2023-24 girls basketball preview: Here are the top storylines in WNY

2023-24 girls basketball preview: Here are the top storylines in WNY

With the 2023-24 girls basketball season underway, here’s a preview of the top storylines, key dates and more:

Can Nichols do it again?

Last season, Nichols disrupted the Monsignor Martin and Western New York leagues by beating Gretchen Dolan and Williamsville South, and defeating Cardinal O’Hara multiple times to become the Monsignor Martin regular-season and postseason champions. The Vikings went to the Catholic Class AA state championship game.

Four of the team’s top five scorers graduated, with the only returner being Brianna Barr-Buday, an All-Western New York large schools first-team selection. She’s a University at Buffalo signee and averaged 16.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game last season.

Nichols is 1-2 through three games this season, but it looks like junior Madisen Wilson is stepping up in an increased role, averaging 23 points.

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It’s going to be a tall task for Nichols to repeat as Monsignor Martin champion, with Cardinal O’Hara looking to reclaim the throne, and St. Mary’s waiting in the wings for its opportunity. If Wilson continues her play, coupled with Barr-Buday’s production, and the Vikings figure out their depth issues, there’s no reason why Nichols can’t be in the conversation to repeat.

Brianna Barr-Buday, a 6-foot-2 center for Nichols, has committed to play for University at Buffalo.

A blip for O’Hara?

In life, sometimes you have to be your biggest cheerleader. On Nov. 22, the Lady Hawks posted an almost two-minute hype video on social media, reminding viewers that Nichols ended their season and that Cardinal O’Hara plans on becoming the Monsignor Martin champion.

Cardinal O’Hara had won nine straight Monsignor Martin championships before losing to Nichols, and in the video, Lady Hawks coach Nick O’Neil said, “This will never happen again.”

If there’s a team that can back up its public goals and targets, it’s Cardinal O’Hara. The Lady Hawks are home to three Division I-bound players in Kyla Hayes, Annabella Day and Jordyn Williams (Niagara), and have D’Youville signee Aliviya Vallone Russell. With four college-bound players in the lineup, Cardinal O’Hara should enter the season as the favorite. Nichols and St. Mary’s could be threats to Cardinal O’Hara.

Player of the Year candidates

Entering the season, Lancaster’s Madison Francis is the best player in Western New York, and this could be the season she receives The News’ Sister Maria Pares Player of the Year. She has led Lancaster to two straight Class AA championships, and now in Class AAA, another sectional title could be on the horizon.

With many players from Lancaster’s championship teams having graduated, a lot will be asked of Francis, who’s coming off a season in which she averaged 22 points, 12.1 rebounds, 4 steals and 3.2 blocks. Francis is a five-star recruit and she is ranked No. 14 in the Class of 2025 by ESPN. She holds multiple Division I offers.

Cardinal O’Hara’s Kyla Hayes is the leader of a team that will likely be in the Monsignor Martin championship game. She’s going to be the best player on a team that arguably plays the toughest schedule and through two years, Hayes is a two-time All-Western New York large schools first-team selection. She has received offers from Division I programs. Hayes averaged 17.7 points and 9.9 rebounds last season.

Also in the mix is Nichols’ Brianna Barr-Buday, a University at Buffalo signee, who averaged 16.2 points and 12.8 rebounds last season, leading Nichols to the state Catholic Class AA championship game.

Rounding out the list of likely candidates is Emily McDonald of St. Mary’s, who averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. She has Division I offers.

Can Randolph finish job?

Randolph advanced to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C state final, and in the biggest game of the season, the Cardinals struggled to hit shots. It was a learning experience for Randolph, with its eyes set on returning to the state championship game and being the last team standing.

A tough schedule has been played to start the season, losing by over 20 points to Cardinal O’Hara and St. Mary’s, but beating Nichols by 13. Seeing Randolph have a tough nonleague schedule is an indicator that coach David Pihlblad believes his team can make the state tournament, and hopefully become state champion.

As a Class C school, Randolph’s advantage is Division I prospect Skylar Herington, who has an offer from St. Bonaventure. Against Nichols, she had her way with the Vikings, finishing with 32 points and eight 3-pointers. If it wasn’t clear last year, it’s clearer this year that she is the team’s best player. Although she will more often than not lead Randolph in scoring, it will be a team effort to win a state title. The Cardinals have Quinn Pence, Payton Morrison, Gianna Bowles and Zoelle Dickerson to help get the job done.

Program resets

Williamsville South and Hamburg were the stalwarts in Class A for years, typically crossing paths in the crossover game. From Amari DeBerry to Gretchen Dolan leading Williamsville South and Clara Strack being Hamburg’s two-way threat, the Billies and Bulldogs enter a period without a Power 5 Division I prospect.

It happens all the time, with shifts happening across the landscape of sports. Kristen Dolan has stepped down as Williamsville South’s coach for personal reasons but will remain on the staff as a volunteer. With her there, the Billies will look for Kimora Berry and Leah Solomon to step up. Berry holds an offer from Niagara.

Hamburg has many of its top players from last season’s team, and the Bulldogs will look to make another Far West Regional run after losing last season in controversial fashion.

Another slight reset is the Depew program. The greatest player in school history, Kaylee Krysztof, has graduated and is at Binghamton. With her in the lineup, the girls program had its best era of success, with multiple sectional titles and an appearance in the Far West Regional. With her gone, Mia Vannelli will be relied on to carry the scoring load.

Can Southwestern break through?

Since 2012, Southwestern has been one of the best programs in Western New York, with seven Section VI Class B2 championships. The Trojans are entering their season with Daemen commit Reece Beaver, who is a two-time All-WNY small schools first-team selection. She’s one of the best players in Western New York, and is the best player in Class B. The reigning CCAA West I Co-Player of the Year averaged 24.2 points, 4.4 assists, 2.7 steals and 3.4 threes per game last season. With her at the top, Southwestern returns Madi McIntyre, who averaged 9.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and Bella Sirianni and Lauren Cotter.

A possible threat is Wilson, which moves up from Class C to Class B. The Lakewomen return their top three scorers in Peyton McInnis, Rian Faery and Cait Cliffe, and with it being the last year of this group, the trio will be determined to go out with at least a sectional title.

Class B won’t be a cakewalk for Southwestern. Portville and Eden also can make arguments about who will become sectional champions.

Reigning champions

Class A overall: Hamburg.

Class A2: Williamsville South.

Monsignor Martin: Nichols.

Key dates

Feb. 20-21: Section VI pre-quarterfinals.

Feb. 22-24: Section VI quarterfinals.

Feb. 28: Monsignor Martin AA final at Canisius College.

Feb. 27-29: Section VI semifinals.

Mar. 1-3: Section VI finals.

Mar. 6: Section VI crossovers.

Mar. 8-9: Section VI Far West Regionals.

Mar. 8-9: New York State Catholic High School Association finals.

Mar. 14-17: NYSPHSAA final four at Hudson Valley Community College.

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