Every year the sectionals come along and every year Canisius Cup teams do the big fade. But this season, not all of the Buffalo Public Schools will be going quietly.
And least that's the word out of Traditional this year. The Lady Bees are one of the fastest rising programs in Western New York, and there's no better venue in which to show it than the postseason tournament.< "We know that people see a city team and start rubbing their hands together," Traditional coach Dave Sardo said. "Once the rankings appeared last week people said either they're not that good, or they don't play anybody. I don't think people know what to make of us when they first see us. They'll find out fast. We can play with anybody."
Canisius Cup teams who do enter sectionals are a combined 8-17 the past two years. Hutch-Tech was the last city school to win a sectional title in 1990. Traditional won't be easy pickins this year.
The Bees go nine deep, led by senior Alohndra Brown (13 ppg) - who can score from anywhere on the floor - and heady and athletic junior Dionne Turnage. Sardo said freshman Germany Jackson has "the energy of the sun. If we can harness it in the right direction, she's going to be scary."
Traditional, ranked No. 5 in The News small schools poll, is 11-1, its lone loss to No. 6 large school Iroquois. Its next big test is Feb. 9 against Bennett for first place.
Sardo said he's blessed to have good kids who love to play and hate to leave the gym. "What's not to like?"
Other programs on the rise are Cassadaga Valley, Iroquois, Williamsville North, Wilson and Sherman. Here's a quick look at each:
- Cassadaga Valley: The Cougars were built in the offseason. Three-year starter sophomore Kay Martin teamed with two Maple Grove players, Ashley Kulju and Christynne Papincak, and won the national Gus Macker tournament held in Florida in the 13-14 age group. Senior forward Erin Roberts spent most of last season watching, but she played on an AAU team based in Salamanca over the summer, and this year she's a force.
Martin, junior Chelsey Marsh and junior Kim Puleo make up a starting backcourt that can press, run and score. The Cougars, 11-10 last year, are a post player away from making noise at sectionals.
- Iroquois: It's been a collection of juniors and sophomores that has Iroquois leading ECIC III and looking like a Class B finalist. The future looks bright for this group of underclassmen who have won 13 of 14 games so far.
The Chiefs avenged their only loss this season on Saturday beating West Seneca West, 50-37. Iroquois is the only team to have beaten Traditional, storming back from a 14-point deficit to win, 71-57. Iroquois leads ECIC III, but must travel to defending champion Depew on Feb. 8.
Eva Cunningham averages 19 ppg. and is 62 points away from joining 1982 graduate Maria Zizzi (1,066) as the school's only 1,000-point scorers. Val Jacobs (10 rpg) is chasing the single season rebounding record of 268.
- Williamsville North: With last year's 4-17 record ancient history, the Spartans have turned it around. North, ranked No. 9 among large schools, is 8-3 so far with its losses coming to No. 3 West Seneca West, No. 5 Williamsville East and No. 7 Jamestown.
First-year coach Dan Greiner, up from the JV, said he inherited a very athletic team. Junior Chrissy Baum averages 13 points, while senior Tessa DiBenedetto and Tara Fornasiero are solid contributors. All-Western New York soccer player sophomore Amanda Edwards starts. The Spartans have been in every game despite losing starter Sara Colombo after the first couple of games with a nagging back injury.
- Wilson: After years of watching Starpoint, Medina, Roy-Hart and Newfane win league titles, the feeling in Wilson is it's their turn. With a 7-0 record, the Lakewomen are shooting for the first title in the program's history.
They passed an early-season test by beating Starpoint in their league opener. Coach Larry Lash, now in his sixth season, attributes the early-season success to depth and his players' willingness to accept roles.
Young players are giving the team quality minutes as well with 5-11 freshman Jamie Feagin averaging 10 points and sophomore Kristen Curry playing well off the bench. Lash said for many of his players basketball is their first love. "It's the type of team you sit up and dream about," he said.
Teams on top
No longer on the rise, Clarence, Kenmore East, Fredonia, Holy Angels and Pine Valley are programs that have arrived.
- Clarence: Was beating Williamsville East a sign of good things to come for Clarence? The Red Devils certainly hope so as they make a bid for their first ECIC title since they were tri-champions of Division II in 1993-94.
Senior Katie MacFarlane is a dominating player, averaging 25 points and 15 rebounds per game, but she also has a solid supporting cast. Junior Jamie Vaughan and senior Jen Malinowski are point guard-type players who can break pressure and also run the offense. Vaughan has delivered in the big games (24 points vs. East) and Malinowski does well at guarding the other team's best ball handler.
Coach Mark Layer, in his 10th season, said teams are playing them more straight up because sagging on MacFarlane won't be enough to beat them.
- Kenmore East: Balanced scoring, five returning starters and an effective full-court press have the Lady Bulldogs (11-1) enjoying the No. 1 ranking among large schools.
Four players average in double figures: junior Maria Atti (14 ppg), senior Mary Beth Owczarzak (13 ppg), senior Jade Fleming (12 ppg, 11 rpg) and junior Felisa Brown (11 ppg). East has five guards who are interchangeable, and its bench averages 14 points per game.
"It isn't just one person," coach Jack Blanch said. "If one person has an off night or gets hurt, it's not going to kill us. It's definitely a luxury."
East's only loss was Dec. 6 in overtime to Holy Angels, 69-66, in the gold division final in the Niagara PAL Pepsi Tournament.
- Fredonia: Can anyone beat the Billies? That question hasn't been answered yet as Fredonia has won nine straight to open the season. First-year coach Debbie Biastre has guided her team to a 6-0 mark in CCIAC I and tournament victories in Jamestown and Nichols.
Jen Stuczynski averages 22 points per game and plays both ends of the floor. Six-foot senior center Sue Karalia can be dominating. Junior point guard Rachel Conti makes good decisions.
After losing in last year's Class B-2 semifinals, Biastre said her team in hungry to get back to the final and win it. "We take every game as a hurdle in a long race," she said.
Holy Angels: A combination of depth and size has the Angels on top in the Msgr. Martin Association. The Angels (13-1) are big with four players 5-11 or taller. Six-foot-1 junior center Megan Bogdan is having a breakout season.
With an enrollment of 280 they are considered a small school in the polls, but that didn't stop them from handing No. 1 large school Kenmore East its only loss, 69-66, in overtime. The Angels won another overtime game on Saturday beating Nardin, 47-41. The only team to beat the Angels is Nazareth of Section VI, 50-44.
- Sherman: It's no surprise that last year's Class D finalists are back in contention for the CCIAC III title, but few expected they'd be undefeated in late January. Center Megan Damcott and point guard Ivy Neal are a pair of juniors who have helped Sherman to 13-0 record with impressive wins over Pine Valley, Maple Grove, Franklinville and Cassadaga Valley. Monday's win was its first at Pine Valley in 10 years.
Junior forward Kelly Courtney has made a big difference playing in place of Leah Michalczik, who tore her ACL early in the season.