March 02 , 2007


Purple Tigers eye title

CHS to face New Hartford in Class A tourney final


Photo provided by Rich Barnes
Coach Mick Lowie has chin in hand on the Cortland High bench during a win over Oneida that got this Section 3 Class A tournament run started. CHS faces New Hartford in the title game Saturday in Syracuse.

Staff Writer

In going by comparative schedules and results, Saturday’s Section 3 Class A boys’ basketball championship game between sixth-seeded Cortland High and No. 4 New Hartford looks like a standoff.
When the game tips off at approximately 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Syracuse University’s Manley Field House, each team will own a victory over the other’s top league nemesis.
The Purple Tigers (16-6), at 17th state-ranked for the first time this season in the latest NYSSWA Class A poll, downed host Utica Notre Dame, the second seed and defending A-1 and overall A champion, 80-68 in the quarterfinals. The Jugglers had shaded New Hartford twice by a point this season, the second time in an 81-80 overtime Tri-Valley League East thriller Jan. 26.
The Spartans (19-4), the 13th-ranked A team in the state this week, reached Saturday’s game with a 59-49 semifinal win over top-seeded Jamesville-DeWitt, then the top-ranked A team in the state, at Manley last Friday. The Red Rams were without star guard Brandon Triche for that game, as was the case on Jan. 17, when they led visiting CHS by just 48-45 after three quarters but exploded in the fourth for a 79-55 victory.
Ironically, Cortland and New Hartford — which lost to J-D 81-62 early in the season and also fell to Class AA Fayetteville-Manlius — each come into the title tilt with six-game winning streaks — their last losses in the aforementioned games against J-D and Notre Dame, respectively.
After his team had dispatched No. 2 Indian River 58-47 in the semis at Manley last Friday (thus completing a sweep of last year’s two A champions, the Warriors having taken the A-2 crown), CHS coach Mick Lowie noted that the Spartans had beaten a J-D squad that handled the Purple Tigers twice this season. The other win was by a score of 65-54 with Triche, at Cortland on Dec. 8, in a game Lowie admitted was not that close.
“No one has beaten J-D in our league since we did it in 2003,” he said. “That’s quite a streak, and for someone else to beat them quite emphatically in that big a game — we have a great deal of respect for them.”
Spartans coach John Randall, meanwhile, had his own reservations about CHS.
“Notre Dame got us twice by a point, and I think Cortland matches up similar to the way we did, except we don’t have a Tom Wilk (6-8 senior center) inside,” he said. “I was surprised they were able to score the first 18 points against Notre Dame, and lead 26-7 after the first quarter. No one does that to Notre Dame at home.”
Cortland seniors Joel White (6-2 guard) and Wilk have led the Purple Tigers in the postseason, as they did during the regular campaign. White has scored 94 points (31.3 per game, 19.9 for all games combined) in three sectional victories — the first a 68-62 overtime decision over visiting No. 11 Oneida on Feb. 16 — and totaled 21 rebounds, 14 steals and 19 assists in those contests. Wilk has scored 60 points (20 per game, 17.7 overall) and hauled down 35 rebounds in the postseason despite missing roughly three-quarters of the Indian River game with foul trouble.
“We know White and Wilk are pretty tough together,” Randall said, having personally seen White pile up 36 points, including 18 in the first quarter, against Indian River. It was the fourth-highest point total ever by a Purple Tiger. White set the record of 39 points earlier this season, in a 74-43 romp over Homer Dec. 19.
“Cortland is one of the best teams we’ve seen inside and outside. White is just such an athlete, so strong and physical. He definitely makes that team go, and we’ll definitely have to slow him down.
“Cortland also has very good role players and a very disciplined defense. If we get the opportunity to run on offense, we’ll run, because we’re not as good in a half-court situation.”
“Our main concern going in is that all five New Hartford starters are very, very athletic kids who can do a little bit of everything,” Lowie said. “No matter who rebounds for them, they can take the ball and go. They have a good group of ball-handlers. They’re very athletic, with good team speed and quickness, and while we have some more size the downside to that is we may not be as quick or fast. The rebounding may be a wash, too, because Alex Prue (6-3 senior forward) and Mike Kelly (6-3 junior guard-forward) are physical kids.
“They play a 1-3-1 trap or 3-2 trap defense, mostly at half-court. Our defense (primarily a 2-3 zone) has been pretty good this season. One of our goals is to make it a half-court game, because if it gets fast-paced I don’t think we can beat them. If we can take away their transition, I’ll feel pretty good.”
Prue, whose father Ed played for SUNY Cortland under Al Stockholm and coaches the Spartans’ JV squad, is one of three returning starters from last year’s Class A runner-up. The others are fellow seniors Ron Evans (6-0 guard and a SUNY Cortland recruit), the three-year starter, this year’s high scorer at 19.2 points per game and the program’s second-leading all-time scorer with more than 1,300 points, and 6-2 point guard Mike Clifford. In addition to Kelly, the leading rebounder with 8.4 per game, the other starter is 6-4 junior guard-forward Andy Roemer.
While White and Wilk are definitely the focus for Cortland, Lowie also noted the contributions of the other three starters. “Kaywon Pittman (6-0 senior forward) has improved steadily this season,” he noted. “He’s given us six to eight rebounds a game, and has made some big plays and gotten some big rebounds in the fourth quarter of each sectional game. Levi Walrath (6-3 junior guard) has been giving us four to six points, and had a big game against Notre Dame (24 points). He’s a very strong rebounder, jumps well and plays good defense.
“Derek Allen (5-10 junior guard) has made tremendous improvement this season. Defensively he’s a pest, in your face all the time, and can take the pressure off Joel. He’s a very good ball-handler, and if a team focuses on Joel defensively Derek is going to be the one who’s left alone, and he’s a capable shooter, as some opposing coaches have found out.”
Lowie also had praise for the play off the bench of 6-1 senior forward Dan Leonard (“Instant energy when he goes in, and will contribute a couple of hustle baskets) and 6-5 junior center Matt Pitcher (“He can give Tom a minute here and there, is a good rebounder and defender and a capable scorer near the basket).
The fact that both teams have already played at Manley and thus experienced the bigger court and stanchion baskets wasn’t lost on either coach.
“The games there always seem to be in the 50s and 60s,” Randall said. “We’ve both played there, so I don’t see a difference. We were surprised that White shot so well there. I think our having been here last year for a title game with all but three of the players on this year’s team will help us; we were a little tentative last year.”
“It’s a different experience, with the court and the excitement, which is why it’s nice that both teams were at Manley for the semis,” Lowie said. “When we played J-D there (a 74-41 loss in the 2003 B-1 title game, the only other appearance by a Lowie-led CHS team in the sectional finals), we weren’t ready for it. Especially with the Indian River game, we’ll most definitely be ready to play this time.”
Lowie said after last Friday’s contest that he’d taken his team to Cornell’s Bartels Hall to practice in a big-gym atmosphere last week, and he planned to do so again late this week.
As for the excitement surrounding the Purple Tigers, who he noted have grown into a close-knight squad as the season has gone along, Lowie said:  “The school community is excited, the overall community is excited and we’re excited. We have a chance to do something that we think hasn’t been done since the 1959-60 season, when Cortland won a Section 4 championship. I don’t know that we’ve ever won a Section 3 title.
“We’re taking the same attitude into this game that we have in our last two — the higher seed is expected to win, and there’s no pressure on us, so let’s go play and see what happens. We never talked about being here, We were concerned with getting a home game and getting out of J-D’s bracket. We want to play loose and relaxed and try to intimidate them with our hustle, which might not be easy because New Hartford plays hard, too.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will play Section 10 champion Massena in the Class A regionals at 8 p.m. a week from today (March 9) at SUNY Potsdam. The winner there advances to Manley the next day to face the survivor of a contest between the champs from Section 2 and 7 in a 4:45 p.m. start.


Home court help for Red Dragons

Sports Editor

Once you find yourself in post-season play, nothing comes easy.
SUNY Cortland women are well aware of that fact heading into this weekend’s NCAA Division III basketball tournament, as the Red Dragons host a four-team regional that tips off tonight.
Or as Coach Jeannette Yeoman said after leading the Red Dragons into the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in her nine seasons at the college: “The margin for error is slimmer now just because of who you are playing.”
That’s why the Red Dragons hope getting the chance to play on their Corey Gymnasium home floor — where they have won 39 consecutive games — provides some sort of an advantage.
First round games this evening will find St. Lawrence University (24-3) taking on the University of Rochester (20-5) at 6 p.m. The Red Dragons (25-2) will face Medaille College (23-4) out of Buffalo at 8 p.m. in the second half of this NCAA doubleheader.
The winners will meet at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday back at Corey Gymnasium, with the survivor advancing to a ‘Sweet 16’ four-team sectional on March 9-10. The site for those games has yet to be determined.
“We should be playing with confidence,” said Yeoman, Cortland fresh from capturing the SUNY Athletic Conference regular season and playoff titles. The Red Dragons rallied in the second half to beat defending champion Oswego 59-50 last Saturday night in the finals.
“When you’re the number one seed and you’re expected to win, there’s a lot of pressure there,” she added. “We’re more anxious than nervous this week.”
Freshman forward Jessica Laing and sophomore forward Sara Cavanaugh are the leading scorers for the Red Dragons.
Laing averages 16 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, and her 433 points and 295 rebounds are the most ever by a freshman at Cortland. She was named Rookie of the Year in the SUNYAC.
Cavanaugh was the SUNYAC Player of the Year after averaging 14.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots per game. She became only third place in school history to score over 1,000 points in three seasons or less, her 1,082 career total currently ninth best in school history.
Sophomore guard Maggie Byrne was named the MVP of last week’s conference playoffs, and averages 11 points and 4.3 assists per game. Senior guard Kerry Costello and sophomore Ali Canale around out the starting five. Veteran Costello scores 7.5 points per game, while second year starter Canale averages 7.4 points and six rebounds per contest.
This will be the eighth overall NCAA appearance in school history. The Red Dragons advanced into the tournament last year, bumped off in the first round by Rochester 83-65 in the first round.
Winning the SUNYAC title earned Cortland its automatic berth into the NCAAs. The Lady Mavs of Medaille advanced by winning the Alleghany Mountain Collegiate Conference title, beating Penn State-Behrend 66-39 in the playoff finals last weekend.
Both Rochester and St. Lawrence earned one of 20 ‘Pool C’ at-large bids. Rochester tied for third place in the rugged University Athletic Association, which has four teams in the field of 63 for this NCAA event. St. Lawrence advanced despite losing to Hamilton 65-55 in the Liberty League title game.



Dragons hope to bounce back in home lax opener

Sports Editor

After a wake-up call last weekend, the SUNY Cortland men’s lacrosse team looks to respond on their home field this weekend.
The defending NCAA Division III national champions will be hosting Gordon College from Massachusetts at 1 p.m. Saturday. It will be the Red Dragons first appearance at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex under new head coach Steve Beville.
The Red Dragons are still smarting from last Saturday’s 10-9 loss to Villa Julie in Maryland to open the season.
“We learned we are definitely not last year’s team,” said Beville of that setback to Villa Julie, an up-and-coming program filled with Division I transfers. “There were times during the game when the guys may have been looking for Abbott or O’Connell or Gaebel, and they weren’t out there.”
Beville arrived from Division I Vermont to take over the Red Dragon program after interim coach Rich Barnes stepped down prior to a thrilling 13-12 overtime win over Salisbury in the Division III title game played in Philadelphia last Memorial Day weekend. He was referring to midfielder Mike Abbott (40 goals-11 assists), midfielder Matt O’Connell (31 goals-31 assists) and goalie Ben Gaebel (6.16 goals against average) who were among the mainstays of last year’s 18-3 championship squad.
The Red Dragons also must replace folks like attackman Kyle Lambert (44 goals-23 assists), as well as starting defensemen Dan Schmitt and Casey Dougherty, off that experienced squad.
Not that the Red Dragons are starving for talent.
There is a veteran group of starting attackmen — starting with senior attackman Mike Felice out of Baldwinsville. He scored 32 goals and had 17 assists last year, including the game-winning OT tally against Salisbury.
Junior Ryan Heath, another former Baldwinsville Bee, and junior Billy Fuchs started on attack against Villa Julie. Heath had 29 goals and 20 assists last year.
The starting midfield unit features the Simensky brothers and junior Adam Hyde. Senior Ryan Simensky had 27 goals and 23 assists last year, while Hyde found the net 17 times. Junior Kyle Simensky was one of the few bright spots in Beville’s mind in the loss to Villa Julie, pumping in a pair of goals.
Senior Cheney Raymond is an All-American long-stick midfielder, and the Red Dragons have junior defensive middies (and SUNY Cortland football players) Keith Greene and Greg Steward back, too. Junior Josh Cittadino emerged last season as a productive faceoff man and is among those returning, senior midfielder Bill Gleason also able to handle that vital chore.
Some fresh faces are on the scene. Freshmen like midfielder Chris Dutkowsky out of Vestal, attackman Kevin Keown from Morristown in New Jersey and defensive midfielder Craig Smith from Corning West are looking to be regular contributors to Cortland success.
The defense had the most holes to fill, Coach Beville starting four newcomers against Villa Julie. Injuries to sophomores long sticks Luke Lemon and Kevin Mitchell were part of that reason — junior Nick Bueti, junior Brina Dilley and sophomore Matt Noble out of LaFayette the starters last Saturday. Lemon is due back for the Gordon game, while Mitchell should be ready to go when Western New England visits Cortland Wednesday afternoon.
Sophomores Matt Hipenbecker and Michael Robinson are battling to see who settles in goal for the departed Gaebel, a hero in last year’s title game. Hipenbecker got the start against Villa Julie, with Robinson expected to be the starter against Gordon.