Can Crusaders and Knights be dethroned?

The most talented senior girls’ high school basketball league in Ontario gets rolling this week. And, in case you didn’t know, it happens to be based right here in Hamilton.

The seven-team Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association undoubtedly deserves top billing because of the way two of its entries – the St. Mary Crusaders and the St. Thomas More Knights – continue to dominate the opposition at the provincial level.

The Knights are two-time defending Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Quad A champions, while the Crusaders cruised to the Triple A gold medal in 2011 and 2012. And the streak goes back even further since St. Mary also took the Quad A crown in 2010.

Remarkably, since 1975, a HWCAA representative has earned top honours at OFSAA 19 times.

The regular-season schedule begins Thursday (Sept. 12) on three fronts. Here’s a quick look at each of the teams.


COACH – Rich Wesolowski

RETURNING STARTERS – Christina Buttenham, Hilary Hanaka, Amira Giannattasio, Ally Brandt

KEY LOSSES – Emily Piccini (U of Toronto)

STRENGTH – Battle-tested veterans

TOP NEWCOMERS – Halle Bovell, Julia Hanaka, Hannah McGurk.

OVERVIEW – Wesolowski has led the Crusaders to 11 OFSAA medals, including eight gold during his coaching career at St. Mary. His defending league champions have six returnees, including Buttenham (committed to attend University of Iowa on a basketball scholarship), Giannattasio (committed to play for the NCAA’s Mount St. Mary’s) and Hilary Hanaka (still considering D-1 offers). Buttenham and Hilary Hanaka helped Team Ontario win gold at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que. In addition, Julia Hanaka was a member of Canada’s bronze-medal basketball squad at the 47th International Children’s Games in Windsor.

Coach Wesolowski will once again guide his defending league champion St. Mary Crusaders (Photo: Gerry Graham)

COACH’S COMMENTS – “For us, the goal would be to win another OFSAA. We have just enough pieces back. Four senior starters usually bodes well for continuity. We’re on the small side, but we’ll be quick again. We can run and shoot the ball. We don’t have any forwards, per se.”


COACH – Blaize DiSabatino

RETURNING STARTERS – Eight returning players, including starters Erin Burns and Abbey Clark

KEY LOSSES – Celina Botts, Diedre Edwards

STRENGTH – Kia Nurse. Yikes. She’s also the starting point guard for Canada’s national senior women’s team.

TOP NEWCOMERS – Former junior team MVP Jessica Guyatt and national Cadette team member, Hailey Brown.

OVERVIEW – Coach DiSabatino received the Wismer Award in June for the being selected the top high school coach from either school board in all of Hamilton-Wentworth. She’s in her 14th year of coaching and has guided teams to six OFSAA medals and three Ontario Basketball Association titles. Recently, her Blessed Sacrament Yellow Jackets brought home the U17 Ontario championship. Last season at the HWCAA final, More dropped a heart-breaking 61-52 decision to St. Mary in double overtime. Nurse is expected to miss the first month of the schedule while travelling to Mexico for the FIBA America qualifying tournament.

St. Thomas More’s Kia Nurse is starting guard for Canada’s senior women’s team. (Photo: Robin Leworthy Wilson, Aerial Promotions)

COACH’S COMMENTS – “Our team will be quite deep in terms of bodies. We will be fairly quick, so run and gun. And we do have some size this year as well. Kia really wants to play high school basketball. She is very involved in the school community. That’s really important to her. When you’re talking about Kia not being here for the first month, there is a bit of a learning curve even when she does return. Winning OFSAA will be our goal.”


COACH – Kevin Daly

RETURNING STARTERS – Brittany Roberto, Stephanie Sousa, Kara Canning

KEY LOSSES – Alisa van Veen, Michaela Ionni

STRENGTH – Balanced scoring attack. Guard Roberto was a 2012 league all-star.

TOP NEWCOMERS – Reese Mungar, Christina Cuciani, Allison Kielbasa, Samantha Kiss, Taiah Geogheghan.

OVERVIEW – Last season the Celtics bowed out in the semifinal round. All teams again qualify for the playoffs. Bishop Ryan features five returnees overall.

COACH’S COMMENTS – “Last year we won two of the three tournaments we played in. We were very competitive with most of the teams in the province. We had trouble with St. Mary and St. Thomas More who were OFSAA Triple A and Quad A champions, respectively. We’re hopeful we’ll be able to replace the loss of our four seniors. It’s hard to predict where we’ll finish, as I consider ours to be the best league in the province. I’m not concerned where we finish. I have always thought it’s more important to be playing well come playoff time.”


COACH – Mike Di Federico

RETURNING STARTERS – Eight returnees including starters Haley Bowie, Jackie Wilkinson and Lisa Stallwood.

KEY LOSSES – Melissa Tatti

STRENGTH – Quickness


OVERVIEW – The Titans are just three years removed from winning an OFSAA Quad A silver medal in girls’ basketball. That tournament – won by St. Mary – was held in Hamilton.

COACH’S COMMENTS: “Our MVP from last year, Melissa Tatti, won’t be playing this year. It’s a big loss. She’s got a pretty severe groin injury. I believe it happened near the end of her summer rep season. That hurts. And Racquel Castro (F) may or may not be playing. She’s recovering from knee surgery. We kept a lot of young kids last year so, really, no one has come up. We have a lot of talented girls, but we’re pretty small. St. Thomas More and St. Mary are 1 and 1A. But if Kia Nurse is there, she is a difference maker. Then national team point guard … she’s that good. She’s a great player to watch.”


COACH – Jodi Pomerleau

RETURNING STARTERS – Kristen Farkas, Monika Batinic, Sarah Booth

KEY LOSSES – Minimal

STRENGTH – They’re a group of players who have come up through the Newman Youth house league and rep system.

TOP NEWCOMERS – Alyssa Cerino, Jessica Ireland, Cayley Shaw-Linger. Cerino and Shaw-Linger captured a bronze medal in 2012 at the Ontario Summer Games.

OVERVIEW – Wins have been few and far between for Newman in the past couple of years. The Cardinals have enjoyed more success in tournaments against outside competition. This year’s relatively inexperienced Cardinals are expected to look to Batinic for offence and Farkas for defence.

COACH’S COMMENTS – “Newman has not had a post presence for a number of years. With the addition of Cerino, we should be a greater threat inside the key. She has a nice touch and finds the basket well. Ireland can be used anywhere. We have a lot of small, quick guards. We’ll have to take advantage of our speed to make up for our lack of height. This year I really think we can finish in the middle of the pack somewhere.”


COACH – Kevin Karl

RETURNING STARTERS – Twins Alyssa and Cierra Torosantucci plus Crista Sebastiani. Four returnees overall.

KEY LOSSES – JenJen Abella

STRENGTH – Karl, the assistant coach at Brebeuf last season, has coached Blessed Sacrament rep teams to numerous medals at Ontario championships over the years. One of his former players with Blessed Sacrament was his niece, Karly Roser. She’s currently in her third year with the Northwestern NCAA women’s basketball team.

TOP NEWCOMERS – Jennifer Maki

OVERVIEW – Brebeuf has lost three, fifth-year players. The Braves got off to a good start last season but then injuries caught up with them and the team faded, losing to Bishop Ryan in the opening playoff round.

COACH’S COMMENTS – “I only have three Grade 12s and no Grade 13s. We’ve got enough talent to surprise a few teams. We’ll be small and pretty young, so we have to be aggressive defensively. Every year it’s a battle. It’s just a matter of trying to win the games we’re supposed to win and doing the best we can against the others. Our Grade 10 player, Jennifer Maki, is tall, athletic and skilled. She’s someone who might in the future be looking at playing in CIS (the Canadian university league).”


COACH – Michele Vesprini

RETURNING STARTERS — Katrina Collins-Samuels, Amoney Abakar, Nya Gathoth

KEY LOSSES – Power forward and captain Jakayla Douse

STRENGTH – Competes hard

OVERVIEW – The Gaels, at 4-6, finished sixth last season before upsetting the third-seeded Titans at Bishop Tonnos in the quarter-final round of playoffs. Their tallest player this season is only 5-foot-7 and numbers attending tryouts have been thin.

COACH’S COMMENTS – “The three girls we have coming back are all fantastic athletes. Nya was our sixth man last season. The only thing I can do is teach. Our goals are very different. We define victories differently when we play St. Thomas More or St. Mary. Victories are holding a player to a certain number of points, executing a press break against St. Mary or for us to score a certain number of points within a quarter. Pulling off that upset against Bishop Tonnos in the playoffs was a great accomplishment. It was our city championship. Every year we tend to pull off an upset.”