Story and photo gallery by CHRIS BROOKS, wellsvillesports.com
DANSVILLE — What a ride it has been for Andover/Whitesville. To even say that it was a ride, is a massive understatement.
Let’s call it the journey of the season.
In their first year together as one, the team has accomplished and compiled countless achievements. But perhaps the one particular, distinguishable item that stands out from the rest? — the monumental run through Sectionals that they’ve waited so long for, to finally happen.
It started with a Sectional-opening statement over Lima Christian on their home floor for what was the final time this season, led by a historic performance from Vanessa Hall and company. It would then lead them further down the path of eminence into a matchup that was circled in every distinct way, whether it was on the whiteboard or on a calendar — a date with the Elba Lady Lancers, both Andover and Whitesville’s sworn enemy in Sectionals.
For the last five years, the Lady Lancers have had their number, as they came away victorious each time. That was until this year, when a heroic, titanic effort from the team’s defense in the second half led to a win of massive, redeeming quality with seconds left to advance into the Class D2 Finals, where they eventually mimicked their defensive performance against Avoca/Prattsburgh to lay claim to the team’s first championship brick in their debut season.
For Andover, it was a 15-year wait. Whitesville — 10. It was a goal at the top of the team’s to-do list right from the first practice together. As a pair of Allegany County schools with amazingly successful basketball traditions, it was a point that co-coach Aaron Rawady never dreamed of. And it started with a mutual investment between himself, his fellow co-coach Jake Bannerman and the girls themselves.
To push their chips to the center of the table on a season to remember.
“Andover and Whitesville have had great basketball traditions over the years. We kind of had a feeling that things were going to gel and mesh together really well, when the combining first took place,” he said. “When we laid out our set of goals for the year, this was one of them and to hopefully get a win in the process. I had no idea that we were going to get to this point. We had a great group of girls that bought into everything that myself and Jake asked them to do this season. It was an absolutely seamless transition.”
Now, the chance to add more to a growing list of accolades would come shortly after the combined team celebrated a long-awaited Sectional title — the Class D State Qualifier, where a trip to Rush-Henrietta this upcoming weekend was on the line. All that was needed was a win over the back-to-back Class D1 Champions, who were coming fresh out of perhaps their most dominant and stalwart of defensive performances against one of the State’s best in Fillmore to win it all again.
The Lady Irish of Notre Dame-Batavia.
Andover/Whitesville would prove to be a different animal up against Class D1’s victors. After having fought the hard-fought battles against Elba and Avoca/Prattsburgh previously, they knew what to expect. And it would prove to be another one of those cases where they would have to fight punch for punch with the Lady Irish all the way until the end.
In what was another incredible matchup of defense, the Class D2 Champions were not afraid. They accepted the challenge, and as a result, they would force the game straight down to the wire. In the game’s final 10 seconds to be exact, after a massive three closed the gap to a single point.
The final thing that was left to do, was to survive the fouling game. And in the end, the Lady Irish managed to prevail.
Notre Dame-Batavia would gain possession of the contest’s final two drives, both leading to stints at the foul line for Emma Sisson, who came in through the clutch, knocking down three big shots out of four, with her last two pushing their lead out insurmountably with five seconds remaining, as the clock ran out on Andover/Whitesville’s magical first season with a 38-34 victory to send them home, Monday night in Dansville.
“The experience from the Semifinals and Finals really helped tonight,” Rawady said. “They’ve been in this particular situation for the last two games now, so they have this experience. In the second half, they made a bit of a run, but the girls stayed right with them. They played with confidence, and they never got down on themselves either to make this a game. We got some stops when we were able to, and we had some girls step up to make some tough shots when we needed to as well. It was a tough one, but I’m really proud of the girls. They played outstanding all year, even though this was not the way we wanted to go out. They battled tonight, and they gave it everything they had.”
Notre Dame-Batavia and Andover/Whitesville (19-4) engaged in a 32-minute session of chess on the hardwood. It would begin with a lead earned by the Class D2 Champions in the first eight minutes of play after a Maylee Green three broke the ice for the Lady Irish, as they propelled toward 10 of the last 14 points, eight of them coming straight in a row from both Vanessa Hall and Rachel Jackson, the latter of which from downtown by Jackson to give them the lead to work with.
Basketball can become a game of runs, and for the first half, it settled in after the Lady Irish started a run of their own in the second quarter. The Class D1 victors, since they first trailed Andover/Whitesville by a 10-7 count, would go on to score seven in a row themselves, ignited by a three from Emma Sisson before finding the help down low.
That would come on the heels of a defensive effort that saw them hold Andover/Whitesville scoreless through the first six minutes of the frame, as they successfully warded off the offensive pressure. But down the stretch, some momentum was built back up again by Jackson, who recorded her second three of the half before Green countered with one of her own on the next transition for Notre Dame-Batavia, keeping their lead intact.
Maria Riloba would add a three of her own, right before the half reached its conclusion, as Andover/Whitesville went into the break down by one. A position they have faced before.
It would have to take a complete team effort to finish the job later on, and with the trend already being set in the first half, Andover/Whitesville would do just that. Aside from Hall’s team-leading 12 points, the rest of the team would make up the remaining 22 points — with Riloba, Jackson and Ainsworth fueling their three-point game, combining for six of their seven total three-point connections.
Along with it, a strong defensive effort that would see them hold a Lady Irish team below 40 points — a goal that Rawady said was huge.
“They know that Vanessa is who we’re trying to give the ball to. The girls have stepped up when they needed to. If you look at our Finals game, Vanessa had 24 points and the rest of the team had 25 combined. That is huge for us in every way, and it says a lot about her as well,” he said. “The entire team needed to outscore Vanessa for us to win. Notre Dame defended her well, and they made it tough for her to get the looks she would normally get.”
Rawady added on Hall’s defensive performance, noting that “She does not get the credit that she deserves for her defense. Just because of what she’s able to do on offense, her defensive play is often overlooked. She made some huge stops, and the girl she was guarding only had seven points. To provide that tremendous defense while she’s getting beaten up on offense says a lot about her, and the rest of the girls were the same way. To hold a team such as this to below 40 points at this stage, is huge.”
After battling through a third quarter that was reminiscent of your typical chess match, that would force the action in the last eight minutes to flare up. With Notre Dame-Batavia getting the final word to build their momentum heading in, they continued to gain ground upon it, garnering a lead by as much as six over Andover/Whitesville after an 8-0 spurt.
But as tough as Andover/Whitesville has been, they were not fazed, as they bounced right back to make it a game with five straight points of their own, with Hall sinking a massive three-pointer and a wide-open basket underneath netted by Gabbi Hall inching them back into one-possession territory coming down the stretch.
Andover/Whitesville would close the gap on Notre Dame-Batavia to as close as it’s been all night. One point, with the final time being in the waning seconds of perhaps their season, as Serena Ainsworth let go of her third and final three at the most crucial point of the evening, trimming the deficit down to a 35-34 lead for the Lady Irish with 11 seconds left.
At this stage, the fouling game would begin. But unfortunately, the Lady Irish would connect on three massive pieces of insurance in the last 10 seconds of play off immediate back-to-back possessions to officially lock down their trip to Rush-Henrietta this weekend for the Far West Regional.
Finishing behind Hall on the attack was Ainsworth, who had three triples for nine points. Jackson concluded with her pair of treys, for six points.
Looking back on what was a herculean first season for the combined program, Rawady says that the one hallmark he will remember the most about his group, was the tireless hard work they have put in to make it all happen.
All whilst enjoying playing with one another.
”How hard they worked, and how much they enjoyed playing with each other,” he said. “Coach Bannerman and I have really loved coaching this group. They got along really well together, they pushed each other to become better, they joked with one another. The way they were all-in on this season, and working together through what we’ve asked of them, this was an outstanding group of girls to coach.”
Even though the ride has officially ended for Andover/Whitesville, the future will remain bright after a sparkling and promising season for the JV team, which will see quite a few additions come through to the Varsity squad next year to help build up the foundation that was laid down brick by brick by the team this year after a 19-4 campaign.
The team as a whole, will lose just three Seniors to graduation in June, as they say goodbye to Jackson, Ainsworth and Addison Morgan, as well as Maria Riloba — the program’s foreign exchange student studying abroad from Spain, who provided an incredible and immediate impact not only on the hardwood, but through the hallways of Whitesville itself.
“We have some strong girls coming back. We had a strong JV team this year, so we’ll have some of those girls come up to Varsity next year. Rachel, Addison, Serena, what they have for their schools all year, and for this team, were huge. That’s part of the reason some of the younger girls are at the level they are at now. They have seen how hard the Seniors have worked, and the contributions they have provided for us. They look at that, and tell themselves that this is what they want to do when they become upperclassmen.”
Rawady added on his spark from Riloba, saying that “Maria has been fantastic. Not only is she a fantastic basketball player, but she is quite literally everyone’s favorite person. The joy with which she plays the game, how much fun she is to be around. Her coming over goes beyond basketball for us, she has become part of this family we have at Whitesville. She’s really provided an incredible impact as a whole.”
Notre Dame-Batavia 7 10 9 12 – 38
Andover/Whitesville 10 6 8 10 – 34
ND-BATAVIA: Emma Sisson 4 7-9 16, Avelin Tomidy 1 0-0 2, Maylee Green 3 0-2 9, Judah MacDonald 2 0-0 4, Lindsey Weidman 3 1-2 7. Totals: 13 8-13 38.
ANDOVER/WHITESVILLE: Gabbi Hall 1 0-0 2, Vanessa Hall 4 3-4 12, Graci Lewis-Ellison 1 0-0 2, Serena Ainsworth 3 0-0 9, Rachel Jackson 2 0-0 6, Maria Riloba 1 0-0 3. Totals: 12 3-8 34.
3-point goals: ND-B 4 (Green 3, Sisson), A/W 7 (Ainsworth 3, Jackson 2, V. Hall, Riloba).
Photo gallery by Chris Brooks:
John Anderson’s column: Did a call cost the game? CLICK HERE