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AU women’s basketball program welcomes local trio

Sean Curran
seancurran@gatehousemedia.com
Dansville's Grace Rittenhouse (4) dribbles inside during the 2019 Class B2 Semifinals in Honeoye Falls. Rittenhouse and Jackie Blechinger will be teammates once again this winter at Alfred University.

ALFRED — If one ever wondered what a local girls’ basketball all-star team would look like on the collegiate level, then look no further than the Alfred University Women’s Basketball Program.

As of spring signing day, the AU Women’s team has signed three local standouts to the roster for the 2020-21 season next winter. Hornell’s Leah Harkenrider will join Dansville’s Grace Rittenhouse and Jackie Blechinger in the purple and gold on the court next season in an attempt to build upon the success that the program has seen over the past few seasons.

Alfred finished last season with an overall record of 8-17 but finished strong with three straight wins to end the season. Head coach Mike Moskowitz is hopeful that a strong batch of recruits will help the returning players carry over that success into this coming season.

“When I took the job two years ago, I really wanted to focus on competing for local talent, while continuing to look far and wide throughout the country for the right people. With that, we brought in five (players) my first year, three of which were from within an hour and a half,” said Moskowitz. “Then this year, we have eight newcomers, six of which are from within an hour and a half — Karly Welty from Portville, Ivette Lewandowski from Springville, Janelle Miller from Rochester, Jackie and Grace from Dansville and then Leah from Hornell.”

Moskowitz is excited to see how all of those recruits help each other grow and was excited to have so many locals come to a place where they can help take a program to the next level.

Hornell’s Leah Harkenrider accomplished a lot in her years at Hornell, including reaching the 1,000-point mark in her senior year while being named the Great 8 Player of the Year in 2020.

“I met with Coach (Brian) Dyring in September 2018, and since then, we communicate back and forth often. We had heard about Leah’s abilities and then got to see that first-hand a bunch of times as a staff over the last two years. I’ve always been impressed with her competition level, toughness and overall tremendous instincts,” said Moskowitz. “Obviously she can shoot the 3-pointer really well and plays in an up-tempo system that we’re looking to build towards as well — so she should be a great fit.”

Rittenhouse and Blechinger played on the same Mustang team a year ago that finished with a 22-1 overall record and as Sectional Champions. Blechinger was an integral part of that team in the post, as she formed a huge one-two punch with fellow post player Arayana Young. After Blechinger graduated, Rittenhouse continued to dominate the local basketball scene this past year as she helped lead the Mustangs to another Section V Championship before the season was cut short. In the past two years, Rittenhouse has made a Great 8 First Team and has been named the Great 8 Player of the Year.

Moskowitz stated that he is very excited to have both on his roster this next year.

“We like Jackie out of high school, but were too late and she was already committed to another school. Her toughness and physicality really sets the tone on the back end of the defense, and as we saw this past spring, she was great in supporting her teammates when she came to watch practice and home games,” said Moskowitz. “We’re excited to add another scoring threat in Grace, especially with her ability to shoot it, which obviously stretches the defense. Grace has won back-to-back Sectional titles at Dansville, and being not only a competitor, but also a winner is a big part of what we look for when recruiting. We also got to work with her last summer for a day at a camp, and that always provides a great experience that allows us to see who she really is behind the scenes. With shooters all around, teams won’t be able to just focus on Grace like they did in some high school games, which should allow her to really continue to improve daily.”

And while Moskowitz is filling out his roster nicely right now, he has no plans to stop recruiting in the local area, as he believes there is a lot of talent in the area that can help the program continue to grow.

“As we move forward, we will continue with the same approach – connecting and building a relationship with the person first, and then evaluating their basketball talent and seeing how they’d fit,” said Moskowitz. “I do think there is some quality local talent around that we have been and will be in touch within the coming years to continue to take our program to the next level!”

Dansville's Jackie Blechinger (30) looks to pass into the open wing during the Class B2 Semifinal against Waterloo, in Honeoye Falls in 2019.