Harboring high ambition, and for good reason, the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team gave every one of its backers more reason to be excited after a victory in the season-opening Utica Proctor Tournament.
Each of the last two seasons, the Northstars have reached the Section III Class AA semifinals, including 2008, when it went 19-4 but fell to Oswego in a tight 58-54 battle.
Five seniors departed, but just one of them, Nicole Dwyer, was a starter. Everyone else, from highly-touted freshman center Breanna Stewart to veterans like Marybeth Egan, Morgan Nandin and Shannon Hickin, are back, and they want to win it all this time.
As its first act, CNS would go to Utica and take just a few minutes to find its rhythm in last Friday's opening round, leading to a 61-32 victory over Whitesboro.
Early nerves kept the game close until the second period. Beginning there, the Northstars outscored the Warriors 39-12, not letting up until the fourth quarter, when the starters were on the bench.
Nandin set the pace with 13 points as Egan and Stewart both came up with 12 points and Kelsey Mattice stepped up for seven points. Each of the 10 CNS players that saw action got at least one field goal.
The starters would see more minutes in Saturday's final against the hosts from Proctor, who had beaten Rome Free Academy 48-40 in the other opening-round contest.
With Stewart stepping up her paint presence and her teammates drawing strength from it, CNS handled the Raiders in a 60-48 decision.
With steady patience, the Northstars grabbed a 31-26 halftime lead. Then the defense really stepped up, holding Proctor to just seven points in the third quarter as the lead grew to 44-33.
Stewart augmented her 19 points with eight blocks, numbers that helped her earn tournament MVP honors. Egan provided the outside help, earning 16 points, while Shannon Paul got eight points and Hickin added six points. Brianna Kiesel, with a game-best 28 points, carried the Raiders' offense much of the way.
On Thursday night, CNS gets a big early chance to assert itself as the AA favorite when it hosts defending champion Corcoran.