It’s a one-two punch like no other as Cardinal O’Hara returns two first team All-WNY players in Keyonte Edwards (15 ppg.) and Jontay Walton (25.4 ppg). Walton also was named the Monsignor Martin Association Player of the Year last season playing for Holy Angels. which closed in June. The Hawks reached the Federation Class B final before losing to Irvington of Westchester County at the Times Union Center in Albany. Top post player Kelsey McCarthy was a South Division All-Catholic pick a year ago.
Coach Dan McDermott said his team with five senior starters is deeper and stronger than a year ago. He looks to implement a faster-paced transition. “Yes, the expectations are sky high, we are setting the bar very high,” McDermott said. “Obviously, we’re elated to have Jontay come aboard through the unfortunate circumstances. Hopeful this will be a great situation for her.”
The team is off to a 4-0 start with wins over Williamsville North and Wilson in the Pastor-Cooper, and two games to win the West Middlesex Kiwanis Tipoff in Pennsylvania.
Lockport (17-3), always in the Class AA mix, returns one of the best centers in WNY, 6-foot-2 Sarah Franco (15 ppg) and a solid rebounder in Alyssa Wagner (12 ppg). Guard Gretta Dry has plenty of speed aided by her soccer background. Hailey Bechtold is a small forward with 5-11 size. The Lions open tonight at home against Niagara-Wheatfield, the team that knocked them out of the sectionals last year in the semifinals.
Without question the team to watch this year is Tapestry Charter. Taking over as coach of the Thunderhawks is Fran Snyder, who spent 10 years as the coach of Holy Angels. The Class C school is off to an amazing start. They lost to four-time Catholic champion Sacred Heart by one point, 54-53 at Villa, and defeated McKinley, 66-61 and Niagara Falls, 58-53.
Leading the way has been 5-11 senior forward Adila Gathers (17 ppg.), who signed last month with Division I St. Francis of Pennsylvania of the Northeast Conference. Her AAU team was the Rochester Revolution. Gathers played two seasons at Mount St. Mary before coming over.
Freshman Nia Caver averages 18 ppg. Point guard Shaquana Owens has a bright future. Snyder lauded assistant coach Doug Herring for his drill work in practice. The team will play 10 nonleague games, many against larger schools. The Thunderhawks can give teams matchup problems because some of their taller players are the better ball handlers. They lack depth, but they run well and like to go to the basket. Could they be on a collision course with Randolph in the sectionals?
Williamsville East, coming off a 12-8 campaign, looks to senior guard Lauren DiDuro, a three-year player and last year’s second-leading scorer, and another three-year player, Kenzie Laughlin.
Williamsville North’s Ericka Taplin was an All-ECIC second team all-star last year as a freshman. “The ceiling is very high for her. She’s going to go as big has she wants to. It’s kind of up to her,” said coach Bill Shaw.
Victoria Pryor (15 ppg) and Toni Polk (10 ppg) give Niagara Falls one of the best backcourts in Section VI as the Wolverines look to improve on last year’s 14-6 mark.
Niagara-Wheatfield, a Class AA finalist a year ago, returns starters Melissa Elnicki and Kirsten Klettke.
Nikki Jacobs, who has signed with UB for softball, returns to hoops after taking a year off, and gives the Falcons size and strength. Emma Falter brings her ball handling skills and is a scoring threat.
North Tonawanda lost five games by seven or fewer points last year. Junior Megan Weaver can play four positions and has a scorer’s mentality. Sophomore Liz Wildt started last year after a midseason callup and brings solid defensive instincts.
Panama returns three seniors, PG Allison Strickland and centers Brianna Marsh and Kelsey Johnson.
Silver Creek’s Jordan Brooks (19.3 ppg. 12.8 rpg) is chasing 1,000 career points. The senior center is tough in the lane defensively and alters many shots evidenced by her 3.6 blocks per game last year.
Cheerleader-turned-basketball-player Arrika Bley is averaging 12 ppg. for North Collins.
Emily Muller and Hannah Olds will give Lew-Port senior leadership on and off the court.
CCAA I all-star Morgan Genovese, who led last year’s team in scoring, and PG Kirsta Wheelock are the returning starters for Fredonia.
Newfane has a solid all-around guard in three-year player Claire Puff. She made half of her three-point attempts last year and has worked on taking the ball to the basket more. Senior forward Marlo Macfarlane brings toughness under the boards.
Senior Alexis Clark will be counted on to hit the glass on both ends of the floor for Dunkirk. Senior Jessica Gifford returns for her third season on the varsity.
Franklinville is off to a 3-0 start after winning the Portville Tournament. Ally Haskell (16 ppg this season) was named tourney MVP and Vanessa Pfeiffer (16 ppg) was all-tournament.
Second-year varsity players Jessica Sowa and Emma Weyand will be counted on heavily by Gowanda.
Salamanca builds around the core of 5-11 Alyssa Stahlman, Alyssa Coustenis and Keely Watt.
Barker will be led by returning starters Olivia Denny (an All-WNY field hockey player), Julia Atwater and Caitlyn Mason.
1st: Keyonte Edwards, O’Hara
1st: Jontay Walton, Holy Angels
2nd: Annie Campion, Jamestown
2nd: Sarah Saba, Lancaster
2nd: Mckenna Maycock, Randolph
4th: Awilda Murphy, Holy Angels
4th: Jacque Law, Pioneer
Honorable mention: Jenna Einink (Chautauqua Lake), Ericka Taplin (Williamsville North), Sabrina Lipowski (Williamsville East), Ciara Rosten (Maryvale), Olivia Schmidt (Holland), Victoria Pryor (Niagara Falls), Sara Franco (Lockport), Kayla Mansfield (Pine Valley), Daesha Thomas (McKinley), Andrea Zeigler (Buffalo Arts).
Returning Players of the Year: Thomas (Canisius Cup League I) and Zeigler (Canisius Cup League II), Walton (Monsignor Martin), Saba (ECIC large schools), Law (ECIC small schools), Maycock (CCAA II). Maycock scored 633 points last season giving her 1,669 in her career with two seasons left.
Maycock has given a verbal to St. Bonaventure. Saba signed last month with Daemen College. Her Lancaster teammate, Allie Stewart, has signed with Canisius for lacrosse. Lancaster’s Megan Hardy has been developing quickly.
After 22 seasons at Lockport, Shaw has been welcomed at Williamsville North. Last year’s coach, Clare Battle, moved with her husband, former UB standout and assistant coach Turner Battle, to Chattanooga, Tenn. Shaw considers the move to North as a great opportunity and he’s looking forward to building a program.
“They lost a coach they loved. I come in and bring in a totally different style and way of doing things and that’s tough for them and I get that. I’m sure the Lockport kids are feeling the same thing,” he said. “It will pass and both teams will be fine.”
Chris Durr returns to the Williamsville East sidelines for the first time since 2008-2009. Shaw and Durr are Section VI co-chairmen for girls basketball.
Yvette Angel, a 1981 Sacred Heart graduate who scored 1,511 points in an All-WNY career, is the new coach at Sweet Home. … Ken Ricker, longtime Jamestown head coach, returns to the Red Raiders’ bench as an assistant.
Msgr. Martin: Sacred Heart
Class AA: Jamestown
Class A-1: Grand Island
Class A-2: Pioneer
Class B-1: Olean
Class B-2: Wilson
Class C-1: Randolph
Class C-2: Frewsburg
Class D: Sherman
Sacred Heart is working toward its fifth Monsignor Martin Association title in a row. The Sharks’ lineup includes guard Awilda Murphy, a first team All-Catholic pick who came over from Holy Angels last spring. Murphy uses her exceptional ball-handling skills to handle pressure, and she can go to the basket.
Guard Chelsea Smith is the only returning starter and one of only three seniors on the roster. She can run the point well enough that Murphy can look for her shot. Co-captain Jackie Adolph is back after missing part of last season following ACL surgery. Sacred Heart has a pair of 6-1 sophomores in Sarah Young and Kathleen Ryan. Both got plenty of minutes last year. Sacred Heart and O’Hara will meet once in the regular season, Feb. 6. Among Sacred Heart’s nonleaguers will be defending state Class C champion Bishop Kearney in January.
“The chemistry isn’t built yet. They’ve never played together; only one who got a lot of playing time last year was Chelsea,” said coach Sister Maria Pares. “I think there’s going to be a lot of balanced scoring. Even with the league it’s going to be interesting.”
Based on its personnel, Jamestown will get away from its longtime pressing attack. Nine of the team’s 12 players are juniors led by Chrisanna Green, who is averaging 25 points and 16 rebounds in two league games. She is getting plenty of college interest. Team leader Anne Campion is off to another solid start throwing in at least 20 ppg.
Wilson is coming off a 20-2 season in which it won the Niagara-Orleans League for the fourth year, compiling a 54-2 record over the span. Wilson has won Class B-2 three of the last four years. Emily Lasher (12 ppg.) is a four-year player and two-year co-captain. Co-captain Dana Smith broke the school record last year for blocks with 83. Allie Bubar is a four-year starter who averages 5.0 steals per game.
Randolph has won the overall Class C title three years in a row. Its 11-player roster includes three returning starters, Mckenna Maycock, Peyton Terrette and Santana France. The Cardinals got a late start to the season because five of its players were on the volleyball team that reached states.
The Cardinals (1-1) lost in the finals of Saturday’s Westfield Tournament to Chautauqua Lake. Regardless, coach Shawn Huntington said he feels his team is further along than it was a year ago at this time.
“I’ve got a bunch of girls who can shoot the ball,” he said. “Mckenna is a force, but we’ve got some other girls who are working hard that are making shots. They’re still young, but they’re going to figure it out.”
Frewsburg returns a young team as it follows on the heels of last year’s 19-3 club whose only losses were to Randolph twice and O’Hara. The only starter returning for the Class C-2 champs is senior Emily Hair (7.7 ppg.). Two freshmen who have earned starting spots are Olivia Lynn and Mackenzie Swartzman.
Sherman, one win shy of a 20-win season a year ago, returns just one starter, guard Bridget Yaw (14 ppg), selected to the CCAA IV team as a freshman. Junior guard Talia Coccarelli averaged 15 ppg. on a 17-1 JV team from last year. The team is made up of four sophomores, four juniors and two seniors.
• Sacred Heart (large schools), Cardinal O’Hara (small) are the defending Buffalo News Poll champions.
• Section VI was not represented in the state final four last year as all five class champions lost in the Far West Regionals to Section V Rochester.
• Olean has left CCAA I to play an independent schedule. The Huskies made the move after the CCAA broke its league up based on travel distances instead of by enrollment. Olean, which plays in Class A, would have played a lot of Class C and D schools. All 18 games will count toward power points for sectional seedings purposes.
• Buffalo State is the new site for the Crossover and Sectional finals this year in Classes AA, A and B. The last time the games were there was 1998. The event had been at NCCC. Buffalo State got rave reviews after hosting last year’s Far West Regionals, so the move was made to put the earlier two rounds there. The Class C and D finals will remain at Jamestown High School, where there would be less travel and the crowds are tremendous. The boys tournament, also held at Buffalo State, will not be affected.
• Former IAC member Park joins the Monsignor Martin Association, becoming one of 11 teams that will play in one division.
• The second-best place for information on girls basketball can be found on their website: www.section6girlsbasketball.com.