Fredonia takes on Irvington in Class B final four today in Troy

OBSERVER File Photo: Pictured are the Fredonia Lady Hillbillies after earning a trip to the Far West Regional. Today, at 11:45 a.m. in Troy, Fredonia battles for a spot in the Class B final.

The Fredonia Lady Hillbillies (20-6) take on the Irvington Blue Devils (24-1) in the New York State Public High School Athletic Associaiton’s Class B final four today at 11:45 a.m.

“I think the girls are still floating around a little, but it’s starting to sink in,” Fredonia head coach Carol Zirkle said. “They’re starting to realize that all of the hard work they have put in over the last several years is finally paying off. One of the assistant coaches told them that they are one of only four teams left in Class B. Everyone else is sitting home and we’re playing even after the March Madness tournament begins. That’s pretty amazing.”

What’s also amazing is the run the Lady Hillbillies have been on, as they defeated the No. 3 Tonawanda Lady Warriors, the No. 2 East Aurora Lady BIue Devils and the No. 1 Depew Lady Wildcats in the Section VI, Class B1 playoffs, then defeated Class B2 winner Wilson in the overall Class B final.

Then, in the NYSPHSAA Class B Far West Regional, the Lady Hillbillies, who are ranked sixth in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association poll, defeated Section V’s Mynderse to earn their first trip to the state semifinals in Troy at the Hudson Valley Community College. And they were able to get there, despite Mynderse’s ability to shut down Fredonia’s top scorer, Hannah Cybart.

“Give it to Mynderse,” Zirkle said. “They played a good game against (Hannah Cybart). I think she’s going to bounce back and have a real strong game (today).”

Without the scoring of Hannah Cybart, Zirkles’ team received help from her twin sister, Caitlyn Cybart, Hannah Gullo and Katie Price. Zirkle knows she will likely need this kind of spread-out scoring today if her team is going to be successful.

“Offensively, what we need is to have a lot of different players step up like we did (against Wilson),” Zirkle said. “When you have three players in double figures, and you have your top scorer not score… We need some balanced scoring. We need to be able to take advantage of their breakdowns on defense and make sure we’re getting a lot of different players scoring from a lot of different places on the court.”

To be successful on offense, the Lady Hillbillies will have to continue to be able to handle whatever defense their opponent throws at them.

“As a team, my understanding is they will run a full-court press, man-to-man, 1-2-2 man zone and half court traps,” Zirkle said of the defense. “They also run a 2-1-2 and a diamond-and-one. We’ve pretty much gone against all of those defenses, but we just haven’t done it with them running them against us.

“We’ve seen the half-court trapping,” Zirkle added.

“It’s just getting a little better at breaking those defenses down and making sure we understand what we have to do. With the way they play their defenses, we need to find what’s going to be open,” Zirkle said. “But it’s more with how they play the defenses that’s going to determine what is going to be open.”

As for Irvington, the No. 2 team in the New York State Sports Writers Association’s Class B poll, Zirkle noted she was only able to prepare so much for the team.

“Not much,” Zirkle said when she was asked if she was able to get some film on Irvington. “I got some. Lindsay Halpin is their go-to person. She has a nice drive, she is a point guard, she hits the (3-pointer) and she’s definitely the leader from what I can tell of the team.”

Win or lose, the journey to the state final four has been one that Zirkle and her players will always remember, but they know that it did just start as the team began to win its playoff games.

“The whole focus has been on the team throughout the playoffs,” Zirkle said. “We just try to focus on the whole team and any individual player. If you have four girls or five girls scoring, it makes it very difficult for another team to shut you down.”

For Zirkle, the trip marks the first time in her 22 seasons as a coach — 20 at Fredonia — that she will have taken a team this deep into the playoffs, so to say she is in unchartered territory may be an understatement.

“I’ve talked to quite a few coaches and a lot of people, because I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to get a team to that level,” Zirkle said. “It’s something that as a coach, you can appreciate how much work and effort it takes to get there and how few players, in thier high school careers, actually get to this level.”