In 2012 and 2013, the last two times Penfield debuted as the top team in the Democrat and Chronicle‘s Large-School Girls Basketball poll in December, the Patriots weren’t the the ones celebrating a Section V title three months later.
Rival Gates Chili won the championship and that’s something veteran coach Mark Vogt, a master motivator, will remind his Patriots of all winter. But there’s a big difference between then and now because no other team in the area this season can compare to those ultra-talented Gates Chili squads.
This season, the Class AA crown is Penfield’s to lose. It returns four starters, including Boston College-bound forward Emma Guy, from a 15-5 squad that was runner-up to Rush-Henrietta.
“The strength of this team is defense and one of their goals is to be the best defensive team we’ve ever had and that’s saying a lot,” said Vogt, whose 4-0 team should dominate most others but faces its first test Thursday at home against No. 2 Victor (5-0). “I told them that might be a lofty goal, but they’re walking the walk.”
In its first four games, Penfield gave up a startling average of just 27 points per game. The best average in Vogt’s 15 seasons as coach came in the 2010-11 season (35.6), which ended with a title game rout at the hands of Gates Chili. With veteran guards and a thirst to break through, Victor may be Penfield’s biggest threat.
But no player on this Patriots’ squad has ever won sectional title, either, and that includes Guy, who transferred from Wayne before her sophomore season. She’s 6-foot-3, a quick leaper and athletic, but even though she averaged 15.5 points and 9.8 rebounds last season, the only returning first-team All-Greater Rochester player is capable of more consistency and dominating even more.
Improvement from players around her will help. Sophomore guard Makaila Wilson, in her third varsity season, has grown to 5-11 and already has a couple of Division I scholarship offers. She’s averaging 12.8 points and senior guard Ali Fitzgerald is averaging 10.7. She’s going to play at Seton Hall. Another senior guard, Kristen Baumer, does a lot of the little things. She’s planning to play lacrosse at Central Connecticut.
Freshman guard Brianne Moxley is the other starter and junior guard Gabby Pancio is a great spark off the bench.
“She’s the best on-ball defender we’ve had since Michelle Nesselbush,” Vogt said of the 2013 graduate. “We’re not as deep as we’ve been, but we do have players who will contribute.”
Penfield, which has won sectionals in 2009 and 2012, will use its trademark pressure defense, but still mix in plenty of zone. Without a ton of size, it will need to rebound, especially when it plays in the Slam Dunk Tournament against some other top teams such as three-time defending Class AA state champion Ossining, right after Christmas in Westchester County.
Here are five other things to watch this season:
Best is back: Al Best, Section V girls basketball’s wins leader (486) among coaches, is back a couple seasons removed from turning Mynderse back into a two-time sectional winner (2011 and 2013).
The man who made his name building programs at Greece Arcadia (three titles in 15 seasons) and Athena (two in 10) has taken over at Wayland-Cohocton in Livingston County. He’ll try to rebuild there just as he did in nine years at Mynderse, but the Eagles, who were 7-12 last season, are off to a 1-3 start.
Three other active coaches rank among the Top 10 all-time locally:
- Pete Piraino, Keshequa: His 470 wins rank second. His team is 2-2 this winter.
- Steve Willoughby, Honeoye Falls-Lima: His 444 wins rank fourth. His Cougars are 5-0 and ranked 10th in the D&C poll.
- Karen Schuster, Livonia: Her 366 wins rank eighth. Her Bulldogs are 4-1 and are No. 1 in the D&C’s Small-School Coaches’ poll.
Livonia is No. 1, too: Schuster’s Bulldogs finished 21-2 last winter and after winning the Section V Class B title lost in the regionals/state quarterfinals. They’re 4-1 and coming off a 45-43 win over Livingston County Division I rival, Hornell, so Livonia’s margin for error is small.
AGR guard Taylor VanThof (18.8 points per game) graduated, but no one else did. Senior guards Molly Stewart (15.2 ppg) and Melissa Mineti (7.4 ppg) and senior forward Niki Templeton (8.8) lead the offense. There’s good size — Templeton is 5-10 and senior center Sarah Nation is 6 foot — and there’s depth with senior guard/forward Sarah Linsner (5.4 ppg) and 5-9 sophomore forward Morgan Hyde (6.4 ppg).
New faces: Monroe County has five new coaches, including a couple taking over for coaches who won multiple sectional crowns.
- Eastridge: Assistant Jessica Colavecchia replaced longtime coach, Rick Piacentini. The Lancers are 1-4.
- Fairport: Mark Schaller, an Athena graduate and former Brockport boys varsity coach, replaced Scott Forrest, who coached the Red Raiders for 11 seasons and won sectionals in 2010. Fairport is 2-3.
- Gates Chili: Dave Pero Jr., son of longtime Batavia Notre Dame coach Dave Pero Sr., replaced Tara Graziadei, whose teams won sectionals in 2011, 2013 and 2014. The Spartans take a 4-1 record to No. 4 Hilton (4-1) on Friday.
- Greece Athena: Former Churchville-Chili assistant Lisa Young replaced Mike Butler, whose teams won six titles in 13 years. The Trojans are 2-3.
- Rush-Henrietta: Assistant Alan Regan replaced Steve Shepanski, whose teams won five sectional and three state titles in his 10 seasons. R-H is 3-2. Shepanski is now an assistant at C-C, where his daughter is in the program.
AGR returnees: Penfield’s Guy is the only first-team AGR pick back, but five others were second-team selections and expect big seasons.
- Tiara Filbert, Batavia: Already the school’s all-time leading scorer, the reigning Monroe County Division III Player of the Year is averaging 16 points per game for a squad that has won three straight division titles.
- Cameron Graupman, Hilton: The senior shooting guarded headed to the Division II College of St. Rose is averaging 20 points for the Cadets (4-1). She eclipsed 1,000 career points this month and is coming off a 25-point, 7-rebound, 6-steal night against Spencerport.
- Sydney Jones, Midlakes: The senior guard is averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 4.2 steals for the 2-3 (Class B1) Screaming Eagles.
- Franny Valenti, Victor: Another player who reached just surpassed 1,000 points, she’s averaging 16.2 points and is one of the Blue Devils’ key senior guards.
- Maddy Walsh, East Rochester: The junior guard is averaging 13.5 points for the Bombers, who take a 3-1 record into Friday’s Wayne County matchup at No. 4 Gananda (7-0). ER was 19-2 last winter.
One for the thumb? Most of the veterans who’ve led Bishop Kearney to four straight sectional titles and were part of the 2013 Class C state title team have graduated, but three key seniors remain and make Kearney a Class A1 contender again.
Point guard Rosa Graham, who’ll play for Monmouth University, Ari Smith and Bri.Asia Mason are those guards, but the sledding will be tough. Kearney, ranked third in our poll, squeaked past rival and No. 7 Aquinas, 55-54, on Monday. Mason had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Graham had 10 points and seven assists, but the breakout player so far has been Saniaa Wilson, a 6-foot seventh-grader.
She had 15 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks Monday and is averaging 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in the Kings’ 4-1 start.
Large-School Coaches’ Poll
(first-place votes in parentheses)
1 – Penfield (6) 4-0 78 points
2 – Victor (1) 5-0 63
3 – Bishop Kearney (1) 4-1 62
4 – Hilton 4-1 61
5 – Mercy 3-0 53
6 – Wayne 5-0 30
7 – Aquinas 3-2 29
8 – Pittsford Mendon 4-2 26
9 – Batavia 4-1 14
10 – Honeoye Falls-Lima 5-0 11
Also received votes: Brighton, Fairport, Irondequoit, Rush-Henrietta, Spencerport.
Small-School Coaches’ Poll
1 – Livonia (6) 4-1 77 points
2 – Wellsville 4-1 60
3 – Mynderse (1) 3-3 49
4 – Gananda 6-0 47
5 – South Seneca 4-1 34
6 – Prattsburgh 7-0 27
7 – Romulus 7-0 26
8 – Bloomfield (1) 5-2 25
9 – Hornell 2-3 23
10 – Caledonia-Mum 4-1 15
Also received votes: 11 other teams.
Note: Large schools poll includes Classes AA and A; small schools includes B, C and D.