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STARS win AAU state title, head to nationals

The Western New York STARS, coached by Greg Martinsen and Jeff Haskell over the past two years, was able to put themselves amongst the elite eighth grade AAU basketball teams in the country with the recent success the girls have found in a pair of quality tournaments.

Martinsen and Haskell will send their team to the AAU Eighth Grade National Championship tournament, competing at the Division I level July 8-12 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facilities in Orlando.

“This whole collection of girls are like the Western New York All-Stars. These are the best eighth grade players in the whole area,” Martinsen said. “And we have to put this type of team together to compete. States was tough. Nationals is going to be tough. These teams are packed. Rochester is just better than Buffalo, so we have to pick up players from Williamsville East, East Aurora, Hamburg…”

From Hamburg, Jane Chiacchia is the lone local on the basketball team. She is a forward that stands 5 feet 5 inches and plays an important role in the STARS’ success.

“Jane’s a real hard worker. She just does whatever we ask her to do,” said Martinsen. “She’s a total team player. She does all the little things that don’t show up in the box score as much; setting screens, running the offense and getting rebounds. She’s so mentally tough. She drives our team, offense and defense.”

The STARS won the New York State AAU Championship, which was held May 31-June 1 in Lyons, New York. The STARS went 4-0 on their way to the state title, which included two victories over the Syracuse Nets.

After defeating the Nets, 62-51, in the state championship game, the Syracuse-based team invited the STARS to its own tournament the following weekend.

The STARS beat the Nets there, too.

“We lost to the Syracuse Nets by about 15 points last year, now beat them twice in state tournament and their own tournament,” Martinsen noted. “They’re another team that’s just phenomenal.”

To qualify for the state tournament, the STARS went 4-0 to win the Niagara District Qualifier in Auburn, New York, prior to the state tourney.

“A few of the games were easy, but we played the Lady Lakers from Rochester, who have one of the best reputations around, and they’re really good,” Martinsen said. “We ended up beating them by eight or nine. We came in first and they came in second.”

Erica Martinsen runs the show from the point guard slot. The 5-foot, 9-inch ball handler had a decent winter starting for Williamsville East this past winter, but she played amazing in state championships.

“She just elevated her game from the school season and into the spring,” Greg Martinsen said.

Sara Pfieffer is the only seventh grader on the team. From Olean, Pfieffer is the team’s sharpshooter.

Emma Brinker is one of the team’s leading scorers. She is joined by Emma Oar as the East Aurora ballers on the STARS.

The other players include Micaela Ryan of Clarence, Orchard Park’s Lauren Lassiter, Williamsville native Kaylee Guy and Franklinville’s Ally Haskell.

The STARS will play two games a day from July 8-12. Martinsen has been together with this group of girls first about two years now.

“I don’t know how good we really were. It’s one of those things where you play in some tournaments in buffalo and you win by 30 or 40, and you know that’s a tease,” Martinsen said. “I think we just started playing together as a team and the more we played together we just started really gelling.”

“And the girls like each other, too. They can go to the pool together, have a pizza party together, so it’s nice that the girls get along. I never heard about the girls complain about points. It’s just a good bunch of kids.”

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