Fredonia, Dunkirk resume rivalry tonight

OBSERVER File Photo Pictured above, the Dunkirk girls basketball team huddles around head coach Ken Ricker during a game earlier this season.

From a distance, tonight’s game may seem like just another league contest in high school girls basketball, between two teams hoping to claim their first win in the division. It may even seem like just another game between two small town schools in Western New York, looking to claim bragging rights in a longtime rivalry.

But it’s more than that.

When Dunkirk and Fredonia first met last season in mid-December, the two teams had a combined one win. When they met last, they were playing for a sectional title at Buffalo State College. Dunkirk and Fredonia each proved last year that expectations of those on the outside of this historic rivalry mean nothing. You can throw their opinions out, like you throw out the records of every game before this point when the two teams take the court in Fredonia tonight at 6 p.m. Tonight is bigger than one league game in the standings. Tonight is the environment that these players play for.

So what can we expect to see when the lights are bright tonight?

For the Dunkirk Lady Marauders — led by a starting five made up of all juniors who all returned from a year ago — a key will be to cut down on the mistakes that have plagued this talented bunch of late. Most recently, the Lady Marauders fell at home to Chautauqua Lake on Monday, in a game where Dunkirk was 11-34 from the free-throw line with 32 turnovers as a team. When Dunkirk plays a clean game, they can hang with just about anyone in Western New York. Though, coming in on a three game losing streak after starting the season 8-0, it may be easier said than done to right the ship in Fredonia. After the last three times out on the court — and even after the three matchups between Dunkirk and Fredonia last season — the Lady Marauders took the ‘L’. Tonight, they look to bounce back.

The Fredonia Lady ‘Billies up until this point have had a season of highs and lows. After beginning the season with a 91-30 loss to St. Mary’s, there was nowhere to go but up for new coach Mark Putney and the Lady ‘Billies. But, they certainly turned it around quickly. Fredonia responded with back-to-back wins to claim the title of the inaugural ‘Shootout in the Swamp’ tournment in Allegany-Limestone, then made the streak three in a row with a win over Falconer in Fredonia’s home opener. When it comes to league contests, however, Fredonia — like Dunkirk — is also 0-2, with losses to Olean and Maple Grove. The young Lady ‘Billies — behind the veteran leadership of their own junior, Kazlin Beers — will need every ounce of support in the standing room only crowd expected tonight.

Tonight is the first time that each team’s head coach has led a team into this rivalry game. Fredonia’s Putney took over for longtime coach Carol Zirkle, who stepped down before the season, while Dunkirk’s experienced coach Ken Ricker took over for Darnell Baldwin, who turned the program around from one win in the year before he arrived to a spot in the sectional final. Now, Ricker leads the Lady Marauders into the most hostile territory of all for the first time. Both Putney and Ricker each have their chance to leave their first impression on the rivalry tonight, and with it, could erase a lot of the hiccups each team has faced up to this point on the year.

So to those who look at this matchup as just another game on the schedule, as just another result and just another reason for one fanbase to feel joyous for just a night, you can look for the result in the record books. For those who know this game is more than that, buckle up. This could be the beginning of one team’s magical ride though the rest of the year.

Note that tip-off is earlier than in years past, scheduled for 6 p.m. at Fredonia High School. Follow the action live on Twitter @bradencarmen and @TheObserverNY throughout the game.