Thursday, June 24, 2021

WNY High School Programs Flock To Fisher Camp For Summer Run

This time of year, the vast majority of action revolves around AAU programs preparing for the July grind. There's still plenty of that, but a good amount of Section V & Section VI/MMA's premier talent found the time to get some work in with their high school teams on Tuesday & Wednesday. As a small town native, I'll always have a soft spot for scholastic sports (if you can't tell by my coverage taking on a life of its own in the winter). When there's a chance to see a concentration of respectable high school programs under one roof, I won't pass it up, so it was an easy decision to make the trip to Tri-County Sports Complex outside of Rochester for Wednesday's festivities, the final day of St. John Fisher's team camp.

I wasn't able to watch every participating team in Wednesday's four time slots, but I covered as much ground as possible. A few notes from the day's action:

- This is in no way a comment against any other area, but as my coverage base has expanded to all borders of New York, I've developed an opinion that Section V has some of the best high school coaching in the state. As much fun as it was to watch the players get after it, I also enjoyed watching some of the coaches in "teach mode" in a team camp setting.

Anaya Coleman was must-see TV at the St. John Fisher team camp, including an attention-demanding offensive display in Mendon's final game vs. Penfield.

- This isn't news to anyone that pays legitimate attention to girls' basketball in NY, but Pittsford Mendon is the real deal. The scary thing? Their success in Section V has been as consistent as death & taxes in recent years, they have a state championship & another state finals appearance over the last few years, and this is as talented of a Mendon group that I've seen. Their rising senior group is very strong, and their guard play might be unmatched in New York among the Class A ranks. Anaya Coleman is one of upstate NY's most skilled & exciting guards, and she lit up the gym Wednesday with her scoring ability & creativity. Dani Strauf is a steady performer that can score or create for others, play on or off the ball, and brings some of the "glue player" qualities. Lily Kennedy is in the same boat in many ways, and at 5'10" & a long, fluid athlete, she brings a different level of versatility at both ends. Add Bridget Miller in the post, a strong 6 footer with a budding offensive game, and their firepower is undeniable. A trademark of the Mendon program is what they bring on the defensive end as well - in their 15-0 run culminating in a Section V Class A title in March, they held their opponents under 50 on 13 occasions - so despite graduating Cornell bound Lexi Green, one of Section V's usual suspects appears to be set up for February/March success once again.

Kyleigh Chapman (Canandaigua 2024) is developing into one of Section V's most intriguing young talents.

- Keeping with the Section V Class A talk, if Mendon is the #1 hit, the group rising up the charts has to be Canandaigua. They went 11-2 last winter and made it to the Class A semifinals, and not only are most of their contributors & rotation players back... most of them are 2023s/2024s. They're young in age, but quickly gaining meaningful experience. Behind scrappy & athletic 2023 guard Mya Herman (12.6 PPG), a 5'10" 2024 wing that's developing into a trusted half-court scorer in Kyleigh Chapman, and active & athletic size in 6 footer Kayla Taylor and 5'11" Macy Bacon, both 2024s, they have most of the necessary pieces set for long-term success. The future is now for the Braves, and it'll be fun to watch them continue to grow over the next couple years.

Bella Pucci (Fairport 2023), a dynamic guard with a scholarship-level basketball future, has blossomed into one of Section V's premier players.

- Time to bump up to Class AA for a minute. A couple years ago, Fairport was the team with the young kids that "could end up being really good". Last season, they took the next step into being a legitimate group that no team in Section V could look past, finishing with a 9-4 record & sectional loss to eventual champion Penfield. Going forward, they have to be looked at as a serious contender that could beat anyone in Class AA. Their dynamic 2023 duo of Ella Meabon (17.4 PPG) & Bella Pucci (17.2 PPG) have grown into two of the 585's must-see players with Division I futures. It's not just those two though, as Abigail Smith (2022) gives them another reliable backcourt presence and Riley DeRue (2022) is an athletic 5'11" workhorse that helps anchor their efforts around the rim. I would also anticipate that Ne'vaeh Buntley, a 2024 with upside that shows promise, takes a big step forward too. Combine the dynamic ability of Ella & Bella with their general depth and ability to get production from others, and in my opinion, Fairport now has to be mentioned among the perennial powers like Bishop Kearney & Penfield as a major player in Class AA for the next couple years.

- Speaking of Penfield, I wasn't able to watch the eventual Section V Class AA champions in person during the shortened season, so I was glad to get a chance at this team camp. Much of what they did Wednesday was centered around 2023 PG Grace Alexander, 2023 wing Jackie Funk, and 2022 forward Kennedy Cone, but their system means that everyone is a weapon and they all have a certain level of basketball IQ & understand the game. Can't have a Section V girls' basketball discussion without bringing up Penfield - or a New York discussion for that matter - and that clearly won't change anytime soon.

Emily McDonald, an Orchard Park 2026 that hit the court with St. Mary's, has the potential to be one of WNY's future stars.

- The team camp featured primarily Section V teams, but it wasn't exclusively a 585 thing. Monsignor Martin (Section VI private school) programs St. Mary's and Nichols made the trip east for the two-day event. Missing the first day meant I missed out on watching Shay Ciezki in action for St. Mary's, a nationally regarded 2022 with Power 5 offers & now holding the #40 spot in espnW's latest rankings for the 2022 class. However, they came equipped with several notable players, both established varsity contributors and young up & coming talent. The one in particular that I'll bring up here is Emily McDonald. This was my first time watching her, and it didn't take more than a couple minutes to realize it wouldn't be my last. She's just a 2026 and not remotely close to done physically developing, but her skill level & court presence both are beyond her years, and there was no fear in her eyes even when going up against the aforementioned Mendon guards that are four years older. Her shooting stroke is pure and she knocked a couple down from deep even with a contest, and she has the skill on the ball to create off the bounce. The rising Orchard Park 8th grader will likely be a name that WNY basketball enthusiasts will know sooner rather than later. So much is left to be determined at her young age when it comes to physical/skill development, but she looks to be cut from that cloth of recent Buffalo area lead guards (the aforementioned Ciezki & Kaylee Krysztof, a 2023 getting MM offers). Time will tell... remember the name.

- Now over to Nichols because they've done some shaking up of their own. Along with returning 2023 standout Quinn Benchley making things happen, they also had 2024 Brianna Barr in the building, a 6'2" 2024 that averaged nearly 18 PPG/15 RPG for Grand Island as a freshman and already holds an offer from Buffalo. Bri was a game changer for Nichols as a two-way force - back-to-basket & face-up scoring ability, rim protection, and a powerful rebounding presence. I think she's made serious strides since first watching her a couple years ago, and there's more where that came from.

Again, I wasn't able to catch every one of these teams in action, but shoutout to the 15 programs that spent their Tuesday & Wednesday nights in the gym. They included:

- Avon (Section V Class C1 finalist)
- Canandaigua (Section V Class A semifinalist)
- Churchville-Chili
- Dansville (Section V Class B2 finalist)
- Fairport
- Nichols School
- Our Lady of Mercy
- Penfield (Section V Class AA champion)
- Pittsford Mendon (Section V Class A champion)
- Pittsford Sutherland
- St. Mary's - Lancaster (Monsignor Martin finalist)
- Webster Schroeder (Section V Class AA semifinalist)
- Webster Thomas

Also, this isn't a 100% comprehensive list as I'm sure I'm missing at least a couple - the whole not getting to watch every team thing - but a general list of some of the more notable players putting in work that caught my eye at the team camp:

Anaya Coleman (5'6", Pittsford Mendon 2022 - multiple D1 offers)
Kennedy Cone (6'2", Penfield 2022)
Lily Kennedy (5'10", Pittsford Mendon 2022)
Haley Potenza (5'6", East Aurora 2022 - playing with Nichols)
Dani Strauf (5'10", Pittsford Mendon 2022)
Grace Alexander (5'3", Penfield 2023)
Quinn Benchley (5'9", Nichols School 2023)
Jackie Funk (5'10", Penfield 2023)
Mya Herman (5'7", Canandaigua 2023)
Rachel Kamrowski (5'4", Lancaster 2023 - playing with St. Mary's)
Sarina McDowell (6'2", Avon 2023)
Ella Meabon (5'8", Fairport 2023 - numerous D1 offers)
Sydney Postell (5'10", Churchville-Chili 2023)
Bella Pucci (5'8", Fairport 2023)
Brianna Barr (6'2", Nichols School 2024 - D1 offered)
Kyleigh Chapman (5'10", Canandaigua 2024)
Kayla Taylor (6'0", Canandaigua 2024)
Emily McDonald (5'6", Orchard Park 2026 - playing with St. Mary's)

Sydney Postell is one of upstate NY's most rapidly emerging talents, and junior year is shaping up to be a big one for the Churchville-Chili standout 2023.

Anyone have a team camp, summer league, or anything where several high school teams will be in the same gym on any given night? Let me know and I'll do everything I can to be there. This was fun - thanks to St. John Fisher coach Melissa Kuberka for giving me the heads-up on this. Glad I was able to make the trip!

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