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A season of change Coaches, teams playing a transition game

There's the transition from offense to defense, and then there's the transition girls basketball has gone through from last season. The changes include a massive coaching turnover, a switch in classification for powerhouse Pine Valley, and the impending retirement of the winningest coach in Western New York history.

Consider:

*Mike Del Valle, who had a 347-77 record in 16 seasons at Holy Angels, has joined the public school ranks as the coach at Williamsville North.

*Three-time New York State Class D champion Pine Valley is now a Class C school, missing the cutoff to remain a D by a mere two students.

*Martha Altmire's 35th season at Olean will be her last. In her career, Altmire has 467 wins against 214 losses.

*Nearly 28 percent of the coaches (8 of 29) in the ECIC are new.

Del Valle walked away from high school coaching after the 2002-2003 season, claiming he had lost his passion. "I thought I was burned out when leaving Holy Angels. I continued to coach AAU and found out I was going to more games when I wasn't coaching than when I was," he said. "I figured maybe I should get back on the bench."

The position became available at North when Dan Greiner stepped down after seven seasons in part to coach his daughter in a youth basketball league in Amherst.

Del Valle has embraced his new surroundings and not just because he's inherited a team that wants to work. Del Valle accepted the job at North without inquiring about the stipend. He was a volunteer at Holy Angels.

At North he has a regulation-size gym waiting for him each day for practice and games. The gym at HA was too small so he was often left to scramble to find a site. "I don't have to beg someone to let us use their gym for practice. Now you know your times and you can concentrate on what you're doing," he said.

Del Valle has been a volunteer coach on the AAU level for the past 20 years, but he made his mark in the Catholic league winning 20 or more games in 13 of 16 seasons. He won two New York State Federation titles and coached seven first-team All-WNY players.

This year's Spartans are off to a rocky 0-4 start, but they're a very athletic team with senior Allison Cornwall, senior Ruth Brass and sophomore Chantae Miller, a phenom in field hockey.

Cornwall was excited when she learned Del Valle was coming to North. She has known Del Valle since she started playing AAU as a 12-year-old.

"He was coaching Holy Angels and I was just a random girl that he tried to help just for the good of the kids," said Cornwall. "He's so passionate. He
coaches all year round, he volunteers all his time. That's the kind of coach you want on your side."

>End of an era

Altmire was hired at Olean in 1971 right out of college. She will retire from teaching in June and relocate to her home state of Pennsylvania.

The Huskies look to extend their string of eight consecutive years of either winning or sharing the CCIAC I title. At 6-foot-2, Brandy Wangelin can handle the ball like a guard, can defend anybody and has three-point range. She's the younger sister of Tracy, who earned third team All-WNY honors last year.

>Early signings

Colleen Quinn of Immaculata has signed a national letter of intent with Mercyhurst (Erie, Pa.), an NCAA Division II member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

"She is a fiery player with great speed and quickness," said second-year Mercyhurst coach Karin Nicholls. "Colleen is an excellent passer and unselfish player who should be a defensive stopper."

Quinn, a 5-8 guard, had a school record 120 assists last season along with 118 steals and averaged 11.3 ppg. The Bears are off to a 4-0 start.

Portville's 6-3 center, Sarah Houseknecht, has signed with Southern Connecticut, an NCAA Division II school. She's off to a quick start this year with 22 points against Jamestown and 24 versus Southwestern.

Not only does Houseknecht have a variety of moves around the basket, she can also shoot the three.

"We don't want her out there, but when they're all collapsing on her, she has the full green light to do that," said coach Jean Bantelman. "She's a stud. We're going to ride her back."

>On the defensive

Hamburg, the winner of Class AA, returns junior Liz Schappert, a key player in last year's 21-4 season. Senior post player Katie Dispenza has had the benefit of watching Katy Ryan and Erin Zahariev the past two years.

For the second year in a row the Bulldogs have graduated four starters.

Defending Class A champion Grand Island returns third team all-WNY pick Ashleigh Frieday and Courtney Donovan. Jessica Remmes, first team all-state in soccer the past two years, owns one of the guard spots.

Defending Class B champion Southwestern is solid in the middle with returning CCIAC I all-star Katy Landy.

Brittany Martin of last year's Class C champion Allegany-Limestone entered the season ranked among the top 50 in WNY in scoring with 1,311 points. The Gators are now a B-2.

Pine Valley finds itself in Class C this year after winning the last three New York State titles in Class D. Brianna Colburn, a fourth team all-WNY pick last year, leads the Lady Panthers' suffocating full-court press. The Lady Panthers won the Jamestown Tournament. Tim Nobles picked up his 400th coaching win Nov. 25 against Southwestern.

>Brim owns the rim

Kendra Brim is focused on having a big year for defending Monsignor Martin Association champion Nardin. In a game earlier this year, Nardin led by a wide margin when one of Brim's teammates stole the ball and had a breakaway layup. The layup was missed, but Brim had hustled down and got the rebound.

Senior Natalie Hojnacki has made a complete recovery after tearing her ACL in last year's state semifinals at St. John's University. Senior Sarah Sciarrino and Caitlin Grady give the Gators four returning starters.

Sacred Heart looks to dethrone nemesis Nardin with a lineup that includes Elyse Monte and Neddie King. Monte scored 36 points in a 68-52 loss to Rochester Mercy. The Sharks won the Al Pastor Tournament and knocked off Grand Island on their way to winning the Sweet Home Tournament.

After having one of WNY's strongest frontcourts the past three years, Nichols' strength this year is its backcourt. The guard combination includes Meghan Dougherty, who started last year as a freshman, and freshman Caitlin Donahoe, daughter of Buffalo Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe.

Coach Bob Torgalski said since graduating his Big Three, Player of the Year Kelly Regan, Shannan Scarselletta and Amanda Lickfeld, he had no trouble getting nonleague games. "I could have scheduled 40 games," he said. "I find that amusing."

This is the first time Nichols has ever played in the MMA. It is off to a 3-1 start following Monday's upset loss to Mount St. Mary's.

Holy Angels has Ann Cassell, a three-point shooter and slasher type. . . . Mount Mercy's first-year coach is Joe Haslinger, an assistant at St. Mary's last year. . . . Senior Melissa Kanalley became the second player from Cardinal O'Hara to reach 1,000 points in Monday's loss to Sacred Heart. "Melissa is everything any coach would want their players to be like, both on the court and off," said coach Dan McDermott.

>Around the ECIC

Sophomore Nikki Frederickson of Jamestown is quickly making a name for herself. The 5-9 guard is quick, can shoot and can react on the floor. Another youngster is freshman PG Erinne Cunningham. The Red Raiders are a very athletic team that loves to run.

Junior PG Mandy Sahhar from Orchard Park can play five positions. Defensively, she can pick up a point guard at halfcourt or guard a post player. Senior Mary Kate Comfort is a good finisher who plays hard. . . . Few players in this league will ever out-hustle senior Lauren Shermet of Frontier. . . . Sophomore Joelle Connolly of Pioneer had a season-high 29 against Orchard Park. With her size (6-2), quickness and sure hands, Connolly has been dominating against public schools. Erin Asquith and Erin Pinter are other scoring threats.

The Williamsville East roster features the fourth Roseti (Kaitlin) to play for the Flames, the third DeVaughn (Alanna) and the third Lankes (Megan). East has a good mix with two six-footers (Roseti and Nicole Ostanski). Its first meeting with Pioneer is Jan. 24.

Look for Iroquois to make an impact with a solid core of guards. . . . Much-improved Amherst builds around juniors Jodi Battaglia and Shannon McGuire. . . . Junior Katie Ostroot of Williamsville South keeps getting better . . . Springville, led by Jessica Domes, has done some damage already with a win over South. . . . Among the leaders for Starpoint is 5-11 forward Amanda Boron. . . . Depew looks to build off its 4-1 start with junior Jordan Schrimmel. . . . Sara Soroka will be asked to do a lot for East Aurora. . . . The 50 points Angel Clark scored against West Seneca East last week was the most for a Lackawanna player since Julie Naedele scored 56 against Holland in 1980-81.

Canisius Cup

Bennett's top returnees are senior Sharea Alsqqaf, who is very skilled at leading the fast break, and junior Jackee Thompson, a strong ball handler with a nice stroke. . . . City Honors is led by the tall and talented Cierra Young, shooter-ball handler Brianna Clark and rebounder April Villacrusis. . . . Among the best players in the City is Shakeena Cunningham of McKinley, who is creative around the basket and is unstoppable when she decides to play hard. . . . Hutch-Tech could be dangerous with its speed and a lineup that goes seven or eight deep. Sophomore guard Brianna Lee has keen court sense and knows how to get her teammates involved. . . . Tiara Ross of Burgard and Kieannea Kemp of Lafayette will put up big numbers.

>Around the courts

Sacred Heart will play its home games down the road at Erie Community College/North. Sacred Heart's gym isn't close to regulation size. . . Grand Island and Nichols are the defending champions of The Buffalo News large and small school polls. . . . Depew did not schedule rival Lancaster this season. Depew holds an all-time 22-16 lead in the series, which began in 1977-1978. . . . Portville thought it caught a break when Allegany-Limestone moved from Class C into Class B-2, but at the same time Pine Valley became a C. "Did I hit the lottery with that or what?" asked Portville coach Bantelman. "They're just a machine. I wish I had what he's (Nobles) got in a bottle." . . . Caitlin Moreland of Lew-Port looks to have a huge senior year. . . . Junior Bridgette Burke of Lockport eyes a big comeback after missing most of last year with season-ending ACL and MCL surgery. Burke's freshman sister, 5-11 Lindsay, will also start. "The two of them are a nice 1-2 punch," said coach Bill Shaw. "Lindsay is talented and a terrific shooter." The Lady Lions open Friday when they host Niagara-Wheatfield. . . . Rachel Martin, the Kenmore West graduate who walked on at the University at Buffalo, is the new coach at North Tonawanda. . . . There's another Corey who has joined the WNY coaching ranks. Amanda Corey, daughter of former Baker-Victory coach Joe Corey, is in her first season at Buffalo Seminary. Joe is her assistant. . . . Junior Lindsay Schlegel, a member of Lancaster's varsity since eighth grade, isn't playing this year opted instead to focus on club volleyball.

e-mail: mmonnin@buffnews.com

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