This is a good time of year to connect with high school basketball players. Or, their coaches...
Many of the conference championships have been decided, but the sectional tournament has yet to get underway. Hence, while a team may have been down in the proverbial dumps a few days ago as they watched their conference title hopes fade away, they are refreshed and fired up once again.
The Ithaca High girls’ varsity team finished the regular season with an 11-9 record, and while they watched and waited for the sectional seedings to be announced, Seton Catholic Central hoisted the Southern Tier Athletic Conference (STAC) trophy. (It could be argued that there should be an asterisk attached to Seton’s championship, and we’ll get to that a bit later.)
The Little Red learned that they are the No. 3 seed in the Class AA sectional bracket, and they will tip off against No. 2 Binghamton on Feb. 26. (No. 1 Elmira and No. 4 Horseheads will play in the other first round matchup.) Ithaca’s coach, Jeff Gorsky, is not too worried about the prospect of playing the Patriots on their home court. He said, “We played Binghamton twice this season. We beat them at their place and they came into our gym and beat us.” Both games, Gorsky pointed out, were decided by single digits. “They are a familiar foe,” the coach said. “They finished strong at the end of season. They beat Elmira and Horseheads.” He added, “We ended up by beating Watkins Glen and Waverly, so we’re playing well too.”
Looking back over the course of the season, Gorsky said, “We played some very tough schools. It seems that in the STAC, every team has a player—or a few players—that are headed for D-1, D-2 or D-3 schools. We expected to see some really good competition, and we got it.”
While Elmira made it through the season without their best player, who was lost to a shoulder injury, Ithaca had no such issues this season. They are, however, in Gorsky’s words “a relatively young team.” He stated, “We have no seniors on the team this year, and we have one freshman, two sophomores and eight juniors.” I asked him if next year will be the one they have all been building toward, and the coach conveyed the kind of focus he hopes his players will embrace. He said, “We take things one year at a time, and we’re still focused on this year.” Point taken.
Having watched his young team evolve over the course of the season, Jeff said, “Everyone took a step up this year. They went cold a few times, but they played really good defense all year. While we lost a couple of games we probably should not have lost, I guess I can say we might have won a couple too. In any case, we kept our heads up and competed hard all year.”
Gorsky is looking forward to the sectional tournament, and is pleased that his team has some time to prepare. He said, “All four teams are evenly matched. Any of them can beat any of [the] others.”
I asked Jeff if the AAU programs are still strong as feeder systems, and he answered, “With the older kids, it’s difficult to get a team together. There are a lot of lacrosse players, and a few other things can affect the numbers as well. Kids have so much going on these days, but we will get back in the gym for two-a-days, and they will do some work in the weight room when the time comes.” He also stated, “The seventh and eighth graders do have an AAU program, so we’ll be watching what they can do.”
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I mentioned that Seton won the STAC title, and that an asterisk might make sense to some observers, and given you were kind enough to read this far, I’ll elaborate. Owego cruised through the season with a dominant 18-0 record, and as one might expect, they were the No. 1 seed. Well, the scheduling gods threw their lightning bolts, and as it turned out, eight of Owego’s players were in Orlando, Florida for a band and chorus event. Not one player, not two, but eight. Oh well, at least they’ll get a go at a state title via the sectionals.