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Section VI girls look to bring home some hardware

The only way Section VI’s girls’ basketball teams could fail to make history this weekend in Troy is by all four of them turning into pumpkins during the grand ball with not a single one of them returning home with a championship.

Don’t laugh. Section VI has only had five programs ever win a state title. Only one program (Pine Valley) has won consecutive state championships. This weekend, defending state Class C champion Chautauqua Lake has a chance to join the Panthers.

Only one program has ever won a New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championship in Class A. Williamsville South could become the first to achieve the feat since Lockport back in 1994.

The same could be said for Class B and that was East Aurora in 2007. EA is back again and another good weekend of basketball means they too could join Pine Valley as the only Section VI programs to win more than one state title in its history.

Then there’s Panama in Class D. All of this is entirely new to the Panthers, who had never won a sectional title until this season. Win a state title, they’ll be the first team in their school to achieve that.

The quest for history begins at 10 a.m. Friday at Hudson Valley Community College when East Aurora (22-2) squares off against upstart Susquehanna Valley (17-5) of Section IV. Williamsville South (23-1) takes the court later in the day when it faces Long Island Section VIII’s North Shore (19-2) at 1:30 p.m. Winners advance to state championship games Saturday.

Before titles are decided on Saturday, a big day of basketball begins at 9 a.m. in Class D when Panama (19-4) faces X-Heuvelton (21-2) in the day’s first semifinal. The winner plays for the championship at 10 a.m. Sunday. Chautauqua Lake (23-1) resumes its title defense in a Class C semifinal at 12:30 p.m. against Section III champion Cooperstown (23-1). The winner advances to Sunday’s 11:45 a.m. final against either VII-Northern Adirondack or IX-Pine Plains.

It’s easy to explain why there have been so few state champions from Section VI. Area teams usually have their seasons come to an end in Far West Regionals against Section V competition, limiting state championship opportunities. Section V owns a 97-55 edge in the series, but Section VI went a historic 4-1 in the five regional games last weekend to give the area a better chance at increasing its championship count.

“That was pretty impressive of Section VI. Maybe it bodes well for the future of Western New York basketball,” East Aurora coach Gary Schutrum said.

“The teams going from Section VI definitely deserve it,” said Chautauqua Lake coach Eric Schuster. “I wish them all the best of luck.”

The Thunderbirds have proven they belong. A team with six seniors, including key returnees Jenna Einick, Courtney Hewes and Ashton Albanesius, has been building toward this weekend one game at a time simply because repeat has been the goal. They had T-shirts made that read, “One eye on the prize and the other on the competition,” that proves that.

This is their chance.

“It’s definitely been a goal, but we tried not to talk about it,” said Einick, last year’s tournament MVP who averages 17.8 ppg and 10.4 rpg. “We definitely have some pressure on us, but at least we took it one game at a time and that’s all I can ask for.”

Will South hopes its recipe for playing unselfish basketball and stingy defense is a winning one once more against a North Shore team that has a Division I commit in Alexandra Cantwell (14 ppg, 10 apg) who is the heart and soul of the team.

This is a good time to have depth, and the Billies are certainly deep. Coach Kristen Dolan hopes to use that versatility to make South unpredictable on the defensive end.

“We’re trying to focus on the things we need to concentrate on, and we just feel if we continue to have the balance we have within our offense and if we continue to play tough defense, we hope to give them a tough run,” Dolan said. “We’re going there hoping to do our best. We’re just looking forward to the challenge.”

So is East Aurora, which hopes this is the start of a tradition instead of a once-in-a-while type of thing.

The Blue Devils didn’t think they’d go eight years in between final four appearances after winning states during their first trip in 2007. With just three seniors on the roster, a young EA crew hopes this is the first of a few trips to Troy.

“Instead of being one and done, let’s see if we can keep things rolling for a few years,” Schutrum said.

Getting to Troy, though, has been indescribable for the Blue Devils, who have ridden the inside-outside play of Emma Brinker, Erin Nason and Julianna Meisenheimer.

“I don’t know how to put it into words,” Schutrum said. “It’s something you thought about and dreamed about and hoped you can get there and put in some hard work to get there, but you have to pinch yourself some mornings to realize you really are going to states.”

EA will kind of see a mirror image of itself in upstart Susquehanna Valley, which likes the inside-outside game and has youngsters playing beyond their years on the court.

“I think you have to choose: Are you going to shut down the inside game or the outside game?” Schutrum said. “On offense you have to take what the defense gives you instead of forcing the issue. They press a little more than we do, but they play similar, so it’ll be an interesting matchup.”

Panama will be sending off the Panthers in style Friday morning with a parade and a fire department escort to Interstate-86. The community has also made enough donations so that the team can eat three square meals during their stay in the Capital Region. The district even rescheduled the school play slated for Saturday. This is just the second team in Panama history to reach the state semifinals, with the other being boys soccer back during the 1980s.

“I’ve never seen support like this,” first-year coach and Panama graduate Jeff Angeletti said. “It’s a great experience for the girls and the community, and it’s really brought us together.”