Following Fredonia's 80-48 loss to Olean in the Section 6 Class B-1 boys' basketball championship game on Saturday at Buffalo State, Hillbillies' head coach Greg Lauer had to say good bye to a group of seniors he won't soon forget.
Leading that group were Dylan Meyer, Nick Johnston and Cody Cunningham. Meyer had been on the team since his freshman year while Johnston had been a three-year starter for Lauer.
"I just talked about their careers," Lauer said of what he told the seniors after the Hillbillies' loss to the Huskies. "And what a great ride it's been with them and told them how they were kind of responsible for revitalizing Fredonia basketball."
OBSERVER?Photo by Gib Snyder III
Pictured are the senior members of the Fredonia boys basketball team. They are, from left, in front, Cody Cunningham, Dylan Meyer and Eric Jabot. In back are Cody Smith and Nick Johnston.
Despite falling in two-straight Sectional finals - including last year's loss to Buffalo East - Lauer knows this group of seniors helped to turn the varsity basketball program at Fredonia around.
"I'll miss their hard work," Lauer said. "I think their work ethic has rubbed off on some of the younger players. And they were just a fantastic group of guys. They were a lot of fun to be around and I never minded being with them all summer and working out with them in the mornings in the summer. Certainly their work ethic will be missed."
The player who may have had the biggest part in that turnaround was Meyer, who averaged a team-best 21.7 points per game his senior year and finished with 1,410 points for his career.
"We knew that he loved basketball back in seventh and eighth grade when we watched him play," Lauer said. "But Dylan as a player, it's really been all him. Every setback we had, like when we lost to Southwestern when he was a sophomore, he committed himself to the weight room. And was just religious about it. He'd call me up on Saturdays because he wanted to lift and I could never say 'no' to him. You can't say 'no' to a kid that wants to work that hard. He put forth the effort. Even this season, he was getting up at 5:30 in the morning in the fall and coming in and shooting and lifting with coach (Nick) Bertrando. Really, the work ethic was all him."
But Meyer wasn't just a basketball player this season, and that made Lauer a little worried.
"I was certainly nervous," Lauer said of Meyer playing football this year, where he was a star wide receiver for a Hillbillies' team that played for a Sectional title. "But I get nervous when any of my basketball players are playing football. But I personally love football and I loved watching him play. I loved watching Nick and Cody Smith and all the seniors play football. They're such great athletes and I enjoy watching them play any sport. It was fun to see them together on the football field."
On the floor, Lauer knew he had a player in Johnston that he could count on to run the show.
"When he was a freshman, he had a pretty good jayvee season as a shooting guard," Lauer said. "And then, toward the end of the year, I had to let a couple of my players go, so I actually brought him up for playoffs. And it turned out that he started at point guard for us in a playoff game against Cassadaga Valley. We got killed, but he showed a lot of promise at that position."
Johnston averaged 9.6 points per game, 6.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds.
"I knew coming back (from his freshman year) that if he worked hard in the summer - and he certainly did work hard that summer - on his dribbling and his shooting, that sure enough he would come into that sophomore season ready to be the starting point guard,"?Lauer said. "And he didn't look back from that point on."
Cunningham was a key addition last year as a junior and became an integral part of the starting lineup this season.
"He embraced the role that I gave him," Lauer said of Cunningham. "He started every single game for us, played most of the minutes in all of the games and he did all the little things. He rebounded, he was an awesome communicator on defense and he was a leader on defense. And every team needs that. You can't have five scorers on the floor; you need guys that are willing to do those little things and Cody did those things. He was a really strong player inside and he constantly had to guard guys that were bigger than him and he did a great job all year at it."
Role player Eric Jabot was vital coming off the bench for Fredonia this season, as he was able to make an impact nearly every game he played in.
"I thought he had a great year," Lauer said. "He certainly was frustrated at the beginning of the year with his playing time, but he grew up. He got quicker and his shots started to fall. And you can look at that Silver Creek game at the end of the year where we were getting beat there in the first half and John Piper just hurt his ankle and Eric went in and knocked down two threes and a runner before the buzzer for a quick eight points. That was huge for us. Having him available off the bench for us was certainly an added bonus."
Cody Smith, known more for his prowess on the gridiron and baseball diamond, played a little bit of a different role for Lauer and his coaching staff in his one and only go-around on the varsity basketball team.
"He only played one year for me," Lauer noted. "But every team needs a guy like him. He was Captain Positive. He led the cheer at the beginning of the games and was always the first guys to slap fives with someone coming off the floor.
"He was a huge player for us in terms of what he brought to our team," Lauer added. "Not necessarily on the floor, but certainly his enthusiasm was a big help to us this year."
Replacing this group of seniors may be a challenge for both Lauer and the players coming back next season. But it's a challenge all involved appear to be up to.
"It's going to be tough to replace these guys," Lauer said. "But at the same time, I think (John) Piper and especially Patrick Moore learned a ton from these guys this year. And I think they're going to be ready to step up and try and fill those roles. The senior leadership this year that these guys supplied us with is just going to carry over every year as we move on."