The center of the girls basketball universe this season, at least among public schools, has been Williamsville.
The three Williamsville schools have been around the top of the area rankings throughout the season. Only Lake Shore has entered the picture at times.
With the Section VI playoffs now underway, the biggest question thus becomes: Can anyone stop the Williamsville teams in the coming weeks? We’ll know by the end of February, and we might also see the game of the tournament if Williamsville South and Williamsville East are matched up in the A-1 final.
The playoffs usually offer some great games as well as a handful of upsets. Here is a look at what’s coming up – with the help of some insiders who offered anonymous viewpoints of what could happen.
Last Year: Jamestown beat Williamsville North, 53-35.
Favorite: Williamsville North (18-0) is the last remaining unbeaten in Western New York, and that’s worth celebrating. Naturally, though, one loss now can wipe out 10 weeks of good feelings. Added motivation can found in last year’s Class AA final defeat. The Spartans are led by Ericka Taplin, who has averaged 19.2 points per game, and Ally Delano, at 13.6 ppg.
Contenders: Orchard Park, the second seed, and Lockport, the No. 3 seed, have records of 14-6 and 13-5 respectively. The Lions could be pesky if healthy. They are led by Margretta Dry’s 12.6 ppg, and might be the biggest threat to Williamsville North.
Sleepers: Kenmore West (14-6) and Clarence (13-7) have been on the fringes of the large school rankings throughout the season. Either is capable of doing some damage.
Best potential game: An Orchard Park vs. Lockport game would be a good one.
Last Year: Williamsville South defeated Hamburg, 61-37.
Favorite: The Billies (15-3) won the state championship last time through this obstacle course, so they clearly know what to do in late winter. Experience counts. Brianna Neeley has picked up her game this season; she is averaging 17 ppg.
Contenders: Erica Martinsen has had a monster season for Williamsville East (17-2), the second seed. The Flames guard has averaged more than 31 ppg, easily the best figure in Section VI. She can single-handedly change a game’s outcome, and that makes Williamsville East dangerous. No. 3 Hamburg (13-7) and No. 4 Grand Island (14-6) have been pretty good this season, but it would be a surprise if they advanced past the semifinals.
Sleeper: Form is likely to hold here, with the four top seeds reaching the semifinals. Any party-crashers become the winner of the “sleeper” designation.
Best potential game: Since Williamsville South vs. Williamsville East split two games earlier this season, a third game on a neutral court is the fitting way to settle matters.
Last Year: Lake Shore beat Cheektowaga, 54-37.
Favorite: Lake Shore (15-4) is ranked first this season, and deservedly so. And the Eagles are probably happy to be away from Williamsville East and Williamsville South for now. Raeann White leads Lake Shore at 14.7 points per game.
Contenders: There are only two other teams in the bracket with records above .500: Kenmore East (13-6) and Amherst (11-7). Both have been around the bottom of the large school poll for much of the season.
Sleeper: Kenetria Redfern is averaging 23.4 points per game for Cheektowaga (9-11). That sort of scoring talent can make a difference in a single game. But the A-2 champion seems likely to come from the top three seeds.
Best potential game: There’s not much to choose between Kenmore East and Amherst if they play a semifinal. The last team to score just might win.
Last year: East Aurora beat Tonawanda, 58-31.
Favorite: Emma Brinker is a game-changing athlete at center, continuing her development for East Aurora (15-2). She’s played a key role in the Blue Devils’ rise to the top of the small-school rankings. Brinker has 255 points and 253 rebounds, which puts her well over a double-double per game.
Contenders: This is a great bracket. Nine teams have winning records, so it’s not likely that anyone will have an easy path. Olean is coming off an 18-1 season, with freshman Sara Pfeifer leading the offense at 22 ppg. No. 3 Buffalo Arts is 13-7. No. 4 Newfane is 16-4 and seeking to make up for an early exit last season. And down the list it goes.
Sleeper: The winner of a game between Newfane and No. 5 Depew might have a bit of momentum entering a potential matchup with East Aurora.
Best potential game: Purists would love to see a contest between East Aurora and Olean. The Blue Devils like their post play, while the Huskies prefer to shoot from outside. Conflicting styles often make for great games.
Last year: Cleveland Hill defeated Fredonia, 54-35.
Favorite: With the 2015 champion moving to C-1, this division looked for the taking in November. That’s still the case. There’s a perception that top seed Emerson (15-4) isn’t clearly better than other teams here, in spite of top scorer Janae Brannon (25.5 ppg). As the No. 2 team, Wilson (17-1) might be the consensus pick to go all the way this time. Rachel Senek leads the Lakewomen in scoring with a 13.4 average.
Contenders: Fredonia (15-4), the third seed, was the one team that figured out a way to defeat Olean. Hannah Cybart averages almost 16 points.
Sleeper: Southwestern (12-8) has a lot of seniors in the starting lineup, and gave Olean some problems. The Trojans could turn up in the final.
Best potential game: Some are talking about a Wilson-Fredonia game as a potential final in the class, even if it’s played in the semifinals.
Last year: Chautauqua Lake defeated Salamanca, 58-33.
Favorite: Allegany-Limestone (17-2) is big and good. Allison Forness led the Gators with a 21.6 scoring average, and the supporting cast works well together. They didn’t lose a game in league play this season.
Contenders: Cleveland Hill moved down a class, and put together a good season at 14-4. You have to think the Eagles have the confidence to make things happen. Tapestry (15-4) has a fine player in Nia Carver, who averages more than 20 ppg.
Sleeper: Chautauqua Lake is used to success, having won the last two championships. A 9-11 record isn’t up to its usual standards, so the Thunderbirds aren’t really on the radar of many.
Best potential game: A Cleveland Hill-Tapestry game could be exciting, even if both teams would need to do some driving to get there. The semifinal matchup would be played in Jamestown.
Last year: Randolph downed Holland, 75-46.
Favorite: Olivia Schmidt is the starting point for any discussion about the No. 1 seeded Holland team (17-3). She is averaging around 22 ppg and ranks with the school’s all-time greats. Schmidt’s presence makes Holland the team to beat here.
Contenders: Portville is 16-4 and ranked second, so the Panthers will be part of the discussion. Frewsburg might be the mystery team of the class. The Bears are 19-1, with the loss coming to Panama. Frewsburg didn’t have a signature win against a top team along the way. That makes it tough to judge the Bears.
Sleeper: Randolph didn’t play like a defending champion at times, but still wound up 12-8 for the fifth seed and played a tough schedule. Handle with care.
Best potential game: If Frewsburg catches a little lightning in a bottle, the Bears would be an interesting test for Holland in the final.
Last year: Panama defeated Maple Grove, 65-35.
Favorite: The Panthers (18-4) look like they are set to win another Section VI championship. Panama lost early games to Chautauqua Lake and Randolph but has been outstanding the rest of the way. Emilee Sperry leads the team at close to 14 points a game.
Contender: Franklinville has other ideas. The Panthers are 18-2, and are led by some very good young shooters like Allyson Haskell (21 ppg) and eighth-grader Danielle Haskell (almost 20 ppg). That could set up a nice final, but don’t buy your tickets yet.
Sleeper: Ellicottville had a nice win over Franklinville earlier in the month. The Eagles are 13-5 and are led by Marrissa Hamilton (21.0 ppg). They could be ready to roll. Sherman compiled a quiet 14-6 record, losing one game to Panama in overtime but dropped another game to the Panthers badly.
Best potential game: A Panama-Franklinville final looks like the game to see from the distance of two weeks away.