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Upstart showcase events raise level of competition for WNY girls basketball teams

It will feel like March this weekend for some of the area’s top girls basketball teams.

Five defending sectional champions from Section V (Rochester) and one from Section III (Central New York) will be in town for the Far West Regionals Remix, a tripleheader Friday night at Wilson and a five-game slate Saturday at Williamsville North featuring seven strong local opponents, including Section VI finalists from last season: Frontier, Williamsville South, East Aurora, Panama and Williamsville North.

Additionally, Cardinal O’Hara, the six-time defending Monsignor Martin champions and state Catholic semifinalists last season, will tip off against Section V Class AA champion Bishop-Kearney in the Pastor-Cooper Memorial at Villa Maria College on Friday night, while Amherst, another top-five large school in the final Western New York rankings, hosts Section III champion and state finalists West Genesee.

These games follow last weekend’s Lady Trojans Thanksgiving Shoot-Out that matched up Southern Tier strongholds Franklinville, Maple Grove, Chautauqua Lake and host Southwestern against each other, as well as private school powerhouses Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s.

Multigame events that draw top competition from other regions or showcase matchups between premier public and private schools have been mainstays on the local boys basketball schedule. They are a developing trend in the girls game, with this being the first year for both the Far West Regionals Remix and Lady Trojans Thanksgiving Shoot-Out.

“These type of events are totally new around here,” said Ken Ricker, the former Jamestown coach now at Dunkirk. “When we were really good at Jamestown, we had to go to New York City or Elmira to get games like this early in the season.

“Teams certainly had their tipoff tournaments, but they were more of a local matchup thing. Getting great teams and great talent together in one of these showcase events with games all day, the idea has been there, but having two big ones start up this year is big for local girls basketball.”

Ricker commended the organizing effort from Wilson coach Brian Baker, WNY’s girls representative for the Basketball Coaches Association of New York; Williamsville North coach Bill Shaw, whose 519 career victories rank third all-time in WNY; and Southwestern’s Dave Turnbull.

“We have a lot of really great coaches involved in girls basketball right now working to promote and support the girls in every way,” Ricker said.

Baker expanded Wilson’s traditional tipoff event to feature public vs. private schools last year. Though there were challenges in recruiting all of Section V’s champions to participate in the Far West Regionals Remix, Baker is hopeful that the concept will continue, possibly alternating with Rochester host sites in the future.

“I’m a big proponent of trying to showcase girls basketball,” Baker said. “For years, I felt like the exposure was less than it was for the boys. There are a lot of girls basketball players here that usually go unnoticed until the playoffs at Buff State. But we’re taking strides in the right direction. These showcases are really nice for exposure and some good basketball for the crowd to come out and watch.”

Helping to pull the event together, Williamsville South and Frontier agreed to move scheduled home games against premier opponents to an early date.

The Billies, led by All-WNY junior center and UConn commit Amari DeBerry, will meet Class A state finalist Pittsford Mendon at 5 p.m. Saturday in the marquee matchup of the Far West Regionals Remix.

Ricker noticed several coaches from local colleges in the crowd during the showcase games at Southwestern, where his daughter, Kyra, is a freshman on the varsity team. The star power in this weekend’s games should also be a recruiting lure, Baker said.

Friday night’s tripleheader at Wilson opens with the Lakewomen playing Section V Class C champion Oakfield-Alabama (5 p.m.), followed by Lockport taking on Section V Class C-1 champion Avon (6:30 p.m.) and Grand Island meeting Section V Class D champion Elba (8 p.m.).

Saturday’s slate starts with Section VI Class AA champion Frontier taking on West Genesee (11 a.m.), followed by Section VI Class D finalist Panama playing Wilson (12:30 p.m.), Section VI Class B champion East Aurora meeting Section V Class B-2 champion Dansville (2 p.m.), Section VI Class AA finalist Williamsville North taking on Section V AA semifinalist Mercy (3:30 p.m.) and Williamsville South vs. Pittsford Mendon.

Kenmore West also will host a showcase event Dec. 13-14 featuring Grand Island, Frontier, Olmsted, East Aurora, Wilson, Lockport and Olean.

“In the past, we’ve had teams that would be 20-0 or 19-1, but depending on what league they were in, they hadn’t been tested,” Ricker said. “This year, you’ll see teams coming into the playoffs that have really tested themselves, starting very early on. And you’ll see at the end how it benefits these teams.”

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