Niagara Gazette — It was a season of new experiences for the Grand Island girls basketball team.
Adjusting to life after four-time Gazette Player of the Year Kallie Banker, the Vikings -- who’d taken just 11 losses from 2009-12 -- lost nine times in 2012-13.
Young players struggled to adjust to increased roles, and the season looked lost when an injury to leading scorer Cassie Oursler coincided with a four-game losing streak in late January.
But the Vikings found their way in the postseason, when Oursler averaged a remarkable 26.8 points and 19.2 rebounds per game to help her team earn the Section VI Class A championship and herself the title of Niagara Gazette Player of the Year.
“(When she was hurt), we knew we weren’t going to win the league, and we wanted to make sure when she came back she was ready so we could make a run in the playoffs,” said Jenepher Banker, who retired from coaching the Vikings after a 39-37 loss to Section V Mendon in the Far West Regional.
And what a run it was.
After losing five of their last seven regular season games, Oursler scored a school-record 39 points and added 18 rebounds as the Vikings squeaked by Williamsville South, 66-64, in the first round of the A-1 sectionals. She followed that with 34 points and 13 rebounds in a 65-42 blowout of McKinley; 16 points and 21 boards in a 49-39 win over Hamburg in the A-1 final; 23 points and 28 rebounds in a 46-29 win over Pioneer in the Class A crossover final (A-1 vs. A-2); and 22 points and 16 boards in the loss to Mendon.
“I (knew) this was my last season,” Oursler said. “I didn’t want it to end.”
It’s not difficult to figure out the key to Oursler’s success on the court. Standing 6-foot-4 with generations of athleticism passed down to her -- her father, Chris, was an All-Western New York wide receiver for the Vikings and numerous brothers, cousins and uncles dot the GI record books -- she towers over nearly all of her competition.