At 18-0, Rush-Henrietta is the only area girls basketball team that has waded through the regular-season unscathed. That doesn’t mean the Royal Comets are untested, though, and that’s something coach Steve Shepanski is quite happy about.
“I was kind of wondering how we’d respond if everything didn’t fall our way, but these girls, they never come off the floor with their heads down,” the 10th-year coach said. “They’ve shown they’re resilient.”
The Comets, who are in search of their first title since the end of the Shenise Johnson Era in 2008, are the top seed in Class AA. The eight other No. 1s are scheduled to be honored at a luncheon Friday at the RIT Inn and Conference Center. The 43rd annual tournament, which includes 110 teams, kicks off on Monday as 17th-seeded Penn Yan plays at No. 16 Marcus Whitman in Class B, which has 17 teams and is the largest field among nine brackets.
Here are five things to watch:
Can R-H stay perfect?
It will play No. 8 Gates Chili, a rematch of last year’s final, or No. 9 Fairport in the quarterfinals next Friday. The Comets are led by a trio of tall seniors, 6-foot-1 Dana Watts (19.4 points per game), 6-foot senior Emily Nestler (12.1) and 5-10 Sarah Sweazy (7 ppg).
“We’ve had different kids step up in different games, which goes a long way” Shepanski said.
Junior Destinee Johnson (21 points) and Nestler (22) came through to support Watts (18) in a 67-58 win last Friday at No. 5 Webster Thomas, a potential semifinal foe if it can beat No. 4 Hilton. The Royal Comets trailed 29-26 at halftime and 48-46 headed into the fourth quarter.
R-H was also pushed in January games at rival Penfield (down four at halftime) and at Hilton, but found answers in wins by seven and 11 points, respectively.
While R-H is the clear favorite in the top of the bracket, No. 2 Penfield, No. 3 Irondequoit or No. 4 could emerge in the bottom. Victor split with Penfield and beat Irondequoit on Dec. 29. Penfield closed the regular season by sandwiching a 53-42 home loss to Victor and 17-point road loss at R-H around a win. Irondequoit won six straight before dropping its regular-season finale, 60-53, at home to Pittsford Sutherland.
Kearney goes for No. 4
Over the past three seasons, Bishop Kearney has won Class C3, C2 and B. The Section V Classification Committee elevated the Kings to Class A1 this winter and it appears a fourth straight trophy in a different class is very possible. They were state champs in 2013 and runners-up last year.
The top-seeded Kings (15-4) should breeze to the final. No. 2 Greece Athena, No. 3 Mercy or darkhorse and No. 6 Canandaigua could be waiting. Junior Bri.Asia Mason (8.7 ppg) has been solid filling in for injured point guard Rosa Graham, out since Dec. 19 with a broken foot. Graham is expected back for the postseason, coach Kevan Sheppard said, to make a Kearney lineup with All-Greater Rochester guard Kharysma Bryant (21.6), Arianne Smith (8.5) and 6-2 Princella McCullough (8.6 ppg/13.6 rpg/5.3 blocks) even better.
3. Anybody’s game
Defending champion Wayne, the No. 2 seed, has company this winter in Class A2, a couple of past champions from Pittsford. No. 3 Sutherland won Class A1 last year, beat Wayne in the state qualifier and went on to win the state title. No. 1 Mendon was the 2013 champion.
Wayne beat both Pittsford teams this season, but its victory over Mendon was in the season opener. The Vikings are 12-2 since a 2-2 start, including wins by 23 points in December and 49-47 last week over rival Sutherland. Alley Phillips (14 ppg) and Darby Kreienberg (11.4) lead the balanced Vikings in scoring.
ER earns top seed
The home of champions haven’t been known for winning girls basketball trophies for a long time, but fourth-year coach Mark Loira’s Bombers are 18-1 and earned the top seed in Class C1. Their only loss was 58-55 on Dec. 12 to Byron-Bergen, which happens to be the No. 2 seed. Beware of No. 6 seed Batavia Notre Dame, the Class B2 runner-up last year and 2013 Class D state champion.
ER hasn’t won a title since capturing its third in a four-year span from 1989 to 1992 under Rich Lipani, who is Hilton’s varsity football coach. Fourteen of this season’s 18 wins are by double digits. The Bombers are young, too, with sophomores Maddy Walsh (16.5 ppg) and Alli Reynolds (7.5) and juniors Megan D’Angelo (10.2) and Michaela Monachino (8.3) as leading scorers.
“We focus on the fundamentals and the girls want to get better,” said Loira, an ER senior in 1992.
5. Scorers supreme
Class B isn’t only the deepest field with 17 teams. Each of the three seeds has dynamic scorers:
•No. 1 Livonia: Senior guard Taylor VanThof (20.2 ppg).
•No. 2 Greece Odyssey: Senior forward Karissa Birthwright (26.1), tops in Section V.
•No. 3: Palmyra-Macedon: Senior guard Ashley Vanderwall (22.5).
Watch out for No. 4 Aquinas, which has emerging freshman forward Kayla Jackson (15.9).
Class AA: Rush-Henrietta (18-0).
Class A1: Bishop Kearney (15-4).
Class A2: Pittsford Mendon (14-4).
Class B: Livonia (17-1).
Class C1: East Rochester (18-1).
Class C2: Dundee (17-2).
Class C3: Marion (10-8).
Class D1: Romulus (18-1).
Class D2: Prattsburgh (18-1).