One of my favorite stretches of the high school season is Section 3 semifinal weekend. Ten games, one weekend, two courts at the one facility of Onondaga Community College. This year’s scheduled Friday through Sunday slate became Saturday-Monday because of a weather-related postponement for the Class As Friday, but my schedule is flexible if it’s worth it, so I was still on hand for all ten games.
It would be pointlessly time-consuming to write about all ten games in full recap form, so back to the note sheet! My notes, thoughts, and observations from the weekend that was, separated by class:
(1) Cicero-North Syracuse beat (4) Liverpool 58-46; (2) Baldwinsville defeated (3) Rome Free Academy 62-57
- CNS & Baldwinsville have been at the top of the AAs, both in standings & eye test, the entire season. Both teams handled business at Allyn Hall on Sunday, but neither of them played their best basketball. That may just be my opinion based off knowledge of the players (having watched many of them countless times) and teams (having watched both multiple times this season), but I think both coaches would also say that. A major 3rd quarter Liverpool drought helped CNS establish an edge that they maintained to the finish, but the consistency wasn’t there and there were too many mental lapses at both ends. Baldwinsville had major issues containing Amya McLeod, but she’s a unique talent and I’m not as concerned about that. Their issues to me came in the first 20ish minutes, where it frankly felt like a good amount of hero ball offensively. They were able to hone it in a bit in the later stages, which is a big reason why they shot a higher percentage and scored 39 points in the 2nd half. Their wins didn’t come without flaws, but we have what was anticipated before the season even started (check my Section 3 Class AA preview from November) – a CNS/Baldwinsville final.
- It was a team effort and everyone brought it, so I don’t mean to demean everyone else’s impact by individualizing this, but Amya McLeod’s performance can’t go without note. The standout RFA 2023 and early Youngstown State pledge had the performance of the day on Sunday. Even though Baldwinsville knew exactly what was coming at them, they couldn’t stop it. 34 points for Amya – got to the rim at will, finished through contact, got to the line & converted, showed range when given room – and looking at her breathing even early in the game for a kid that’s about as well-conditioned as they game, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was playing sick. There was a point in the 3rd quarter where not only did they have the lead, but Amya had either scored or assisted all but 2 RFA points. That number probably ended up somewhere around 10. Baldwinsville is longer, bigger, moderately athletic, and considerably deeper, so it felt like a ‘when’ they’d take control and not ‘if’. Led by Amya, even as fatigue started to show for a Black Knight squad that only played 6, they willed their way to situational basketball in the closing possessions where Bville closed it out.
- It was for different reasons, but there was a similar vibe to CNS/Liverpool – it felt like a ‘when’ the Northstars would gain some control, even as Liverpool had the edge early. That comes down to CNS having more consistent commodities. However, is it too early for me to call Liverpool the 2022-23 Section 3 Class AA favorite? Looking at the other AAs in the 315, most teams are losing numerous impact players (Alita & Alexa at CNS, Syd & Ola at Bville, etc.). RFA loses Tailyn Frost but returns everyone else, and then there’s Liverpool, who only loses Julia Wike (I feel like I remember her as a 5th grader because of big sis Jenna – this makes me feel old). Not only does their D1 standout return in Nevaeh Wingate, but unlike RFA, they have young rising stars developing that should provide a big boost next year. Gianna Washington (2025) has star potential in the backcourt, Grace Sleeth (2026) is already a tough & explosive presence that can become dynamic if she adds a consistent perimeter J to the repertoire, and speaking of explosive, A’briyah Cunningham – a 2025 that I was told was a JV call-up – showed next-level athleticism in her minutes. I think she could be a problem in future years. Add Jakeira Stackhouse mixing it up in the post alongside Nevaeh, and as long as they can add some moderately consistent perimeter shooting to the fold between now & November, they’ll be tough to deal with in CNY next year.
(5) Jamesville-DeWitt knocked off (1) Auburn 47-37; (3) Bishop Ludden defeated (2) Indian River 70-66
- That damn Ludden/Indian River game. If the saying goes that ugly, poorly played games “set basketball back”, this one brought the game forward. High level players going blow for blow, playing the right way, producing with efficiency, competing at a high level… this was fun to watch. I’ve been blessed to pick some winners & see some very good games this season, and Monday’s opener was one of the better ones.
- It’s been a tumultuous season for Jamesville-DeWitt. First, the days of a bunch of 12-month basketball players at J-D are gone. Aniyah Neal & Ava Sandroni fit that mold, but the run of 5-7 players that treat hoop as their main focus are back in the days of Hair/Vaughan/Boeheim/Stickle/LaClair/Keeler/yada yada. A team that doesn’t have that level of experience had to endure some drama and a midseason coaching change in January. And… here we are. Death, taxes, J-D in March. Their current coach comes with D1 head coaching experience in Keith Cieplicki, and by my count, they’re now 11-3 since he took over. Two of those losses were to Auburn, who won the league thanks in large part to those victories. Third time’s charm for J-D. The players may not have experience getting to this stage – pretty much everyone that got minutes on their 2020 sectional finalist team is gone – but the program is in familiar territory.
- I kinda felt bad for Auburn. Not sure what the deal was, but their community did not show up as a whole to support. I made remarks throughout the weekend that a lot of schools/communities didn’t show up quite as much as I would’ve expected or hoped for their girls, and they had the lightest crowd of the 20 teams that made it to OCC. Out of the non-casual observers at SRC Monday night, it felt like 85-90% were J-D supporters. Credit to those from Auburn that did show up to support their girls. I wish there were more of you.
- Kaitlyn. Kibling. They came for the great individual matchup between D1 talents Amarah Streiff & Adrien LaMora. They stayed for the virtuoso performance that “the softball kid” put on. 41 points, scored at three levels plus the free throw line, initiated offense & got others involved, brought the heat on the defensive end and even drew the Adrien assignment in crunch time. Awesome to see her going to UConn to continue playing softball, the sport I can only imagine she has the most passion for, at the next level. However – and keep in mind when I say this, I’m an evaluator first, so this is my job – if roles were flipped and basketball was the sport she decided to pursue early in her high school years, she’d be a no questions asked Division I prospect here too. Even if she was to decide today to go down that road, I’d tag her as a NE-10 kid out of high school or a postgrad prep to America East/Patriot/MAAC type. Incredibly gifted athlete that has to be a load on the softball field, but she can go on the 94×50 too.
- Adrien. LaMora. It was Kibling’s career night, but man, Adrien did everything she could and more than held up her side. One of the toughest parts of this life is seeing someone you’ve known for years & watched grow lose their last game as a senior, but it makes it easier when they play well, do everything they possibly could do, and go down swinging. That was an accurate description for the longtime Indian River standout & Canisius bound talent. 28 points, did it efficiently, hit some big shots & some bombs from way beyond the arc, was a force on the glass, protected the rim, and brought confidence to her teammates. I’ve said for years that any competition I’m a part of – a basketball game, a war, board games, I don’t care – I want her on my side. Monday showed why. Canisius coach Sahar Nusseibeh has a culture shifter coming to WNY.
- Kibling & LaMora aside, there’s a lot of returning talent on these four teams. Ludden returns Amarah Streiff, Bridget Dunham, and a gang of young guns behind them. Indian River graduates their size alongside LaMora, but returns their backcourt in 2024s Ravan Marsell and Bella Davis. Maybe we’ll see “little” LaMora (Allison, a 2025) with an enhanced role? Jamesville-DeWitt brings back pretty much everybody, and Auburn’s got their guns Leah Middleton & Peyton Maneri back in the fold. Should be fun for a while.
(12) Bishop Grimes knocked off (1) Little Falls 49-44; (2) General Brown beat (3) Marcellus 66-50
- “Speaking of which, not saying that it’s my pick for the final, but with the styles that they play, no potential finals matchup would intrigue me more than General Brown/Bishop Grimes. Similar paces on a 94×50, both can wear their opponents into submission, General Brown pass & cut heavy offense vs. a disciplined Grimes defense. It’s one that would get the brain working… Get your popcorn ready!”. This is the exact quote from my sectional preview a couple weeks ago. I could’ve said “this is my pick for the final” because that’s 100% where my brain was, but I’m not trying to get all ESPN pundit for a high school girls’ basketball blog. That’s as close to a pick as you’ll get. We have it. Buckle up!
- General Brown has a style. Make you play 94×50 and not a half-court style, all 5 players run the floor. Ball movement, player movement, not a lot of dribble, fluid pass & cut offense. Balance on the offensive end, 2 or 3 moderately even contributors at the top with complimentary production from a few others. Activity on the defensive end, use their length & athleticism to cover a lot of ground in the zone, tip passes & force turnovers. Nickel & dime you into submission. Mission accomplished in their win over Marcellus. The Lion way.
- Bishop Grimes has a style. Make you play 94×50, all 5 players run the floor. Match up in the half-court, play with supreme discipline, turn ballhandlers, jump to the ball, bump cutters, outscrap you, make you play faster & make quicker decisions than you want. Team speed matters to them on O, but it really matters on D. On offense, it’s also buckets by committee, but they get the ball in Jenna Sloan’s hands and let the superior decisionmaker be the floor general. Grind you out, nickel & dime you, wear you down into submission in the 2nd half. The Cobra way. They do it different ways (dribble drive vs. pass & cut, player-to-player vs. zone, etc.), and I think they each have something that can exploit a weakness of the other (more on that in a future article), but they both get to their end result the same way. There’s no getting around it, I’m most intrigued by the Class B final.
- The Jenna Sloan we saw against Little Falls is the Jenna that made future coach Nick DiPillo (University of Scranton, ranked #9 in the latest D3hoops.com national poll) fall in love with her. It wasn’t some gaudy scoring number – it usually isn’t, that’s not her game – but she totally picked apart a pretty good, disciplined defensive team in Little Falls. Get to spots, play at her pace & her pace only, score when needed but make the correct reads, all passes on time & on target to put teammates in advantageous spots, compete & impact the game on the defensive end. There isn’t a single part of the game that Jenna didn’t impact. Big showing in a big moment.
- I wonder what others may think, but this Little Falls gained a little more respect from me. Yes, their schedule was considerably less taxing than the vast majority of good Bs, and I’m the first to always point that stuff out. Yes, opponent Bishop Grimes is considerably more battle-tested. But the program is the program at Little Falls – the Mounties have been good pretty consistently since I was in high school one district to the left, and yes, current coach Pam Munger was at the helm then too. The team has athletes and experience winning in other sports (think soccer here), and they’re pretty good. Not afraid of the neutral site moment, Grimes’ pressure & pace bothered them at times but the environment didn’t. Lexi Kress (2025) has been on my radar for a year now, and I think she cemented herself as “next up” in the valley with her 2nd half showing. Good battle from the Mounties IMO.
- Feels like the end of an era at Marcellus, but it might also be the start of another one. Their loss marked the last game for cousins Katie and Emma MacLachlan – Katie, who will continue her basketball days at Nazareth, did what she could to put Marcellus on her back in a very good final HS game with 25 points. She should be an impact player in the Empire 8 that could elevate to all-conference type during her collegiate career if she puts the time in & continues to expand her game. For Marcellus, it’s now CeCe Powell time. The 2026 guard was very good, especially early, in their 1st round W over South Jefferson. Although the semifinal wasn’t a big CeCe game – General Brown was clearly aware of her existence – she still held up. One of the greater Syracuse area’s top up & comers will more than likely get plenty of reps going forward.
(1) Waterville defeated (4) Weedsport 53-38; (3) West Canada Valley beat (7) Cooperstown 48-33
- Let’s pull out the quotes again. From the Section 3 Small School (Class C) preview back in November: “CSC teams often prove to be a thorn in the side of everyone else in the Class C battle. After a year of the Syracuse area teams looking dominant, we may be back to the Center State cranking out contenders.” Three CSC teams in the semifinals and an all-CSC sectional final. Don’t say I didn’t… never mind.
- I have to admit that I’m impressed – and perhaps a little pleasantly surprised – at Waterville’s level of success this year. They showed it again with another convincing win over another solid opponent. Trust me, I knew what kind of advantage they had in the Collins sisters. No team in Section 3’s Class C field can really match up with Natalee and Ellie in the post. I was far less convinced in what a new backcourt corps would bring. Without guard play, you’re toast. What I didn’t realize was just how effectively they’d be able to control pace & dictate style of play. I watched them win it “their way” at Cooperstown in January, and they did it their way again with Weedsport. Whose style prevails will go a long way in the finals matchup with WCV too, and with how successfully they’ve been able to impose their will, they certainly can’t be discounted.
- If we go back to that November season preview, the first team I listed in the Class C field was West Canada Valley. I didn’t think there was a favorite coming into the season, but if you put a gun to my head and made me choose for my life at that point, I would’ve rolled with WCV. It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for them – they hit a rough patch in their early-mid January schedule and went 2-3 in a 5 game stretch – but they’ve been rolling over the last 3 weeks. Victories at Poland and Oneida were part of a 4-0 swing in the last week of the regular season, and now two sectional wins over quality CSC foes Mt. Markham and Cooperstown can be added to their February résumé. In all reality, they didn’t play very well in Saturday’s semifinal win, but they also did their part in making Cooperstown play very not well. They showed they can grind it out on a day that isn’t their best against a good team, which is important because I think Waterville will make it a grind too.
(1) Copenhagen held off (4) Hamilton 52-39; (2) Poland snuck past (6) Watertown IHC 40-38
- That season preview I keep rehashing – I should probably just post the link at this point – had Copenhagen & Poland featured as the two primary teams. Fitting, at least to me, that they meet with a sectional title at stake.
- Copenhagen had to do something they haven’t experienced much of against Hamilton – deal with adversity. Raegan Dalrymple, who means the world to them at both ends, got in foul trouble. 2 in the 1st quarter, 4 early in the 3rd. After she was sent to the bench in the 1st quarter, a fast Copenhagen start slowed to a crawl, and Hamilton went on a 17-0 run. Early lead turned into a double digit 1st half deficit. So yeah, 17-0 run, double digit deficit, foul trouble to biggest impact player… and they figured it out. Dug in to square it back up, then rattled off 13 straight to end the game and win going away. Big test, and they passed it.
- Decently entertaining opener between Poland and Watertown IHC. Nothing crazy, just a competitive game that was up for the taking throughout. Interesting battle of athleticism between the individual standout athlete & brutally difficult matchup that Logan Cookinham poses against the team speed & quickness from IHC’s guards. Poland got it done. Gritty battle that kinda set the tone for the weekend.
- Class D basketball seems to be in a pretty good place going forward in Section 3. Out of the four semifinal teams, only Copenhagen loses the bulk of their key contributors. Their strength in recent years, size & ability in the frontcourt with Raegan Dalrymple & Charli Carroll, both graduate. It’ll be a very different looking team next year. However, Poland returns their main guns. Hamilton graduates Kyleigh Pearson & Brooke Speer this year, but not only do they return Lindsey Speer (2024), Raegan Hope (2025), and Logan Langel (2026), they retain their identity. IHC, who I imagine will remain a Class D school, is in the same boat. Emeline Barton and both Abigail & Emily Bombard will be back, and their identity won’t change. We’re not done yet with the Section 3 playoffs, but my mind is already wandering to what it might look like in a year.
- Congrats to Poland standout 2023 Logan Cookinham for scoring her 1,000th point in their semifinal W. Logan is a player that’s grown on me during the two Tornado games I’ve watched this winter, and it’s because of the intangibles. Clearly a leader, clearly a winner, seems to go about her business on the court the right way. Their last 1,000-point scorer was someone I have plenty of familiarity with (multi-year ESTer in the early days) in 2017 Shiane Irwin. I don’t remember what Shi topped off at, I think somewhere over 1,500, but I know she’s Poland’s all-time scoring leader. Seems like that sort of record might not be something at the top of Logan’s mind, but if she stays healthy, they have at least one more this year and should have the potential for a deep run next year… she might make a run at it.
Some players of note that stood out in semifinal games in their own ways, exclusively from the 2022-24 classes:
- Alexandra Bednarczyk (Baldwinsville 2022)
- Charli Carroll (Copenhagen 2022)
- Raegan Dalrymple (Copenhagen 2022)
- Sydney Huhtala (Baldwinsville 2022; Niagara lacrosse)
- Kaitlyn Kibling (Bishop Ludden 2022; UConn softball)
- Alexa Kulakowski (Cicero-North Syracuse 2022)
- Adrien LaMora (Indian River 2022; Canisius signee)
- Katie MacLachlan (Marcellus 2022; Nazareth commit)
- Mariah Quigley (Weedsport 2022)
- Jenna Sloan (Bishop Grimes 2022; Scranton commit)
- Natalee Collins (Waterville 2023)
- Logan Cookinham (Poland 2023)
- Reese Fellows (West Canada Valley 2023)
- Ainsley Fuller (General Brown 2023)
- Amya McLeod (Rome Free Academy 2023; Youngstown St. commit)
- Leah Middleton (Auburn 2023)
- Kori Nichols (General Brown 2023)
- Amarah Streiff (Bishop Ludden 2023 – D1 offered)
- Nevaeh Wingate (Liverpool 2023 – holds D1 offers)
- Aniyah Neal (Jamesville-DeWitt 2024)
- Lindsey Speer (Hamilton 2024)
Some more players that made their mark as the future for their respective teams and Section 3 basketball, exclusively from the 2024-26 classes:
- Ravan Marsell (Indian River 2024)
- Kathleen Taru (Cicero-North Syracuse 2024)
- Emeline Barton (Watertown IHC 2025)
- A’briyah Cunningham (Liverpool 2025)
- Elizabeth Gaughan (Bishop Ludden 2025)
- Analyce Grabowski (West Canada Valley 2025)
- Alexis Kress (Little Falls 2025)
- Gianna Washington (Liverpool 2025)
- Logan Langel (Hamilton 2026)
- CeCe Powell (Marcellus 2026)
- Grace Sleeth (Liverpool 2026)
- Liana Williams (Cooperstown 2026)