February 13, 2013
Five classes, 60 teams, two weeks work of tension where every game ends somebody's season - such is the Section III girls basketball playoffs.
Yet the feeling going into the 2013 edition is that it could all end up like 2012. Each of the defending champion is, with one exception, a solid favorite to do it all again.
Start with Class AA and start where you must, at C-NS. No Breanna Stewart? No problem, really, since Sarah Bowles, Abbey Timpano and Cara Gannett are still around, with plenty of support, to help the Northstars make a perfect regular-season run through the CNY Counties League.
Yet after Oswego or Utica Proctor, the Northstars will face a challenging semifinal. Both no. 4 West Genesee and no.5 Nottingham pushed C-NS into the fourth quarter late in January, so neither will be too afraid of Eric Smith's crew.
Meanwhile, no. 2 CBA has to prove itself after a season mostly filled with Class A opposition, and must do so right away since F-M is a very solid no. 7 that can beat anyone. Corcoran, from the no. 3 spot, must shake off the 63-28 drubbing C-NS gave them on Tuesday, and gets a week to do so before a quarterfinal with Rome Free Academy.
J-D, in Class A, may be just as safe and solid a choice as C-NS is in AA. Tough on defense, and with the senior duo of Cydney Goodrum and Kayleigh Cavanaugh in top form, and it's difficult to conceive how anyone in the top half of the bracket - New Hartford, Fulton, Indian River, or Oneida - could topple the Red Rams.
The real fun is in the other half. Two great players meet in one quarterfnal, where Zaikya Saunders and no. 3 Carthage host Gabby Eure and no. 6 ESM. Then there's Jennifer Deuel, who leads the way for no. 2 Whitesboro, a side that, at its best, might make J-D worry a bit, but it's a tough path to the finals that begins with Cortland.
Then we get to Class B - ah, Class B. No lopsided split this time. Just 14 teams in a ridiculously deep field and fun everywhere you look.
South Jefferson carries its 18-0 mark and role as reigning champs into the fray, and its first game will be against Skaneateles or Marcellus - both of whom can cause all kinds of trouble.
Then there's Cazenovia, newly elevated to no. 13 in the state rankings, merely a no. 4 seed here, starting with Bishop Ludden but eagerly eyeing a shot at payback against no. 5 Sherburne-Earlville, who beat the Lakers in late December.
Move to the other half, and there's Westhill with a 17-1 mark, a no. 6 state ranking (one better than South Jefferson), a no. 2 seed and a nice first-round bye.
Except that there's a good chance that the Warriors will start the playoffs against Utica-Notre Dame. Yes, the Jugglers, no 19 in the state poll, are a no. 7 seed, and Emily Durr just dropped 37 on Whitesboro. It overshadows Holland Patent, who with Allison Friermuth is a very quiet no. 3, and Bishop Grimes, a no. 6 who could beat anyone if it hits 3-pointers.
Then there's Class C. Despite exactly 16 qualifiers, it split in two, but it's not lopsided, not with Fabius-Pompey atop the C-2 side and three really good teams - Cooperstown, Thousand Islands and reigning champ Little Falls - atop the C-1 side.
Of course it all starts with the Falcons, and Kirsten Dodge. As long as the 6-4 Dodge is in the middle, F-P could swat everyone away, though it might have to be wary about no. 5 West Canada early on. The no. 2 seed in C-2, Weedsport, beat everyone except F-P, and with Gabby LaForce and Abby Marsden at the helm, the Warriors could get a semifinal with Cassley Jackowski and LaFayette, who first deals with Onondaga.
Little Falls stumbled a bit in January, sending the champs to a no. 3, but it still might be favored over a no. 2 side in Thousand Islands that leans so much on Kristin McGraw for, well, just about everything. Cooperstown is no fluke in the no. 1 spot - this is a balanced unit with three players (Sumer Murdock, Nicole Cring, Elizabeth Millea) averaging in double figures. Coop doesn't seem to have a major hurdle to the C-1 finals with Beaver River, Frankfort-Schuyler and Herkimer filling out its bracket.
And then there's Class D, or to put it another away, the Oriskany Show, at least until someone, anyone, proves otherwise, in much the same manner as C-NS and J-D among the large schools.
How prohibitive a favorite is 18-0 Oriskany? Consider that it beat no. 2 seed New York Mills three times this winter, the last of them a 55-31 beatdown a week ago, and has a foolproof star in Christina Gradziadei, who made the big shot to beat Hamilton in the finals a year ago.
Mills could play Hamilton in the quarterfinals if the Emerald Knights survive Old Forge first. Copenhagen works from the no. 3 seed, awaiting Alex Bay or Stockbridge Valley, while Sackets Harbor is a no. 4 seed that probably doesn't worry Oriskany too much. Sackets will draw Cincinnatus or Otselic Valley as Oriskany awaits Madison or Poland.
All of this will lead to Feb. 27 and 28, and five championship games in the Carrier Dome. The question - will we get any real surprises along the way, or will the endings be quite familiar? Come Friday, we begin to find out.