Two years ago, Williamsville South defeated Hamburg in the A-1 finals at Buffalo State. This year, the two teams will meet again after victories in Wednesday night’s semifinals at Williamsville North High School.
Hamburg fought through a close game for a 41-34 victory over Grand Island, and Williamsville South defeated McKinley, 82-42.
Katie Villarini led the way for Hamburg with 16 points, but Maggie Vesneske was right behind her with 11 points that included two treys and a strong defensive game with four steals.
“Maggie’s defense has been so solid all season long, and I feel like she even turned it up tonight a little bit,” said Hamburg coach Kelly Owens. “She can hit some big shots for us, and even if she’s not hitting shots, she always, always, always shows up on the defensive end for us, and I thought she was huge on that end for us tonight.”
Defense has been the focus for Hamburg all season, along with hard work.
“The harder we play defense, that will create our offensive opportunities,” said Owens. “So that was our game plan, and that’s been our game plan all season long.”
“All through the week, through practice, we said, ‘We gotta keep it up. We gotta keep playing. We can’t lose them in the third quarter,’ ” said Villarini. “Sometimes we get up and then we lose it. We can’t do that. We gotta play aggressive.”
“We were up basically the whole game, and at halftime we talked about how we needed to stay up and work together as a team,” said Vesneske. “I think we did that really well.”
As the Bulldogs look to Saturday’s finals, they’re thrilled that Williamsville South is their opponent.
“I’m super excited for that,” said Vesneske. “We went and played Will South two years ago, and we lost to them there. So our team goal this year was to go to Buff State, and we’re really excited to be there, and hopefully it’ll be a good game.”
Meanwhile, eighth-grader Amari DeBerry led Williamsville South with 21 points. The young player’s talent is clear, and it’s only sometimes that her age shows and coach Kristen Dolan has to encourage her to stay focused.
“She’s a heck of a player for her age – very, very gifted,” Dolan said. “Every now and then, she’ll show her age, and we just remind her what she needs to focus on and do.”
Several players contributed to the Billies’ win, and with the loss of Hannah Dolan to injury, each girl knows that she must step up but also depend on her teammates.
“It helps with all the guards up top and all my other players, them feeding me the ball,” DeBerry said. “I wouldn’t get the ball if they weren’t out there playing with me.”
Dolan said she’ll need a little bit more from her players as Williamsville South looks ahead to the next round, but she’s confident that they know that.
“It’s gonna be a challenge, and Hamburg’s an excellent team, so we’ll get back in the gym tomorrow and prepare,” Dolan said. “We’re excited to get back to Buff State. We have some mountains to climb, but we’re gonna keep working and focusing on that next round with Hamburg. Mari knows she’s a big piece to the puzzle, but I think everybody understands that we need everybody doing their part.