More attention than ever before will be splashed on the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team for the 2009-10 season.
As if being the defending Section III Class AA champions weren't enough, the Northstars have, in sophomore Breanna Stewart, one of the country's top prospects, a player expected to dominate the local scene for the next three years, should she stay injury-free.
What CNS doesn't have are five seniors gone from that 2008-09 title team, including 3-point specialist Marybeth Egan, forward Shannon Hickin and defensive standout Ashley Waldron. Together, they kept opponents from concentrating their attention on Stewart in the paint.
Already, their absence has been felt. In last Friday's opening round of the Lady Raider Classic at Utica Proctor, the Northstars lost a 40-34 decision to Corcoran in a showdown of the last two sectional AA champions.
Corcoran was quite eager to get a shot at CNS. They had split two regular-season meetings last winter, and were in line to meet in the sectional finals before Fayetteville-Manlius stunned the Cougars 39-36 in the semifinal round.
Now, in Utica, Corcoran employed a simple strategy with CNS -- namely, allow Stewart her production, but contain everyone else.
That would work, as Stewart finished with 23 points, but the rest of the team combined for just four field goals, two of them from the other returning starter, Kelsey Mattice, who finished with six points.
Meanwhile, Corcoran outscored the Northstars 13-8 in the third quarter to build most of its winning margin. Coreisha Hickey led Corcoran with 19 points, while Ayana Bradley picked up 10 points.
Not pleased with this result, the Northstars got a chance to bounce back in Saturday's consolation game against Rome Free Academy, who had lost to host Utica Proctor 63-31 in the other half of the opening round.
Sure enough, CNS pasted the Black Knights 70-32, starting the game with a 23-8 first-quarter blitz and never letting up.
Stewart had 30 points, nearly matching the entire RFA roster by herself, and that included a rare 3-pointer. Mattice had 14 points, while Cara Gannett picked up nine points and Brittany Paul added seven points.
With the New York State Public High School Athletic Association mandating a reduced regular-season slate (18 games, instead of 20), CNS will not play again until Dec. 12, when it hosts the annual Syracuse/Rochester Shoot-out, a day full of contests between Section III and Section V powers.