Coming off a 10-10 season, Clarence returns with only one senior but a strong group of seven juniors. (File photo)Junior-led Clarence looks for quick improvement
With a young squad venturing into a challenging ECIC Division I schedule, the Clarence girls basketball team hopes it can see quick improvement from some of the new weapons.
“We’re young, but we’re looking pretty good,” coach Erin Booker said. “We’re looking to improve; we’re looking for some leadership and for some girls to step it up.”
A strong group of seven juniors will key this year’s Clarence team, which has just one senior on the roster. Two sophomores and a freshman will also see ample playing time.
Junior guard Blair Budzinski will again lead the way as the team’s point guard in her third varsity season. She scored 6.2 points per game and led the team with 33 assists as a sophomore.
“We’re certainly looking for good things out of her,” Booker noted.
Budzinski was the only returning player that scored more than two points per game last season, so offense will need to come from different sources. But Clarence seems to have some young talent ready to step up.
Junior Kelsey Devine is expected to be a force down low along with Gabbi Pacatte, who steps into the starting lineup as a sophomore.
Freshman Sydney Cerza, a standout in soccer and lacrosse, is also expected to see a lot of playing time in her first varsity basketball season.
“We’re not very tall, but we do have a lot of speed,” Booker said. “We’re hoping that our defense is going to lead us. Hopefully the defense is going to run our offense; we’re going to try to get a lot of turnovers and get points off of that.”
Clarence finished last season at 10-10 and lost a hard-fought 38-32 Section VI quarterfinal to Kenmore West. But the Red Devils lost seven seniors from that team, including multi-sport superstar Tori Nappo, who averaged 16.7 points per game to lead the team.
“Tori was one of the leading scorers in the league last year,” Booker said. “Not having her, someone is going to have to step up on offense.”
The Red Devils will have their hands full in ECIC-I again with perennial-power Jamestown looking strong, as are defending division champ Lancaster and a Williamsville North team that returns a lot.
“The league is always tough,” Booker said. “We have Jamestown in our second league game — we have them at home, so we’ll see how we are then. Williamsville North was really young last year, OP is tough, Lancaster is still tough. It’ll be hit-or-miss this year.”Red Devils want to be more like team at start of last year
A great start was trumped by a disappointing finish for the Clarence High School boys basketball team last season.
Just about everyone from that club is back this season and priority No. 1 is getting back to the winning ways.
“We definitely want to be better than last year,” senior guard Bobby Florio said. “Like coach said, we come into the season on a 10-game losing streak. We want to come out and turn that around right away.”
The Red Devils sat at 8-2 after beating Sweet Home on Jan. 12. But they didn’t win again in 2011-12.
Although most of the losses went down to the wire, the end result was a 9-11 record, 5-9 ECIC Division I mark and a first-round playoff exit.
“We started off hot and then we didn’t finish well,” coach Todd Banaszak said. “We want to start like we did and then finish better. We need to come back and I think we should be back. We have a lot back, so we should be an improved team.”
They have plenty of talent back from last year’s club, which graduated just one starter in guard Stephen Hughes.
Leading the returnees in the backcourt will be Florio, a third-year varsity starter, as well as sharpshooting junior Bryan Jost and classmate Elliot Case.
Second-year starter Ryan Funk will move to the three-spot this season and “is looking very good,” according to Banaszak.
Clarence also has some size with senior Luke Craven and junior Shane Weedon returning from last season.
The Red Devils also welcome sophomore transfer Tanner Schmitt, a Clarence resident who played last season at Nichols.
“There’s some size there but they need to play bigger,” Banaszak said. “And the guards are quicker — we have a nice mix. We have a lot of guys that are returning and got a good amount of playing time last year.”
Team depth is expected to be strength for the Red Devils this season.
And that means practices will remain strong throughout the year as players look to get on the court on game days.
“Everyone’s looking pretty good,” Craven said. “The team’s very definitely very competitive, minutes are going to be hard to come by.”