Transition year for Phoenix
For years, the St. Francis Phoenix have been one of the top girls basketball programs in the region.
This season finds the squad in a bit of a flux, but no one should discount where the Phoenix might finish the season.
“On the surface, it’s a transition year and a bit of a turnover,” Phoenix head coach Jon Marcheterre said. “We lost a lot of key girls who are moving on to college and university.”
Starters Sophia Al-Kayed, Abby Ruetz and Erin Giroux have all moved on, but Marcheterre has plenty of able and willing recruits from a junior team coached by Pat Sullivan.
“He has developed a nice base for our program with the junior girls,” Marcheterre said. “We have a lot of new girls and our expectations are to get better every day and see where this group will go.”
Among the key players on the team are Viktoria Cubelic, Rachel Bufalino and Ava Lannen.
“Every day is going to be a big learning day for the girls and some of it is understanding the speed of senior,” Marcheterre said.
Bufalino has a head start on that learning curve. The Grade 11 student has been called up the two previous years to play for the seniors in The Standard and Notre Dame tournaments.
“She has played senior a handful of times and it was always a situation where she came up and it was another girl who could run the point and take a little pressure off of Sophia,” Marcheterre said. “She has been watching games the last couple of years and we are really excited about what she can bring to the team.
“Hopefully she has a real good couple of years ahead of her at senior.”
Marcheterre describes Bufalino as a smart, cerebral player and a calming influence on the court.
The 5-foot-7 point guard learned a lot being called up to the senior squad in 2016 and 2017.
“It feels good because I already know the environment and how he coaches and I am kind of used to how things are set up and the pace,” she said. “Being a senior is a huge jump, but at least I could adapt to it prior to this year.”
Playing senior is night and day from the junior level.
“It’s a 10 times faster paced game,” Bufalino said. “You are up and down the court, back and forth hustling.”
Even with her previous senior experience, she knows she has plenty to work on to be successful at the senior level.
“I need to do a better job of communicating with my teammates because we are not all together,” she said, following a loss Thursday to St. Thomas Aquinas in the St. Francis tournament. “We need to communicate and make sure we are all getting back or moving up together as a unit.”
Bufalino agrees with her coach that she is a cerebral player.
“I do like to think ahead and I look at the court, plan ahead and make sure everybody is in the right spot so we can work together as a team.”
She is also more of a traditional pass-first point guard.
“I’m not really big on going for myself,” she said. “I like to set it up.”
Bufalino is confident the Phoenix have the ability to have a strong season.
“We have potential,” she said. “Will all our practices and everything I see something good for us.”