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Cardinal O’Hara girls going for fourth straight state title

Trends can be good things or bad things in girls basketball.

For Cardinal O’Hara, the Hawks’ last three trips to New York City have proved to be quite productive with them returning home with a New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association championship in hand. They hope to keep it going this weekend against tough downstate competition in the Big Apple.

Mount St. Mary already bucked a trend of having no winning tradition by capturing its first Monsignor Martin Athletic Association playoff championship in Class B and earning a shot at its first state Catholic crown Saturday in New York City.

For Section VI’s champions, though, they’d like to buck the trend in which many consider the Far West Regionals as the place where many good teams’ seasons end at the hands of Rochester counterparts. Section VI has the home-court edge, however, when the state quarterfinals tip off at 11 a.m. Saturday at Buffalo State Sports Arena.

For those keeping score at home, Section V has a 96-51 record against Section VI in Far West Regionals, including a 13-2 mark the past three seasons.

Regional winners advance to the state semifinals next week at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Catholic champions move on to the Federation Tournament, which begins in two weeks at Times Union Center in Albany.

State Catholic Class A

The O’Hara Hawks (21-3) have won three straight state Catholic championships, the first two coming in Class B and last year in Class A. If they want to give themselves a chance at four in a row, they will once again have to get past Kellenberg Memorial.

O’Hara beat Kellenberg for the Class A title last year, 62-59, a game in which it rallied from an early 13-2 deficit. That Hawks team was a veteran-laden crew that included two future All-Western New York first team selections in Jontay Walton and Keyonte Edwards.

The only returnees who got significant playing time last year are All-Federation pick Anndea Zeigler (15.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.1 steals per game), a sophomore, and steady junior point guard Cori Dickson. Their efforts have been bolstered by the addition of transfer student Summer Hemphill and freshmen Kiara Johnson (4.9 rpg, 1.9 blocks per game), Nickelle O’Neil (2.8 spg) and Cierra Harrison (1.4 spg).

While coach Nick O’Neil isn’t discounting his team’s chances this weekend, he sees a brighter future.

“Our whole core of girls playing this year is back next year so I expect them to get better,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity to get back to the Federation. It’s going to be tough. In New York City, we go against a large crowd. Just the team we’re playing, they lost three starters from last year but they’re back in the game because of solid fundamentals.”

Kellenberg (18-9) doesn’t have a player averaging in double figures but yields around just 45 points per game. Lindsey Ehrhardt leads the Firebirds at 9.5 ppg.

Catholic Class B

Mount St. Mary (13-12) is a first-time participant in the state Catholic tournament after winning its first Monsignor Martin basketball title. The Thunder receive a bye into Saturday afternoon’s 3 p.m. championship game at Archbishop Molloy, where they will face the winner of Friday’s Good Counsel versus Monsignor McClancy contest.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” first-year Mount coach Mike McCarthy said. “The senior group we have, three different coaches in four years, it was a tough road to start the season. We finished 10-2 our last 12 games. We haven’t had a bad loss.”

Monsignor Martin Association B Division MVP Julie Fleming averages a double-double. Katie Meegan is a first-team all-leaguer. Kelly Burns and Meighan Murphy are sophomores who have stood out for the Thunder.

Far West Regionals Class AA

Jamestown (17-5) hopes the third time’s the charm in this round as it looks to get to Troy for the final four. The Red Raiders haven’t beaten a Rochester school in the playoffs since 1984 – a 39-35 win over Mercy.

This time it’s not Gates-Chili standing in Jamestown’s way. It’s only unbeaten Rush-Henrietta (21-0), the state’s fifth-ranked team, which features a talented 6-footer in Dana Watts, who’s averaging close to 20 points per game. Emily Nestler’s also a handful at 12.2 ppg.

The Red Raiders, who hung with Gates last season during a 68-61 loss, showed in their last two playoff games they can get down and dirty on the defensive end. After relying mostly on a press to beat Clarence in the semifinals, they added a big body to the lineup and clogged the lane to prevent Williamsville North standout Ericka Taplin from setting up shop in the paint during Wednesday’s sectional final. With an extra body waiting in the lane, All-Western New York first team senior Chrisanna Green was able to front Taplin on defense to further deny her the ball. The ploy helped limit Taplin to four points.

Green quietly scored 27 points to go with 13 boards Wednesday. She’s averaging 29 points and 16 rebounds over her last two games. Also making the Red Raiders dangerous has been the play of their guards as Peyton Butts and Kaleisha Mosley have handled the ball well with Butts on target from beyond the arc and Mosley sneaky quick in the paint beating taller girls to rebounds.

“We feel very comfortable with our matchup,” Red Raiders coach Tim Anderson said. “We feel like we can present them with a pretty good challenge. … We wanted to get back to this point all year after playing there last year and we feel confident in what we can do once we get there.”

Class A

Wiliamsville South (22-1) enters this contest against a tough Bishop Kearney squad on a 22-game winning streak. The Billies have won every game since opening with a 12-point loss at Pittsford Mendon.

Last season, Pittsford Sutherland ended South’s season in this round.

This matchup features the state’s fourth-ranked team in Kearney, the Rochester private school whose boys team played in Class AA during sectionals, and No. 7 Williamsville South.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it as South will rely on the same unselfish, solid team play that has produced nothing but success this season. Four players average in double figures for the Billies, led by Grace Licata’s 12.5 ppg and Emily Smith’s 11.9.

South achieved one of its goals of returning to regionals. What now?

“We want to make sure now we go in and really make a statement,” coach Kristen Dolan said. “I think that experience from being in this game last year will help us tremendously.”

Saturday figures to be quite a busy day for Dolan. After coaching her team’s 1 p.m. contest, she plans to make the drive to suburban Rochester to see her two sons’ Far West Regional game at Gates-Chili. South’s boys take on Greece Athena.

Her two younger daughters’ team she coaches also have youth tournament games in Rochester this weekend.

Kearney (19-4), which did lose to O’Hara, is led by Niagara University commit Kharysma Bryant, one of three Division I prospects on the Kings.

Class B

The last time East Aurora (21-2) made it to Far West Regionals, the Blue Devils won the state championship in 2007.

Can the state’s seventh-ranked team make a run again? It won’t be easy against a Livonia (21-1) crew ranked fourth in the state whose only loss came to Class AA Spencerport.

EA’s best chance is to make use of 6-foot freshman Emma Brinker as often as possible. She moves well with and without the ball and is an exceptional passer. Oh yeah, she’s pretty decent at finishing too, as she scored 29 points during Wednesday’s overall Section Class B final against Cleveland Hill. She’s averaging 17 points per game, one of three Blue Devils in double figures.

Class C

Perhaps Section VI’s best chance at earning a win this weekend, the defending state champion Chautauqua Lake Thunderbirds (22-1) come into regionals against Mynderse Academy ranked first in the state and with a roster full of experience.

Leading the Thunderbirds is returning All-WNY second team pick Jenna Einink, last year’s state tournament MVP, scoring at 17.7 ppg and averaging 9.6 rebounds. Ashton Albanesius averages 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Chautauqua Lake’s only loss was a nonleaguer to Williamsville South at the Lockport Tournament last month.

Cassidy Rattray averages 13 points to lead Mynderse (19-6).

Class D

Panama (18-4) bounced Maple Grove by 30 to reach this round for the first time ever. Brittany Lenart (13.1), Taylor Bowen (12.5) and Emilee Sperry (12.0) are the top scorers for a Panama team sporting a 12-game winning streak.

Megan McAllister (13.0) is one of three who score in double figures for Prattsburgh (22-1), which has won 20 in a row.