2016 SECTION VI CHAMPIONS: Class AA - Williamsville North; Class A - Lake Shore; Class B - Olean; Class C - Holland; Class D - Panama.
THEY'RE BACK: Returning players from last season's All-Western New York teams are: First Team - Anndea Zeigler, Cardinal O'Hara; Second Team - Sara Pfeiffer, Olean; Third Team: Claire Wanzer, Amherst and Emma Brinker, East Aurora; Fourth Team: Nia Caver, Tapestry.
SHE'S NOT: Erica Martinsen of Williamsville East was the player of the year last season, but won't be back with the Flames this season. She transferred over the summer to a private school in New Jersey.
"We've just tried to treat it like a senior graduated," Williamsville East coach Chris Durr said. "But when the kid is a senior, you can do things to get ready for the next couple of years. When a sophomore leaves, you're left without a strong point guard and you're missing 30 points a game some nights.
"We've got a very young team with only one senior. I would have given us a good shot this year if she was back, but we have to deal with who is in our school."
CLASS AA OUTLOOK: Williamsville North lost its entire starting lineup to graduation, opening up the field a little bit. Orchard Park is off to a good start and is often very competitive. Lancaster, Lockport and Frontier are also in the mix.
One coach said to keep an eye on Clarence as something of a sleeper. The Red Devils bring a top talent back in junior Carly Reynolds, while soccer players Lauren Cullinan and Anna Davies are great athletes who know a great deal about winning.
CLASS A OUTLOOK: Lake Shore used a very young team last season to make a surprising run through the sectionals. The Eagles have gotten a year older; we'll see if they are a year better. If they do, Raeann White probably will be a big reason why.
Claire Wanzer of Amherst is headed to Niagara to play next season, so she'll try to give the Amherst portion of her career a good send-off. Kendall Mills and Serena Sordetto will do some damage for Kenmore East this season. It will be fun to watch Amari DeBerry, a 6-foot-4 eighth grader, progress in her career at Williamsville South.
CLASS B OUTLOOK: East Aurora signaled to the rest of Western New York that it had eyes on a big season in the early going. The Blue Devils knocked off Lockport, a good Class AA team. Emma Brinker is said to have improved her game and should be a candidate for all-WNY honors again. Julianna Meisenheimer is a very good running mate for Brinker. They will make noise in March.
Wilson has a pair of good players in Kayla Neumann and Rachel Senek who are both seniors. Depew also has a good combination in Aviance Clark and Tess Borgosz. Hannah Cybart of Fredonia came close to breaking into the list of the top 20 best local players last year, and is ready to take that step this time. The same could be said for Chanyce Powell of Albion.
CLASS C OUTLOOK: Cleveland Hill might be the favorite, thanks to the returning talents of Jayla James and Sydney Turley. But the Eagles will have plenty of competition.
Chautauqua Lake has everyone coming back this year. Tapestry has Nia Caver back, and she is a difference-maker. Frewsburg - led by Gabby Iuculano - is coming off a great season, and Randolph has a couple of top seniors ready to lead. Keep an eye on Morgan Davis of Allegany-Limestone, who will have more to do up front with Allison Forness graduated.
CLASS D OUTLOOK: Panama is the gold standard in the group. The Panthers reached the state final last year, and they aren't afraid of scheduling up. They played Orchard Park early this season.
Marissa Hamilton of Ellicottville is one of the area's top players. She's already agreed to play at the University at Buffalo next season, and should be good for 20 points per game for the Eagles this time. Franklinville has the Haskell sisters, Allyson and Dani, back.
MSGR. MARTIN AA OUTLOOK: Cardinal O'Hara has been described as the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to the MMAA. There are other good teams in the league, even if they'll have trouble staying with the Hawks.
Sacred Heart has a new interim coach in Jack Coppola, as Debbie Laux has taken a leave of absence. The Sharks are usually dangerous, and sophomore Jennifer Grimm has a chance to be a very good center. Micaela Ryan will have a bigger role this season. St. Mary's of Lancaster also could make some noise in the league race. The Lancers won their first five games to start the season, and Caroline Zanghi was all-league as a freshman. Nardin has Alex Hartnett back for her potentially big senior year.
MERGERS: MEC and Bennett are combining forces this season, as are Westfield and Brocton. MEC/Bennett will play in Class C1, while Westfield/Brocton moves up from D to C2.
RULE CHANGES: Coaches will have four full timeouts per game this year, which is up from two. The use of musical instruments and/or amplified music also will be allowed during all timeouts. That will give more performance time to the Panama band, which was outstanding during the Section VI playoffs last year.
MOVIN' ON UP: Teams often change classes from year to year, and such is the case this time around for Olean High School. The Huskies reached the Far West Regionals last year, and narrowly missed a trip to the state finals in Class B.
But the school’s enrollment ticked upward this year from 468 to 482. That was just enough to make the Huskies the smallest school in Class A, as opposed to the biggest school in Class B.
That might be a problem, but no one will feel sorry for the Huskies. Sara Pfeiffer was one of the best players in the area last season. She returns as a sophomore, and she joins returning starters Gabby Pfeiffer and Chantel Singleton to form a strong nucleus.
Elsewhere, West Seneca West from from AA to A1, South Park moved from A1 to A2, Eden and Medina fell from B1 to B2 while Fredonia went in the other direction, Falconer dropped from B2 to C1, East went from C1 to C2, and Portville moved from C2 to C1.
CLOSING TIME: No one likes to see a school close, and the shuttering of Immaculata Academy in Hamburg caused some heartache around the area.
"Obviously it was tough on the families," former Immaculata coach Andrea Drabik said. "When you think about the girls, their friends and their second families, they were put in a situation that went beyond academics. It was very heartbreaking.
"But I'm glad to say that the majority of the girls have found themselves a new home. They are split up all over the place."
Drabik landed an assistant coach's job at St. Mary's of Lancaster, and senior Courtney Kline joined her there. Some of the other Bears have landed at such places at Sacred Heart and Nardin.
It's noteworthy that, within the small sample of a basketball team, the displaced students generally are heading to other Catholic schools that are a bit of a drive away instead of switching to a public school close to home.
"Families hold that value of a Catholic school and see that benefit," Drabik said. "They are willing to make the sacrifice. I learned that growing up. I really do see what my parents sacrificed for me."
BACK AGAIN? One of the most interesting differences between play of the girls and boys teams around Western New York is the longevity of varsity careers. If you check the rosters of some of the girls' teams, players can be on the varsity for four or five years. The boys have to be bigger and stronger to make an impact, but the girls often jump right in.