Niagara Gazette — When it comes to girls basketball, this year's Niagara Frontier League is shaping up to be extremely competitive.
Right in the thick of it will be the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons, thanks to a dynamic group of scorers, led by senior guards Rachel Pawlak and Melissa Smith.
Pawlak is the team's most refined player, a shooter who can use her ability to spread the floor, read defenses and distribute to teammates. Smith, the Gazette's Player of the Year in girls soccer, uses the speed and quickness that bring her success on the pitch to push the pace on court, attack the rim and harass opposing players defensively.
"Rachel is a shooter, and Melissa is a scorer," N-W coach Diane Fegatilli said. "Melissa's worked hard on developing an outside shot, and Rachel can also put the ball on the floor if defenders start cheating because of her shot. They play two very different games, but they compliment each other well."
Aiding the duo in the starting lineup will be junior forward/guard Melissa Elnicki, junior forward Kirsten Klettke and sophomore center Allyson Czaja, who brings a 6-foot-1 frame to the lane.
Elnicki is the only other remaining starter from last year's 11-9 team. Klettke came off the bench last season, while Czaja started for the junior varsity team.
"(Elnicki) is a very good shooter," Fegatilli said. "She's versatile, and if team's start focusing on Melissa and Rachel, she can hit the open jumper."
Klettke and Czaja, meanwhile, will be leaned upon control the boards as they work to grow offensively in practice.
"We're really looking at developing an inside game," Fegatilli said. "We want to have an inside-out game by sectionals, so that we have the option of running or slowing things down in the halfcourt.
"Generally, we like to get out and run with (Smith's) speed and Rachel's passing ability, but the goal is to be able to go inside by sectionals."
Coming off the bench for the Falcons will be senior guards Meghan Maranto and Rebecca Campbell, who Fegatilli said provide a great deal of leadership and can give the team a spark when they enter the game. Also on the bench will be Kiayra Right, an undersized forward with a knack for snagging rebounds.
"We got into some foul trouble at forward in one of our early games this year," Fegatilli said,"and she came right in and did a great job rebounding. Even though she's undersized, she just has an ability to come down with the ball."
Early this season, the Falcons are 2-0, with non-league wins over Orchard Park and Williamsville East. Fegatilli also added Immaculata and Nichols to her team's non-league schedule in an effort to gain experience against top teams.
"Playing tough teams to start the season has helped us," she said. "We're hoping it will help us in our league, which is very competitive every year."
The Falcons host Nichols at 7:15 tonight and start their NFL schedule at 6:30 p.m. Friday when they host Lockport.Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.