After losing players like A.J. McCall and CCAA Division 1 Player of the Year Vinny Bomasuto from last year's squad, some may have thought the Dunkirk Marauders would take a step back this season.
Those who thought that way have been proven wrong, as the Marauders have maintained a similar level of success as the 2010-11 squad that finished 19-1.
"The way we looked at it was that we still have a group of seniors playing," head coach Jerome Moss said. "And they have a lot of pride in themselves. They worked hard in the offseason this year and they wanted to come out and prove that they can play also. And that's what they've done."
OBSERVER?photo by Lisa Monacelli
Dunkirk’s Kevin Holmes goes up for a shot against a Southwestern defender. Holmes has been Dunkirk’s leading scorer in a surprisingly successful season.
OBSERVER?photo by Lisa Monacelli
Dunkirk’s Josh Mleczko, pictured above, is just one of the seniors leading the Marauders’ quest for a CCAA?Division 1 championship.
Dunkirk is led by a group of seniors that includes three-year varsity starters Mike Donaldson and Kevin Holmes. Add in seniors Josh Mleczko and Evan Ahlstrom and the Marauders are teeming with varsity-level experience as fellow seniors Shaq Thomas and Elon DeJesus have also contributed to their teams' 13-2 record.
"I was very confident that they would," Moss said of whether or not he thought his seniors would be able to maintain the same level of success they had a season ago. "And they are showing me that they are able to. I've got a good group of guys, they worked hard in practice last year and our practices are pretty intense. I knew they would come in and play well, and I'm glad they've been able to do that."
Having depth has also aided in the Marauders' success, as juniors Marquel Ruiz, Jacob Lockett, Alex Crossan, John Cordova, Eddie Wilson and Jared Miernik have all seen time on the floor.
"That's always a plus when you have depth on your team," Moss said. "You can go to guys and you're not going to fall off too much when they're on the floor."
However, to be a great team, you need veteran leadership, and Moss has plenty of that on his team.
"Obviously Michael Donaldson's a leader, Kevin Holmes is a leader, Evan Ahlstrom and Josh Mleczko," Moss said. "All four of those guys are leaders. They grew up together and it's nice to see them playing ball together. They push each other and they push everyone else."
See DUNKIRK, Page B3
The experience the juniors have gained this season will only help them as they enter their senior season next year.
"The way we practice helps out a lot," Moss said. "Having the juniors go up against the starters who mostly are seniors, gives them a chance to work hard against good competition everyday, so they should be able to come in and see what they are doing so they should know what they have to do."
Unlike any other team in the area, the Marauders have had to play all of their games on the road, as they have had to call the Steele Hall Fieldhouse, Silver Creek High School and Cassadaga Valley High School home.
"We've kind of used it as motivation because it's not something that many teams have to do," Moss said. "I don't know the last time a team had to do this, but we take it as motivation. We don't really care where we play so long as the rim is 10-feet and the court is regulation (size)."
With Dunkirk finishing up its capital project, Moss knew coming into the year that certain challenges were going to have to be faced. He's just glad those challenges have not slowed down his team.
"We knew that the gym was being renovated and that there were going to be a lot of changes," Moss said. "We've kind of taken it all in stride and the main thing we can do is focus on the games and the guys have been able to do that."
With the playoffs right around the corner, Moss knows there is still work to be done, especially since his team will likely see some tough competition in Class B-1, as they may have to face teams such as Olean (the only team to beat Dunkirk this season), East High School, Tonawanda and Depew.
"We've got four games before the playoffs begin," Moss said. "So we've got to look at getting better in each one of those games and continue to improve, so when we go into the playoffs, we're going in on a high."
Despite not playing a single game on their own floor, Moss and his Marauders are grateful for the support they have been shown by their fans.
"I know it's tough for the fans to follow us and find out when the games are," Moss said. "But pay close attention to the paper, the games are usually in there and come out and support us. Next week is the Fredonia game and that should be a good one, so hopefully we get a good crowd."
Those fans will have another chance to show their support, as Dunkirk will "host" Lake Shore on Tuesday, at Silver Creek. The game is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start.
NOTE: Dunkirk's game against Fredonia, regularly scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 11, at Silver Creek, has been moved to Cassadaga Valley High School on the same day. The girls' game is set for a noon start, with the boys' game to follow immediately after.