March 5, 2010


CHS girls’ hoops close to fulfilling major goal

BasketballBob Ellis/staff photographer
Senior guard Aubrey VanGorder has been a key reason for the success enjoyed by the Cortland High girls’ basketball team this season.

Staff Writer

Two teams that took very different season-long routes to the Section 3 Class A girls’ basketball championship game will clash when Cortland High takes on New Hartford at 7:15 p.m. Saturday at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
“The kids have been focused all year on what they wanted to accomplish,” Purple Tigers coach Dick Penoyer said, his second-seeded squad 16-3 and ranked 10th in the state in Class A after last Saturday’s 52-35 semifinal win over third-seeded Jamesville-DeWitt and a 53-50 quarterfinal win over 10th-seeded Nottingham.
“Before we even started, their goals were to win the league and sectionals,” he added, CHS finishing second in the OHSL Freedom Division behind Syracuse CBA. “They didn’t win the league, but they have this they can do. It would have been nice to win the league, but this is more important.
“I’ve thought from the beginning that this group was going to do well. I said that I’d go anywhere and play anyone with them. This one of the better teams I’ve had since I’ve been coaching this program (nine years), and the best chemistry of any team since I’ve been here. You can see it in the way they play and work together, as well as doing a lot of things off the court together, too.”
Spartans coach Mike Callan, whose team is ranked 19th in the state in Class A, professed with a laugh that he didn’t know the reasons for his team’s post-season success. His eighth-seeded Spartans are 14-7 after winning three sectional contests — against No. 9 Fulton 65-37, top-seeded rival Whitesboro 41-38 and fifth-seeded Carthage 50-42 last Saturday in the semis.
New Hartford limited the Comets to 10 second-half points after trailing 32-27 at intermission in that semifinal victory.
“We’re very young. We start three sophomores, a junior and a senior, with a freshman and sophomore our first two off the bench,” Callan said. “I’ve coached here 12 years, and have been very slow to push them. The last month, a light bulb went off. We don’t have any great players, but individuals who are teammates, who play good team defense and have been playing solid basketball recently.
“You could see it in one of our last regular-season games (Jan. 29 at home),” he added. “We trailed Camden by 24 at one point, and ended up losing by six, 62-56. The girls started to believe in themselves after not understanding a lot of stuff. After that game, I told them, ‘You’re understanding.’”
Since that game, the Spartans have gone on a 4-1 run, the lone setback by 56-40 to visiting Whitesboro Feb. 5 in their regular-season finale. They avenged that loss just two games later, on the road in the sectional quarterfinals.
In discussing New Hartford, Penoyer said that “They play a really extended 1-2-2 zone, and play it very well; they’re long and lanky. They also play some man-to-man. We want to try not to let them set up, get the ball to the basket before they have a chance to slow things up. They’re also a team that likes to shoot 3-pointers. They’ll put up 20 to 25 a game, and are a good-shooting team. They make them.
“We’ll play a tough man-to-man defense that we’ve used most of the year and not let them get open looks at the basket. I think we match up fairly well with them five-on-five, so man-to-man is the way to go. That’s not to say we might not use some other defenses; maybe we’ll mix and match. We also have to stay out of foul trouble.”
“We’re very aware of what Cortland does,” Callan said. “They’re a difficult matchup for us. We’ll have to contain (Courtney) Tennant and (Maggie) Brown. We can’t shut them down, because they’re too good. We’ll have to control the pace of play.”
Tennant, a senior center, leads the Purple Tigers in scoring with 17.8 points a game; Brown, a sophomore guard, is next at 15.8 per contest. Brown is the team’s top rebounder with 10.8 a game, Tennant next at 10.2. Brown is also the leader in both assists, with 4.0 per game, and steals, with 3.9 a contest. It should be noted that both players saw only limited playing time in a good number of games this season as CHS overwhelmed most of its opponents. CHS’s other post-season starters have been senior guard Aubrey VanGorder, senior forward Maggie Reagan and junior forward Nacirema Mann.
New Hartford, meanwhile, is led in scoring by sophomore guard Ashley Chanatry (13.2 points a game), junior forward Kara Sellars (11.3) and sophomore guard Theano Alvanos (9.9). Chanatry, senior forward Ali Tizzano and junior center Erin Kuhn all average around 5.5 rebounds a contest, with point guard Alvanos the assists leader at 4.3 per game.It was a 3-pointer by Sellars with 1.2 seconds left in the game that lifted the Spartans past Whitesboro in the quarterfinals.
CHS averages 62.9 points per game and gives up 42.5 a contest, while New Hartford scores 53 points a game and gives up 41.
Penoyer has a record of 105-82 in his nine years at the helm of the Cortland squad, which he has led to its first-ever sectional championship game. Callan is 185-75 in his 12 years as Spartans coach, and this is his fourth sectional title game. His team claimed Class A laurels in 2002 and ultimately lost in the state finals. Callan, however, doesn’t see his edge in post-season experience making any difference Saturday.
“It all depends on how the kids handle it,” he said. “But with what Dick has done this year, that will have no effect. We’ve seen film, and Cortland’s a good team, beating CBA, handling J-D and with some of the other teams they’ve beaten. They’ve got some players who are physical and athletic.”
“The kids have to go out and play relaxed, play their brand of basketball,” Penoyer said. “If they play as well as they have been playing, their chances of winning are very, very, very good.”
Making the Purple Tigers’ success this season all the more remarkable is that they’ve been without one starter, senior forward Christine Gutchess, since she suffered a knee injury against visiting J-D on Jan. 8, the Purple Tigers having played 11 games since then and won nine of them.
“We can’t replace Christine, but we’ve gotten used to her not being here (to play),” Penoyer said. “She’s a co-captain, and has been at every practice and game, still helping lead the team along with Courtney, the other co-captain.”
One concern both coaches share going in is the fact that the court their teams will be playing on Saturday is open at both ends, with baskets on stanchions rather than suspended in front of a wall, as is the case in high school gyms.
“Playing on a court like that affects your depth perception,” Penoyer said. “It’s different, and takes some getting used to. We practiced at Cornell, whose court is like that, Thursday.”
The Spartans weren’t so lucky, according to Callan, who said that “It’s a shooting problem. The depth perception difference is a factor, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Hamilton College, the only one around here who has a court like that, has finished their (men’s and women’s) seasons and taken the floor up already.”
Saturday’s game will help Penoyer fulfill one of his long-time wishes.
“I told the girls before the semifinal game that there were two things I wanted to coach, a football game on Thanksgiving and a basketball game in March,” he said with a smile. “They laughed, but I told them that if we won against J-D our next game would be in the finals, in March.”
The game will be televised by Time-Warner Sports, channels 26 and 813 (HD) locally.
The Section 3 Class A champion will host the Section 2 winner next week in a state tournament Regional contest. Averill Park (19-1), the state’s top-ranked Class A team, will face Albany’s Holy Names (20-0), the second-ranked A squad in the state, Saturday afternoon for the Section 2 crown.
Directions to Utica Memorial Auditorium: Take Route 81 North to Route 481 North. Take Exit 6 to the State Thruway East. Get off at Exit 31 (Utica) toward I-790. Take the Genesee Street South exit ramp toward downtown Utica and turn right onto North Genesee Street for approximately one mile. Turn right onto Liberty Street/Oriskany Street West. The auditorium is on the right.