With its 60-35 win over Dunkirk last Friday in CCAA West I boys basketball action, Fredonia (13-3, 9-0) sewed up its first league title since 2001.
To say it was a long time coming would be an understatement.
"We look up at the banner and we see we haven't won a division title in 13 years," Fredonia head coach Greg Lauer said after Friday's win over the Marauders. "And the guys certainly want to leave their legacy and their mark and that's one of the goals. And the other would be to get their year up there for a Sectional title as well."
Fredonia’s Dylan Meyer (22) guards Dunkirk’s Chad Butts (12) during their CCAA?West I boys basketball game Friday, Jan. 31, at Dunkirk Senior High School. Meyer, a senior, and the Hillbillies leading scorer this season, has been a key member of a Hillbillies’ team that claimed its first league title since 2001.
The Hillbillies have been led this season by seniors Dylan Meyer, Nick Johnston and Cody Cunningham, juniors Cam Voss and John Piper and sophomore Pat Moore, who has provided quality minutes off the bench.
"Nick Johnston and Dylan Meyer are three- and four-year players for me," Lauer said. "And John Piper's in his third year playing for me. We just have a good group of guys that worked really hard this summer and set goals after that Sectional final loss last year and are looking to achieve (those goals) this year.
"If Dylan's struggling one night, we have guys like Pat (Moore) and Eric (Jabot) that can come off the bench and hit threes for us," Lauer continued. "And if our bigs are struggling, we have a couple of big guys we can put in off the bench too. And guys that have been around the program and have been brought up through the jayvees, they know what to do to help us be successful."
Meyer leads the team in scoring this season, and went over the 1,000-point mark earlier this season in a game against Greece-Athena.
"Last year we went 10-2," Lauer noted of the team's CCAA Division I record. "But we weren't going to be able to knock off Olean to win a division title. And the years before that, we were about .500 in league. These guys worked hard to achieve a goal and it feels good after six years of coaching the team to be able to take (a division title) home."
Although the games on the court have seemed easy for Fredonia, Lauer noted not everything is as easy as it seems.
"Definitely the weather and dealing with illness with the guys," Lauer said of what has been the most difficult aspect of the season. "(Wednesday) was a night that we only had eight guys at practice because of guys being sick. So, between those two things, weather and illness, it's been tough to keep that rhythm going where we're practicing four or five days a week and prepping for a game."
With a win Friday over Silver Creek, Fredonia will finish 10-0 in CCAA West I action, obtaining one of the goals it established before the season began.
"We definitely want this game," Lauer said. "We had set three or four goals at the beginning of the season - a Sectional title, certainly winning the league title and going 10-0 in league. We anticipated it taking us to go 10-0 in league to win the league title. We thought (Friday's game against Silver Creek) might have been the game for the league championship, but it didn't turn out that way. Still, one of our goals was (finishing) 10-0 and we want to finish it off for sure."
But the Hillbillies have set their goals much higher than a league title.
"We knew we could score," Lauer said. "We have shooters, we have guys that can run the floor, but to win a Sectional championship, you've got to be able to defend teams and that's our ultimate goal."
The Hillbillies won't have an easy road to a Section 6 Class B title however, as they will likely have to play Olean and Buffalo's East High School along the way. The Panthers, ranked No. 7 in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association Class B poll, return seven players from the team that knocked off the Hillbillies last year in the Sectional playoffs.
"We lost that East game (last year)," Lauer noted. "And we pride ourselves on pressure, man-to-man defense and we met up with a team that was definitely quicker than us. We didn't have anything to fall back on - a zone (defense) or something like that. So throughout the year, we've certainly been working on new things to use and the zone has helped us in other close games we've had. So, we're definitely looking to have other things to go to, to be able to mix it up once playoff time comes."
Like East, the Huskies are another team that Lauer has taken the time to reacquaint himself with.
"I've paid attention to them a lot," Lauer said of Olean. "We need to know are we going to see them in the semifinals? Are we going to see them in the finals? We moved up to Class B-1 with them this year, so if we're going to win a Sectional title, it goes through them."
The Huskies won the CCAA Division I title the previous two years and are currently ranked No. 6 in the latest NYSSWA Class B poll.
Rather than join a new division after the CCAA realigned its leagues prior to the 2013-14 school year, Olean decided to play an independent schedule this year, likely to give seniors Wil Bathurst, Sam Eckstrom, Luke Hennessy and Nick Schmidt the best competition possible in their last chance to win a state title.
"I've been able to see them play," Lauer said. "They're certainly a fantastic team. We're going to do our best and hopefully get to a point where we can challenge them for a title."