Jamestown Elite Maximize Their Time In Louisville, Kentucky

The Jamestown Elite, coached by Ken Ricker, middle, posted a 5-2 record at the Run for the Roses Classic in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this month. Submitted photo

In Game 1 of the Run for the Roses Classic in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this month, the Jamestown Elite, a collection of 17-and-under girls basketball players from Western New York, found themselves in a big hole.

“That first game we got punched in the mouth.” said Coach Ken Ricker, who saw his team fall behind, 19-4. “I was wondering if this was going to be four quick losses and we’d be done.”

But this group of girls, hailing from Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie counties, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and played some serious basketball the rest of the weekend at an event billed as one of the largest exposure events for girls in the United States. By the time they returned home, they were the owners of a 5-2 record, falling in the championship game of the Gold Division.

Their effort has so impacted Ricker that he has yet to remove the wristband that all coaches were required to wear during their time in Louisville.

“I’m still wearing it around,” he said.

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The Elite, comprised of Sarah Pfeiffer of Olean, Hannah Dolan of Williamsville South, Myla Kline of St. Mary’s of Lancaster, Erin Radack of Southwestern, Allie Stockwell and Kira Ricker of Jamestown, Natalie Angeletti, Kyle Schnars and Abi Lisciandro of Panama, Abby McCoy of Franklinville and Karly Welty of Portville, didn’t exactly arrive in Louisville on a tear.

In fact, the Elite had only won one AAU Tournament all spring. And with Stockwell and Lisciandro — two of the four returning players from a year ago not making the trip — it didn’t look good for the local team when it got down 21 points in their first game.

“It was the physicality. You can’t reproduce it in tournaments around here,” Ricker said. ” … During that game, early on, it was clear we were lacking in some areas (so) that whole first half I wrote notes on a yellow pad. At the end of the game when I met them in the hotel lobby, I (suggested) we go over these things and we read them off one by one. They looked me in the eye and took the suggestions.”

And they almost “took” the tournament, even though Angeletti was playing with a broken hand and Dolan left the tournament altogether after suffering a slight fracture of her ankle in Game 2.

Despite all that, Ricker’s kids shook off a six-minute scoreless drought in the third quarter and rallied for a 62-54 victory over the DYT Vipers and then knocked off the New Jersey Panthers, 57-31, behind a strong defensive effort and 34 points from Pfeiffer, who had played her junior year with one of the best teams in Arizona.

“Sarah was the force of the tournament,” Ricker said. “The other coach was beside himself. I had watched that team play, and I thought they were the best. It was close for a while and she just took over. … She was just unbelievable.”

In Game 4, Schnars’ layup at the buzzer, thanks to a nifty pass from Pfeiffer, lifted the Elite to a 49-47 victory over South Central Basketball Club to push their pool-play record to 3-1.

“Sarah only had 11 points, but she showed she’s such a complete player,” Ricker said.

And after the Elite upended Kentucky Premiere, 56-44, they found themselves in the Gold Division semifinals, which they also won, before finally losing in the championship game.

Others took notice, including a New York City-based website which was very complimentary of the local girls’ efforts in one of its online articles.

“Just to get recognized there was like, ‘Wow, how cool is that?'” Ricker said. ” … This group was watching all the games and they recognized us because of the success the girls had and how hard they played.”

The Elite’s performance went beyond the internet, too.

“A ton of Division II and Division III coaches have called,” he said. “They say, “We’re calling about so-and-so, but we’d like anyone on your team. We’d take them all.’

“That’s rewarding, because they carried themselves in the right way. I take no credit for any of that. They came to me as great kids from great families. … Everybody loves them.”

Given the events of the last couple weeks — Ricker was also appointed the girls basketball coach at Dunkirk High School during the trip — maybe he’ll never remove that wristband.

“You just don’t expect to win (at the Run for the Roses),” he said. “I kept trying to tell the girls you have to understand how precious a win here is.”

Imagine, then, how they feel after five Ws.

“Every tournament we go to, whether it’s for seventh-graders or specifically for these kids, we talk about maximizing the situation,” Ricker said. ” … I told them that they couldn’t have picked a better one to maximize.

“I couldn’t be prouder.”