Assistant Sports Editor
HOOSICK, N.Y. -- With a pair of savory, high-profile sectional upsets last winter the Hoosick Falls Central School girls basketball team earned a taste of the semifinals. There, the Panthers even put a scare in eventual state champion Hoosic Valley before falling in the second half.
And with four of five starters returning from that same squad -- a luxury many of last year's contenders don't have -- they are poised to turn that foothold of success into a springboard.
"We know we can do something," said guard Frankie Pearson. "We know we can make an impact. A lot of teams lost a lot of players.
"I think this year could be a good year."
One of two seniors, Pearson, who led the Panthers in scoring (11.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.9 rpg) a year ago, heads a strong, young core of returning players for third-year coach Eamonn DeGraaf.
"I'd like to say we're going to go as far as she'll take us, but she's got a lot support around her," DeGraaf said. "If she's having a bad night, we have other girls who can step up and that's the good thing."
Junior point guard Carsen Williams, sophomore Rachel Pine and junior Olivia Schneider are also back from last year's starting unit. Eighth-grader Kelly Pine should step in for Nicole Marmillo, the only graduation loss, DeGraaf said.
"We should fare well as long as we stay together," said DeGraaf.
A 7-11 regular season gave the Panthers the No. 13 seed in the Class C sectional tournament last winter. Yet, lacking any stand-out size on the interior, they went on to bounce fourth-seeded, Wasaren League rival Greenwich by two and No. 5 Berne-Knox by five.
"I think we had nothing to lose and every game we went to it was up in the air, so we figured go all-out," Pearson said. "I think it was that. The other teams were loaded in confidence ... and really we were like, we can prove something."
DeGraaf credited a string of first-rate practices going into the tournament as one reason for the Panthers' postseason run. Improved teamwork was another.
"I really saw the girls come together a lot during playoffs," he said. "They played a lot more as a team. They believed in each other, they believed in themselves.
"I try to tell them this year that it's got to carry over, you can't all of a sudden think we're going to turn it on come sectional time."
Perennial contender Hoosic Valley, behind star Cassidy Chapko, figures to contend again in the league despite key losses. But Cambridge graduated all-state players Sara Tironi and Molly Lauver, Granville no longer has all-stater Emily Fuller and Greenwich is without state player of the year Dani DeGregory.
Considering those vacancies, the Panthers hope this season could turn into a game-changer for the program.
"It's my last year, so I'm hoping we can just turn the program around," Pearson said. "It's my favorite sport and I think, really, if we start winning more kids will want to get into it."
* Coach: Mike Lilac (17th season)
* Last year: 20-2 (13-1 league); lost to Mechanicville, 39-38, in sectional final
* So far: 0-1 (lost to Argyle, 65-47, on Saturday)
* The team: Searching for the right formula to replace four influential starters, including all-state guard Alex Lilac, 15 players saw action in the season-opener. What coach Mike Lilac knows: His team is deep and athletic but lacks size -- 6-foot-3 junior Levi Brewster is the only Panther bigger than 6-foot-1. The Panthers also got a late start to the season, with a dozen players caught in lengthy fall playoff runs. "We've got a lot of question marks," Lilac said. "We're going to have to use some of our early games here to figure out some things." Senior Randy Tutunjian is the lone returning starter and Chris LaCroix was the sixth man on last winter's squad, which won 17 straight games behind the program's best-ever defense. Senior Taylor Baker and sophomore Austin Pitt have improved, Lilac said, and John Curtis Whitman brings long-range shooting.
* Next game: Friday vs. Hoosic Valley, 7:30 p.m.
-- Austin Danforth
Coach: Landon Nelson (third season)
Last year: Runner-up at Division II (small school) tournament
So far: 0-4 at Watervliet Duals
The team: Brad Burns and Luis Weierbach, both place-finishers at the state tournament in 2011, return for another season for the Panthers. In fact, six out of the seven place finishers at the sectional tournament are back. Along with Burns and Weierbach, Nolan Foster, Tom Peabody, Colby Davendonis, Bryan Sherman return to take another shot at a sectional championship and an appearance at states. "We're only missing a couple of weight classes and we have a lot of good athletes," Nelson said. "Most of my roster played football, so we're getting off to a slow start." Billy Pine, a runner-up in sectionals two seasons ago, is back after missing last year. "He wants to end his career on a high note," Nelson said. This season, Nelson, in his third year leading Hoosick Falls, has branched out the schedule to face tough teams not only in Section II, but throughout New York. One meet with be at Cornell University in January before the Big Red's match the same night. "It'll be a cool opportunity," Nelson said.
Next meet: Thursday vs. Corinth, 6 p.m.
-- Adam Samrov
Coach: Bobby Lang
Last year: 47-5 regular season, won Section II championship
So far: 12-0
The team: Hoosick Falls won the Section II championship a year ago, but couldn't compete at the state level due to a clerical error by the athletic department regarding eighth-graders on the team. This year, the goal is to prove they can reach that level again. Last years' leaders Joe Wolfrum and Mikaela Marbot both graduated -- Wolfrum was the top scorer last season, averaging 213 for the Panthers and bowling a 652 series in the Adirondack League championship. He even tossed a perfect game and a 781 triple against Lake George. Seniors Bryan Callahan and Josh Conn are back after impressive junior campaigns. Callahan was second at the league championship behind Wolfrum with a 651 series. Freshman Josh McCart will be a strong option for Lang. As a eighth-grader last season, McCart was a fixture in the top four places
Next match: Dec. 11 vs. Corinth, 4 p.m.
-- Adam Samrov