago, and while Elmont could meet DeWitt in this year’s final, its eyes are set squarely on Buffalo’s Williamsville South, which it plays 8 p.m. Friday night at Hudson Valley CC in Troy.

“It definitely made us more mature and more composed last year,” senior point guard Zhaneia Thybulle said. “Everybody has definitely grown since last year, and it shows in our game.”

Williamsville South (18-5-1) boasts considerable height, with 6-5 freshman Amari DeBerry the tallest of a team with eight girls of at least 5-9. DeBerry averages 17.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game, and it will be up to Elmont’s Kem Nwabudu to limit her impact.

An aggressive 5-11 center, Nwabudu isn’t hesitant to play physically down low. She can also stretch her jumper out on the perimeter.

Elmont’s calling card is its fast pace. That could prove especially useful against Williamsville South, which Spartans coach Tom Magno said tends to play zone defense. If Elmont (22-2) can take advantage of the zone by hitting jump shots — something the Spartans have been successful at this season — then a trip to the state Class A final is not out of the question.

Baldwin hopes to repeat

The defending state champions are geared up for another run at the Class AA crown. Coach Tom Catapano spent time scouting his semifinals opponent, Bishop Kearney, in Rochester and came away impressed with their athleticism and ability to run and press.

Bishop Kearney (19-4) can shoot from distance and play inside, so the Bruins could have their hands full. That said, Commack, a very well-rounded team, couldn’t handle Baldwin (22-1) in the Long Island Class AA championship.

Baldwin’s semifinal is 10:45 a.m. Saturday.

Should the Bruins advance, they could possibly play Ossining (Westchester) in a rematch of last year’s final, which Baldwin coasted through, 73-45. This year’s Ossining team is deeper, however, led by Aubrey Griffin, the daughter of nine-year NBA veteran Adrian Griffin.

She averages 28.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game as a 6-foot junior who can play all five positions. Second in scoring is Kailah Harris, a 6-1 forward/center, at 21.3 points per game. Kelsey Quain provides an outside touch with 94 made three-pointers this season.

Baldwin has its eye on the Federation Tournament, where a semifinal matchup against Long Island Lutheran looms. But star Aziah Hudson has maintained her focus on the present.

Said Hudson: “We’ve been taking it one step at a time throughout the whole process.”

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