The playoffs are here.
If those four words don’t add a little pep to your jump step, then you obviously are reading the wrong section of the paper.
The postseason, especially basketball’s, is one of the most exciting times of the year. It’s the ultimate reality show. It’s something that brings schools and their communities together. It’s a time in which the next-door neighbor realizes little Susie isn’t so little anymore as she’s gone from being waist high to becoming a 6-footer with a sweet drop-step move.
Every great girls basketball team wants this week to be the initial steps in a journey that reaches the state final four in Troy. Only five will be crowned New York State Public High School Athletic Association champions.
Perhaps there’s another Chautauqua Lake in our midst, which happens to be the only returning state public high schools champion in this year’s Section VI girls Tournament. Maybe there’s even a team that can make like private school Cardinal O’Hara and contend for the Federation crown in Albany the final weekend in March.
Without further delay, here are the contenders and potential sleepers waiting to take them down in hopes of attaining championship memories to last a lifetime during the Section VI tournament.
Favorites: The top seed is Williamsville North, via coin toss. The No. 2 seed is defending champion Jamestown.
Anything can happen in the playoffs, yet that being said, it would be quite shocking if North and Jamestown didn’t meet one more time with the title on the line. Each team has the type of players vital for making long postseason runs. Returning All-Western New York first teamer Chrisanna Green of Jamestown is averaging 27.4 points and 13.3 rebounds per game and has the ability to take over a game. North also has one of those type of players in Ericka Taplin, who averages team highs 15.2 ppg and 11.3 rpg.
Contenders: Kenmore West won the Niagara Frontier League and has decent size. Clarence is big and athletic.
Sleeper: Orchard Park has a fine guard who can shoot the three in Shaye Swiatek (12.1 ppg) and a quality center in Abbie Probst (8.9 ppg).
Favorite: Defending Class A overall champion Williamsville South is 18-1 and the team to beat. Billies enter playoffs on 18-game winning streak and have four players averaging double figures. They’re solid at every position and deep.
Contender: Williamsville East. The Flames are a dangerous No. 5 seed and although they lost to South twice during the regular season, including a five-point defeat at South earlier this month, they still have one of the top players in Western New York in Erica Martinsen. The freshman averages just under 23 points per game and has the ability to take over a game. Veteran Chris Durr also knows how to coach them up in the postseason.
Sleeper: Hamburg’s good. The Bulldogs thumped Williamsville East by 22 and limited Flames to 24 points just seven days ago. Ashley Kabza and Anna Chiacchia both average around 16 points per game for third-seeded Hamburg.
Favorite: Amherst is the top seed and wears the hat as team to beat in this bracket. The Tigers have two quality talents leading their charge in Claire Wanzer, who averages 17.6 ppg, 3.0 steals per game, and Holly Sullivan (14.0 ppg).
Contender: Starpoint, the No. 2 seed, has a player capable of taking over games in Erica Bradley (16.8 ppg, 2.3 steals per game).
Sleeper: Cheektowaga is super athletic and likes to press. The Warriors are a dangerous No. 3 seed and have three players averaging 11 or more points with Taliyah Hopkins averaging 16.4 ppg.
Favorite: East Aurora won Class A-2 last season and has pretty much rolled through the season. Two losses by a combined nine points, although one of the defeats came at fellow 17-win team Allegany/Limestone last Friday. Still, A/L is one of the favorites in Class C and this was a game meant to get EA ready for the postseason. Emma Brinker leads the Blue Devils with just under 17 ppg.
Contender: Newfane has a very favorable draw as No. 2 seed. Senior Brooke Horning leads a balanced-scoring line with 10.2 ppg, while freshman Paige Emborsky has played well all season.
Sleepers: Provided they survived Tuesday’s prequarterfinals: Albion and Springville. Albion has a nice point guard in Justice Nauden and is quite athletic. Chanyce Powell averages 15.7 ppg. Springville played East Aurora tough twice during the regular season.
Favorite: Even though Wilson graduated seven players from last year’s team, the top-seeded Lakewomen still are the team to beat. They’re one of six teams to win at least 17 games prior to sectionals. Wilson has two sophomores who will lead its quest for a fifth sectional title in six years. Rachel Senek leads the Lakewomen in scoring (12.6), followed by Kayla Neumann (11.8).
Contenders: No. 2 Cleveland Hill, another one of those 17-win teams, is super athletic and has a lot of experience. The Eagles’ only losses came to town rival Cheektowaga and division rival Holland. Cleve Hill has four players averaging in double-figures, with Dakaylah Winfield (11.7) leading the way. Morgan Genovese leads Fredonia with 18.6 ppg, which makes the No. 4 seed a legitimate contender.
Sleeper: Thirteen-win CSAT and 14-win Southwestern both look the part.
Favorite: Defending state champion Chautauqua Lake is the top seed and enters the playoffs having won 18 games. CL suffered its only loss to a superior-looking Class A-1 school in Williamsville South last Friday at the Lockport Tournament.
Contenders: Allegany/Limestone, which is coming off a win over Class B-1 top seed East Aurora. Allison Forness and Allison Watson each average more than 15 points per game.
The return of top player Shaquana Owens makes Tapestry a legitimate contender.
Favorite: Top-seeded Holland has a player who can take over in junior Olivia Schmidt, who is scoring just under 25 points per game.
Contender: Randolph. What’s the rule with game-changers? Don’t bet against them come tournament time. The Cardinals have one of the best in Mckenna Maycock (27 ppg.), who is Western New York’s all-time scoring leader.
Sleeper: Franklinville, which beat St. Mary’s and Tapestry during the regular season. Allyson (15.4) and Danielle (12.8) Haskell lead the offense.
Favorites: Defending champion Pine Valley is the No. 2 seed but has two key returnees in Alex Bentham and Kaleigh Brunswick. Panama is the top seed and has three players averaging in double-figures led by senior Brittany Lenart (13.0 ppg).
Sleeper: Maple Grove drops into this Class from C and is led by Emily Swanson, the MVP of CCAA West II.