When it comes to winning the largest classifications in Western New York, no league has a stash of Section VI plaques quite like the Niagara Frontier League.
NFL schools have produced both the Class AA and Class A champion in six of the last seven years. Lockport has won Class AA three of the last four years and Grand Island has raised the Class A flag three years in a row.
Seemingly hit hard by graduation each year, veteran coaches Bill Shaw of Lockport and Jen Banker of Grand Island do some rebounding of their own, molding their teams into title contenders by late February.
Lockport is a work in progress with just three seniors. Shaw was pleasantly surprised last week when his team entered the fourth quarter tied with Section V stalwart Rush-Henrietta before losing by seven-points.
“I scheduled the game because I wanted to see where we,” said Shaw. “They played awfully well, awfully hard. They’re a hard-working team, not always real smart, but that will come as the year goes on. We’ve got some talent and I think they have the ability to be a pretty good team in February and March.”
Alexis Cheatham is a three-point shooting threat who poured in 29 against Rush-Henrietta. Sara Franco is back, giving the Lady Lions some height at 6-foot-2.
The Lady Lions were last season’s Buffalo News Large School poll champion.
Grand Island’s 6-3 center Cassie Oursler has signed with Robert Morris University coached by Sal Buscaglia, UB’s coach from 1990-1998.
“With the graduation of Anna Gailite, there is a need that we are thrilled we were able to fill with the signing of Cassie,” Buscaglia said. “With dedication and hard work, Cassie can develop into a very good post player for us. She runs the floor very well and has showed the potential to contribute very quickly to our team.”
Oursler was second team All-WNY last year averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game.
“I loved the team, they were like the nicest people ever. I liked how close of a relationship they all had,” she said.
Oursler, Kassie Bennett and Grace Olszewski give the Vikings three returning starters.
Niagara-Wheatfield returns All-WNY honorable mention and NFL all-star Melissa Smith.
ECIC I: Lancaster, Class AA finalists a year ago and the defending ECIC I champion, returns all-WNY honorable mention and All-ECIC I-II pick junior Sarah Saba. Seniors Kim Siresi and Miranda Hardy give the Redskins three returning starters. Saba, coming off her breakout season of a year ago, will put up some serious numbers this year.
Frontier returns All-WNY honorable mention and All-ECIC I-II pick Natalie Galus (16.8 ppg). She entered the season 176 points shy of 1,000 and holds the school record for most points in game with 36 last season against Orchard Park.
Noelle Poloncarz and Shaye Swiatek are returning starters for Orchard Park. Swiatek moves to shooting guard to make room for seventh grader Mariah Modkins to play the point. “She plays basketball year round and I guess we’re kind of lucky to have someone that talented in the program,” coach Josh Dannecker said of Modkins.
Williamsville North couldn’t be much younger as Megan Cirbus is the only senior and Katie Wolfe the only junior. Wolfe is the only holdover from the Spartans’ championship team from 2011. One of the top underclassmen is 5-11 center Ericka Taplin, just a freshman. She led the team in rebounds and blocks last year.
Clarence will build around its only returning starter, junior point guard Blair Budzinski.
ECIC II: Defending division champion Hamburg will be led by its only returning starter, senior Taylor Wolf. Wolf is a two-time All-WNY pick in field hockey, but she’ll play lacrosse in college after signing with Niagara.
Iroquois returns a pair of ECIC II all-stars, Lauren Jensen and Jenny Colvin.
Sweet Home, which drops down from ECIC I, returns three starters including seniors Alyssa and Erika Perk, twin sisters, and Hannah Hodges. Alyssa was last year’s leading scorer (10.2) and Hodges is the only three-year varsity player.
Among the options for Williamsville South are sophomore Grace Licata, who had 44 threes last year, sophomore guard Emily Smith, a strong overall player, and freshman forward Brianna Neeley, a strong rebounder.
Starpoint looks to take over games with four starters back. Freshman center Erica Bradley earned MVP honors in the Roy-Hart Tip-Off. Jenna Faulkner returns at the point after starting every game last year as a freshman.
Williamsville East seniors Sabrina Lipowski and Maggie Steele are the team’s nucleus. The junior class is led by returners Lauren DiDuro and Kenzie Laughlin.
ECIC III: Pioneer has won this division the last six years and has been in the Class A-2 final the last six years. The Panthers lost both games in the Matt Foster tournament, but did beat Springville in the league opener. Shannon Rogers and Jacque Law seldom leave the floor.
Taylor Potenza of East Aurora was an honorable mention All-WNY and an All-ECIC III-IV pick.
Junior point guard Chelsea Buono is an all-around player who can shoot the three, drive to the hole and makes good decisions with the ball. Junior Sam Wayne can post up strong and can hit the mid-range jump shot.
Returning league all-stars are Law and Mykia Lee of Cheektowaga.
Amherst looks to build around returning players Julie Sullivan, Holly Sullivan and Claire Wanzer.
Maryvale’s 6-1 junior center Ciera Rosten was named MVP of the Flyers inaugural tournament on Saturday. Senior Emily Spidel, a five-year varsity player, has averaged 21 points in her first two games.
ECIC IV: Senior PG Emily Carias is the lone returning starter for defending league champ Eden. Carias will be joined by seniors Erin Dix, Meg McCarthy, Honna Zittel, and sophomore Sabrina Kraska.
Alden returns four senior starters led by four-year starter Miranda Daucher, who is certain to crack into the Bulldogs all-time Top 10 scoring list.
Returning all-stars are Carias and Olivia Schmidt of Holland.
Lackawanna forwards Nicolette Smith and Ta’Juana Baker look to continue their domination of the boards as they both averaged 10 per game last year.
JFK will have five new starters. Tri-Captains Mariah Hahn, Katelyn Sikora and Jaclyn Smith are scoring threats.
Niagara-Orleans: Wilson has won the league the last two seasons and also is the back-to-back Section VI Class B-1 champion. Their motto is: “One Team, One Heartbeat … Without each other we are nothing!”
Backing up those words will be senior Jamie Curry, a four-year player who scored 307 points, including a school record 47 three-pointers with 120 steals last year. She owns a share of the school record for most threes in a game with five. She was All-WNY honorable mention last year.
Emily Lasher is another scoring threat who grabbed 130 rebounds a year ago.
Look for Newfane to be in the thick of the race with all five starters back and the talent from a 16-2 JV at its disposal. The Panthers have a foursome of three-year starters Katie Shaw, Jordan Beutel, Jessica Hambruch and Maddy Passuite.
“They all have very good knowledge of the game and what we are doing on the court since they have been playing together for a while,” said first-year coach Kevin Klumpp.
Junior Olivia Denny is a three-year starter at point guard for Barker. Senior forward Sydney Webb will be counted on for points inside.
Returning all-N-O picks are Alba Perez of Medina, Olivia Kelkenburg of Roy-Hart and Curry.
CCAA I: Olean has won the overall Class B title three of the last four years. Look for more of the same with all five starters back on a senior-leaden team. The Huskies have plenty of depth running players in and out and not losing much.
Coach Don Scholla said with experience comes expectations. Looking to fill those will be senior Emily Bantelman and Rachel Pinter, who each averaged in double figures last year. Maggie Moore, Kaylee Pearl and Sara Ziegler (9.0 rebounds a game) complete the seasoned lineup.
Halee George of Allegany-Limestone is a second team CCAA I all-star and a four-year starter. Katie Scott is a lock-down defender who had seven steals in the opening win over St. Mary’s. The Gators’ third returning starter is Abby Watson, daughter of St. Bonaventure athletic director Steve Watson.
Southwestern won CCAA I last year, but has plenty of holes to fill with the graduation of four starters.
Falconer forward Shannon Gunnell isn’t just the top player on her team, she’s also ranked in the top 10 in her class. She is the Falcons’ leading rebounder while Abby Courtney brings the ball against pressure.
Returning league all-stars are Bantelman, Khee Nance of Dunkirk and Alexa Farner of Gowanda.
Farner, ranked at the top of her class, was last year’s leading scorer and rebounder and remains a threat down low. Senior guard Kayla Isaac is a three-point shooter already named all-tournament at Salamanca.
Nance has led Dunkirk in steals the last three seasons and can score from anywhere on the floor. She had 27 points and 18 rebounds to beat Lake Shore.
CCAA II: Randolph, Class C state finalist a year ago, looks to win Class C for the third year in a row. Sophomore Mckenna Maycock enters her fourth year and currently has 1,086 points. The left-hander drives and shoots equally well. She was fourth team All-WNY. She just came off a volleyball season in which she was named league MVP. Senior Mandy Finch brings solid defense and leadership.
Frewsburg finished 17-4 last year with three of the losses coming to Randolph, including the C-2 finals.
The Bears return senior point guard Shawna Raymond, All-WNY honorable mention, and CCAA II Player of the Year. She already holds the school record holder for career points (1,118), career steals (401) and assists (269).
On Saturday she was named MVP of the Pine Valley Tournament following 25 and 21-point performances.
“She’s tightened up her shooting a little bit, and she holds onto her dribble a little bit longer to create for herself and others,” said coach Jeff Collver. Raymond is a 5-year starter. Her supporting cast includes senior Reyanne Strong (10.3 ppg) and senior Annie Berg (10 ppg.).
CCAA III: Talk about a confidence-builder. Chautauqua Lake’s 3-0 record includes a 62-40 victory over state finalist Randolph in the championship of the Westfield Tip-Off.
“We switched our defense up pretty much and tried to frustrate them a little bit,” said coach Eric Schuster, “but they’ll come up with something the next time we play them.”
The Thunderbirds should be contenders for the Class C-2 title along with Frewsburg and the Cardinals.
Chautauqua Lake is led by guard Courtney Hewes, who was an honorable mention All-WNY pick. Jenna Einink is a very athletic post player. In three games this season she had 17 rebounds against Clymer, 14 steals against Silver Creek and 10 assists versus Randolph.
Senior Shae Smith is a returning starter and captain for Salamanca. They opened the season beating Pine Valley in the final of its own tip-off tournament. “We’re 3-0 but this week with Allegany-Limestone and Randolph will be a good test for us,” said coach Pete Weishan.
CCAA IV: This league has produced the Class D champion the last four years. Clymer and Sherman have met for the crown all four times with both teams winning twice.
Sherman has scoring machine Ellie Reed, All-WNY honorable mention, and the returning CCAA IV Player of the Year. Wildcats coach Mel Swanson is the winningest active coach in Section VI with 540 wins as he begins his 35th year.
Clymer answers with 6-0 forward Dani Reinwald, also an All-WNY honorable mention. Reinwald averaged 21 ppg. and 17 rpg. as a junior. Look for her to break the school rebounding record. “She’s a very athletic forward that moves well without the ball with good range on her jump shot,” said coach Scott Neckers.
Reinwald was a league all-star along with Brittany Lenart of Panama.
Jo-Linda Rhodes is a 5-5 guard for Clymer, who averaged five steals a game and has exceptional shooting range.
Lenart is a standout sophomore who can run the point, rebound, play in the post, and is a sharp shooter from three. “Her best quality though is that she is a team-first kid,” said coach Rob Collver. “She will do anything and play anywhere if it will help the team.”
Panama’s Carly Abbate has exceptional court vision and Brianna Marsh is a 6-footer, who can step back and drain a three as well as bring the ball up the floor.
Last year’s CCAA III champion, Ellicottville, moves into CCAA IV and will be strong in Class D.
The Eagles boast Janae Hamilton, who entered the season with over 800 points. She was a middle hitter on the school’s state championship volleyball team. She’s honorable mention All-WNY and the CCAA III Player of the Year. Hamilton’s younger sister, Marissa, runs the point.
Canisius Cup: Hutch-Tech, winner of the Canisius Cup the last two years, look to forward Tricia Buckwald. Dae’sha Thomas of McKinley is the returning Division I All-High player. In Division II, junior Tatiana Deas of I-Prep Grover is the returning Player of the Year. Taylor James of Olmsted, Erika Thompson of Olmsted and Alish Stover of OTC Middle College are returning All-High players.
New coaches: After the last seven years at Hutch-Tech and the previous eight at Traditional, Dave Sardo has resigned citing increased demands on an off the court. He finishes his career with approximately 240 wins. He will remain at Tech’s cross country and track coach.
Bob Merkle takes over for Sardo. Kristen Dolan, who previously coached Sweet Home, takes over at Williamsville South. Her assistant is longtime Holy Angels coach Mike DelValle.
Current Williamsville East Athletic Director Chris Mucica takes over behind the Flames bench.
After a one-year absence, Pete Weishan has returned to Salamanca. He retired from teaching in 2008 after coaching the boys for 33 years.
A pair of Williamsville East graduates who played for Chris Durr are first-year coaches. Meghan Himelin, a 2003 grad, take over at Gowanda while Megan Rumschik (2005) is the new coach at Starpoint.
The new coach at Falconer is Emily Schlenco, up from the JV. Kevin Klumpp takes over at Newfane, after five years with the JV.
Other new coaches are Marisa Clark (Mount St. Mary), Doug Glose (Mount Mercy), and Scott Mueller (Lew-Port).