By MIKE MEILER
Niagara Gazette —
For the past few years, the Grand Island girls basketball team has found itself among the area's elite. Winners of the past two Section VI Class A championships, the Vikings earned a spot in Western New York's best.
But this year's team will differ greatly from those of the past. This year's Vikings are built from the inside out, going into a season for the first time in six years without point guard Kallie Banker, now running the floor for Division I University of Rhode Island.
That's not to say the Vikings are suffering on talent, though. Leading the way this season will be 6-foot-2 forward Cassie Oursler, a senior who recently signed on to play next year at Robert Morris University, also Division I.
"Our size is going to be our strength without a doubt this year," said Jenepher Banker, Vikings coach and Kallie's mother. "That's what we'll be trying to do — get the ball inside where we have the advantage."
Also returning will be forward Kassie Bennett and guard Grace Olszewski, both seniors who started last season. Joining Olszewski in the backcourt will be junior Lexi Kalinowski, making her return to the court after missing most of last season with a leg injury, senior Jessica Amsdill, sophomore returnee Megan O'Leary and freshman Kayla Winfield, making her debut on varsity.
Stephanie Knight, who was first in off the bench for the Vikings last season, is recovering from injury but will return to aid Oursler and Bennett at forward later this year.
Banker said her players have some work to do if they want to repeat last year's success.
"We just have to really get better, and that's what our goal is: to try to get better every game to be where we want to be at the end of the year," she said. "We're just trying to figure out what our strengths and weaknesses are, especially defensively. We're still seeing what we do well and what we might want to work on."
The Vikings have struggled early on, losing to top private schools Cardinal O'Hara and Sacred Heart by a combined 62 points. They turned things around in their first Niagara Frontier League game, though, topping Kenmore West, 51-32, Thursday night, led by Oursler, who scored 34 points and added 11 rebounds.
Prior to the game, Banker said that players were going to have to go out of their comfort zone to earn wins.
"We're going to have to have expanded roles," she said. "What I'm finding now is that we have kids in much, much different roles than they've been in the past, and they're going to have to learn to develop into these roles. They're going to have to get comfortable."
The Vikings (1-2, 1-0 NFL) continue league play Tuesday when they visit Lockport in a showdown between two of last year's best local teams.Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on all your local teams.