Being a year older and a year wiser can often be the intangible that carries a team over the top.
It has worked once already this season for the Amherst girls basketball team. The Tigers hope that is a sign of things to come.
Amherst captured the attention of the girls basketball community at the Paster-Cooper Memorial Tournament on Dec. 5 when the Tigers defeated five-time defending Monsignor Martin champion Cardinal O’Hara, 68-63.
Yes, that Cardinal O’Hara team, which has pretty much treated most area opponents like speed bumps en route to being the unquestioned top-ranked large school over the past three seasons and four of the last five.
That’s until the Tigers pounced, thus earning the No. 1 spot in the first News large schools poll of the season.
Last season, Amherst led O’Hara at the half but ended up losing a close game. Most of the same cast is back, and with a chance to take down the Hawks again, they finished the job and snapped O’Hara’s 89-game winning streak against teams from Western New York.
“Hopefully that’s an experience we can build on,” Amherst coach Mike Chatelle said. “What O’Hara has done is remarkable but what we wanted to do was set the tone for the season because we have some difficult challenges to face this year.”
The Tigers (3-0), who return to action Thursday at Hamburg, play in the same division as last year’s state Class A semifinalist Williamsville South and Williamsville East, which appears much improved.
They might be young (nine sophomores, two seniors, one junior) but have two of the better players in the area in guards Emma Klein and Ella Wanzer. Both averaged more than 13 points per game and more importantly fuel the Tigers’ defense and force turnovers.
“I wouldn’t want to play against her or Ella,” Chatelle said. “Emma has quick feet and the quickest hands I’ve ever seen. Both will do whatever it takes to help the team win. We’re fortunate to have this group all together.”
Will fortune smile again this season for the Tigers, who are trying to win their third consecutive Section VI Class A-2 championship?
Iroquois, last year's runner-up, will try to play spoiler to Amherst. So too could always dangerous and tough Lake Shore.
Here are other storylines to follow in girls basketball:
What’s up with O’Hara?
The Hawks are young, according to coach Nick O’Neil, who added they should be fine as the season progresses.
Remember, they do return Sister Maria Pares Buffalo News Player of the Year and Siena commit Angel Parker. The team replenished their talent pool lost to graduation by adding Parker’s little sister Aaliyah, along with fellow sophomores Mia McCarthy and Tatiana Smith. O’Hara (3-2) added a couple of transfers in Jade Rutledge (Olmsted) and Amelia Strong (Niagara Falls).
New playoff format for Catholics
Just when it appeared folks were getting used to the postseason format in the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association, the league changed things up again.
This season, the top two teams in the regular-season standings will meet in the playoffs with the winner representing the diocese in the state Catholic Class AA playoff. The loser of the game is done for the season. The change was made at the request of the Catholic High School Athletic Association.
The league’s Class A representative to states will be determined via a five-team playoff involving the third through seventh-place finishers during the regular season. Those that finished below seventh will vie for the right to represent the league in the Class B state Catholic tournament.
The B Division teams are Buffalo Seminary, Park, Central Christian and Walsh.
Remembering coach Martin
Section VI is still mourning the sudden death of longtime Allegany/Limestone coach Frank Martin. The section plans to honor him in the best way possible – by keeping his memory alive.
The section announced it will award the Frank Martin Coach of the Year.
“He was just a wonderful person,” Section VI girls basketball chairman Chris Durr said. “He did so much for promoting girls basketball not only in the Southern Tier but Western New York.”
Martin passed away roughly a week after guiding the Section VI Class C champion Gators to their first state Final Four appearance last March.
Chad Lyter has taken over as head coach of the Gators. He had been a longtime assistant with the program.
In addition to a new coach hire at A/L, among the other teams under new leadership this season include Amy Steger (Hamburg), Jim McNamara (Sweet Home), Mark Putney (Fredonia) and Ken Ricker (Dunkirk). If Ricker's name sounds familiar, it should, as he's the former Jamestown coach.
As per usual, enrollment numbers increasing or decreasing has resulted in some teams shifting classification.
Notable classification changes include Niagara Wheatfield moving from Class AA to A-1. That means there are now just eight teams in Class AA. Class A-1 remains at 12 as West Seneca East moves from A-1 to A-2. International Prep/I-Grover moves from B-1 to A-2, while East Aurora drops from Class A-2 to B-1.
Two merged programs are now part of Class C2: Westfield/Brocton and Ellicottville/West Valley.
State Catholic Class A: Sacred Heart
Monsignor Martin: Cardinal O'Hara
Section VI: Orchard Park (Class AA), Williamsville South (Class A), Amherst (Class A-2), Fredonia (Class B), Southwestern (Class B-2), Allegany/Limestone (Class C), Franklinville (Class D).
Here are some of the must-see games this season:
Amherst at Williamsville East, Jan. 4
Clarence at Frontier, Jan. 10
Amherst at Williamsville South, Jan. 16
Cardinal O’Hara at Sacred Heart, Jan. 16
Lancaster at Clarence, Jan. 18
Williamsville East at Amherst, Jan. 31
Williamsville South at Amherst, Feb. 4
St. Mary’s vs. Cardinal O’Hara, Feb. 4
Feb. 16: Section VI seeding meeting
Feb. 19: Section VI Tournament begins
Feb. 22: Monsignor Martin quarterfinals
Feb. 24: Monsignor Martin semifinals at Villa Maria
March 1: Monsignor Martin finals at Villa Maria
March 3: Championship Sunday at Buffalo State
March 9: Far West Regionals at Buffalo State
March: 15-17: NYSPHSAA Final Four in Troy
March: 22-24: Federation Tournament in Glens Falls