By Sam Wilson

With an experienced returning core and a promising young newcomer, Bob Gainey enters the girls basketball season with optimism at Springville-Griffith Institute.
The Griffins, bolstered by six returning varsity players, hope to improve on their seven wins each of the last two seasons. So far, including a lopsided opening night 82-10 victory at Lackawanna, Gainey likes what he sees.
“I think we anticipate a lot of balance in our roster scoring-wise and production-wise from everyone on the team,” the fourth-year SGI coach said. “But we do add a seventh grader in Mackenzie Owens who I think is going to bring a lot of good things to our team this year. So I think we can safely say Mackenzie Owens is going to be a big part of our team along with Grace Zabawa and Ivette Lewandowski, who’s a great scorer for us. She’s in her third year on the varsity squad. So we do return a decent amount of kids and some new blood that will really help contribute to the team this year.
“There’s a lot of upside with this team and we’re hoping we just continue to get better and better.”
According to Section VI girls basketball stats, Lewandowski led last year’s squad with 13.5 points per game while Zabawa added 5.2 per game.
Gainey praised the team’s “unselfishness” in its opener. In her varsity debut on Tuesday, Zabawa scored 15 points and Gainey said the seventh-grader and Zbawa made “countless passes ahead of the defense to give their teammates easy layups.” Lewandowski scored a team-high 16 in the opener, Grace Zabawa had 14 and Kelsey Zabawa and Meg Rehrauer had 10 points.
SGI had 10 different scorers in the game as Nyah Solly added six points, Gracie Attebery and Bella Oakley had four each, Rachel O’Neal had two and Abby Steiner put in one.
Before the game, Gainey just hoped to see some defensive awareness and communication as his team took the floor.
“What we’re looking for is just to be in the right spots on the floor defensively, always communicating to one another,” he said. “Right now we’re going to struggle maybe a touch offensively but as long as we’re running our action and our sets the right way and we’re getting great shots off of those actions, make or miss, that’s a good thing. Execution is really something we’re looking at as well, seeing a month into the season to see how close we are, how far away we are. We just want to see a real connected group. They’ve played a lot in the offseason, they’ve played a lot together so we’re hoping our experience really pays off early in the season and continues to improve.”
Gainey is happy with the team’s first month of practice. But that’s in part due to the work the players put in long before the winter season officially starts.
“Overall we’ve made a lot of progress from the beginning of November to this point,” he said, “but what really helps us immensely is the amount of kids that play travel basketball in the offseason. We have basically nine of our 11 kids who played all spring and the majority of those kids played in the summer as well. I think that’s really been a valuable experience for them.
“We’ve also had three scrimmages already with Gowanda, Williamsville East and Catt-Little Valley this past Saturday and we yielded a lot of really good, positive results from those experiences.”
Kelly Owens, Mackenzie’s mother and a former head coach at Hamburg, joined the team’s staff as a volunteer assistant this winter.
“She’s brought in a lot of positive things to our group and she’s a big reason why we are so far along this early in the season,” Gainey noted.
“Having Kelly and all that experience, it’s good to hear from a different perspective what she sees and just everything she’s been through. It’s made us a lot better and one of the neat things was she was my cooperating teacher when I went through my student teaching placement for phys ed. I actually worked under her for about three months, so that’s pretty neat to come full circle here. I’m really happy to have her on board.”
After a scrimmage against Depew on Tuesday, Nov. 27, the Griffins get back to practice until Dec. 10, when they visit Mount Mercy.
As encouraged as Gainey is by the team’s first month of practice, he thinks it can look even better in a few months.
“Ultimately, No. 1 is just a really confident group on both ends,” he said of the team’s upside. “A group that just continues to evolve with their communication and their chemistry on the floor. I think that’s something that’s improving every day, but until we get into competitive, real game situations we really don’t know how far we’ve come but I do think there’s a lot of potential to continue to improve. With the skill level that’s currently on the team, we’re at a certain point, but I think we can be 10 times better than what we are right now, in January, February and March when it really matters. So I’m excited about this group.”