September 8, 2006


Confident Dragons open up


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Third-year starting SUNY Cortland quarterback Alex Smith will be taking snaps from center Dan DiFalco when the season starts Saturday in Morrisville.

Sports Editor

With so many starters returning, so many juniors and seniors dominating the depth chart, no one can blame SUNY Cortland for lofty football expectations.
Why shouldn’t the Red Dragons feel good about themselves prior to Saturday’s season opener at SUNY Morrisville, scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. at Drake Field in front of Time Warner television cameras?
A Cortland defense that set a school record with 52 sacks a year ago, that was ranked second nationally among Division III schools in rushing yards allowed per game, has nine starters returning.
A Cortland offense that features third year starter Alex Smith at quarterback, that has every Red Dragon who caught a 2005 pass back in the fold, also has nine starters returning.
It’s almost too good of a situation.
“Danger is everywhere,” says head coach Dan MacNeill when the phrase over-confidence is thrown into the conversation. MacNeill has a 57-36 record heading into his 10th season directing his alma mater.
“It’s how the kids handle it,” he added. “It’s good to be confident, but you don’t want over-confidence. You have to have an edge to your game and be able to handle the success.”
Cortland confidence comes after finishing with a 7-3 record last autumn. The Red Dragons shared first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference with national power Rowan and beat archrival Ithaca College in a classic Cortaca Jug overtime tussle.
And a frustrating 23-22 loss to Hobart in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs only helped the Red Dragons focus on the 2006 task at hand.
Coach MacNeill felt last Saturday’s scrimmage ‘rematch’ with Hobart was a success, and hopes to continue that momentum against Division III newcomer Morrisville — in a game that does not officially count in the eyes of the Division III hierarchy. Playing the Mustangs in any capacity certainly beats the disjointed nine-game regular season scheduled the Red Dragons endured in recent years.
Here’s a look at Cortland’s leaders on offense and_defense.
Red Dragon Defense
Senior defensive tackle Adam Haas was a first team All-America and the NJAC Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot, 260-pound ball of energy anchors a defensive front four that features 260-pound senior tackle Mike Connolly at tackle, senior captain Rich Coyne at end and junior Dryden High product Brad Robison at the other end spot.
Middle linebacker and captain Matt Montpetit is also back for his senior season, the first team NJAC performer with 73 tackles a year ago. A groin injury has limited some of his pre-season work, though he is expected to start at Morrisville.
Senior Bill Hauser (86 tackles) is also back at linebacker, while junior Dave D’Aurelio moves to the other starting linebacker slot with returning starter Josh Jablonski out of action. A mid-summer basketball ankle injury has slowed Jablonski, who had 57 tackles last year and is the school record holder in blocked kicks. “He’s chomping at the bit to get back out on the field,” says Coach MacNeill, hoping the senior will be able to practice Monday.
Senior safety Stef Sair, an honorable mention All-America, has a dozen career interceptions to lead the secondary. He next theft will be a school record. Junior Dequan Howard out of Nottingham in Syracuse beat out 2005 starter Greg Steward for a corner back starting spot, with junior Jeff Beck back at the other cornerback position. Junior Dan Yaeger is the other safety, a spot vacated when past starter Chuck Eich did not return to school.
Red Dragon Offense
Replacing both offensive guards with 325-pound junior James Mignone from Sachem and 280-pound junior Steve Longinott out of Cornwell would be a major concern. “That doesn’t seem to be a big concern right now because the offense is playing very well,” said MacNeill, Longinott a past center of experience.
Running back Matt Rickert is back, healthy and running hard according to MacNeill. And as far as the continued progress of quarterback Smith: “It’s been fun watching Alex,” said MacNeill.
Smith threw for  1,720 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 57 percent of his passes, and ran for four other TDs. He has his top receiver back, too — senior Anthony Morat out of Rome Free who caught 43 balls covering 563 yards with six touchdowns.
Senior split end Drew Lascari (24 catches), junior tight end Paul Caughell (Smith’s former high school teammate at Niagara-Wheatfield who caught 14 passes) and sophomore Zak Carter (who caught 19 passes before suffering a series knee injury against Hobart last year) all are experienced receivers. Junior Keith Greene, junior Stan Cadet and sophomore Mike Lane provide additional depth. And when the Red Dragons go to four receivers, Northeastern transfer and former Dryden High all-star Jeff Lang will get the call.
Rickert (631 yards) and junior back-up Dustin Bowser (592 yards) will be running behind senior fullbacks Mike Sveda and Mike Emard, who are mostly used for blocking purposes. While there are two newcomes are guard, there are also returning seniors Matt Ciquera and David Holleran at tackles, and classmate Dan DiFalco at center.
The offensive has thrived in pre-season despite the health problems (foot infection, detached retina) that has keep quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Dan Lounsbury preoccupied during pre-season. MacNeill credits his veteran coach staff, including offensive line coach Nate Milne, for helping fill that coaching void.
Red Dragon Extras
Senior Jimmy Cuneen is back to handle the punting, with junior Matthew Mintz the placekicker. Sair is one of the top punt returners in the country, with cornerback Beck also ready to return kicks.
And though this is an experience squad, some new faces in the program will help.
“We really like our freshman class,” says MacNeill, talking up running back Binny Smith out of Dryden, the talents of quarterback Sean Pratt from Brockport, the potential of tight end Paul Oliver from Phoenix and the heft of a bunch of new offensive linemen. “There’s no question that there aren’t a lot of places to compete right now, but it’s a pretty good class.”
After facing Morrisville, the Red Dragons face Brockport in a Sept. 16 home opener at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex. Then it’s on to NJAC play. Cortland concludes league play at Rowan on Nov. 4, the week before hosting Ithaca in the Cortaca Jug game.
“It’s a brutal schedule, with Rowan at the end, but it’s well placed,” felt MacNeill.

   Saturday: Cortland at Morrisville (nl, 1), Buffalo State at Ithaca (nl, 1), The College of New Jersey at LaSalle (nl, 1), St. Peter’s at Western Connecticut (nl, noon), William Paterson at Muhlenberg (nl, 1)
   Standings: Cortland 0-0 (0-0 overall), Buffalo State 0-0 (1-0), Kean 0-0 (0-1), Montclair State 0-0 (1-0), Rowan 0-0 (1-0), The College of New Jersey 0-0 (0-1), Western Connecticut State 0-0 (0-0), William Paterson 0-0 (0-1)

   Sept 9 at Morrisville* (1), 16 BROCKPORT* (1), 23 at Buffalo State (1), 30 WILLIAM PATERSON (1)
   Oct. 7 KEAN (1), 14 at Western Connecticut State (noon), 21 at Montclair State (1), 28 COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY (1)
   Nov. 4 at Rowan (1), 11 ITHACA* (noon)
   *-Non-league games. Home games in CAPS.



Mexico seeking revenge vs. CHS

Staff Writer

Mexico football coach Tee Murabito doesn’t have to look very far in time or place in looking to motivate his squad for today’s 7 p.m. Section 3 Class A American Division contest with visiting Cortland High.
“They came up here and beat us 20-18 last season,” Murabito said, referring to a crossover game that doomed his team, then in Class B, to a losing season (4-5). “That left a sour taste in our mouths, and we have a lot of players back who remember that this team cost us a winning season last year.”
In fact, the Tigers return “eight or nine” offensive starters, according to Murabito, and seven on defense, to just five each way for CHS.
“This is probably the best Mexico team I’ve seen,” said Cortland coach Jim Brown, whose club played the Oswego County outfit in Class B until moving up to Class A in 2002. “They’ve got a 40-man roster and good lines, with good size and speed. They’ve also got several seniors; they’re really a very, very good team.”
Individuals who caught Brown’s eye in looking at film from Mexico’s 35-28 loss at defending league co-champion Fulton last Friday start with senior quarterback Mike LaDuke (5-9, 170 pounds). “He seems to have improved a lot since last year. He throws well and is a strong runner,” Brown said.
Junior fullback Tyler Peter (6-0, 245) also stood out, Brown saying: “He’s really big and a real nice runner, and also plays middle linebacker on defense.”
The halfbacks are seniors Derrick Allen (6-0, 205) and Chris Spereno (5-7, 150). “Allen looks good,” Brown said. “He has good speed, and good speed for his size, while Spereno is smaller but quick. They also have a standout receiver in Josh Matteson (6-0, 180 senior), who made some nice plays in the films I saw.”
Brown also noted that the Mexico offensive line has good size, the top players including junior tackle Jed Smith (5-11, 330), senior center Kevin Miller (6-2, 230), senior guard Aaron Lynch (6-4, 220) and junior tight end Phil Hayden (6-3, 235).



Homer gets worn down by host Lakers

CAZENOVIA — Simply put, Cazenovia wore down visiting Homer Central boys Thursday and broke a 1-1 tie with three goals in the final 18 minutes to post a 4-1 OHSL Liberty National Division soccer win,
“Cazenovia is a little bigger, older and stronger,” Homer coach Dave Shiffman said. “Cazenovia is a good team and they deserved to win.
“I am not disappointed with our kids effort at all. They continued to work hard. We still need some work on our teamwork. That should improve as the season progresses. Our guys just need to trust their partner on the field.”
Homer (1-1 league and overall) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first two minutes of the match. Pat Cleary took advantage of a misplayed ball by Lakers goalkeeper Colin Hill (eight saves). Hill bobbled the ball, it came free and Cleary fired it into the net.
Cazenovia (1-0, 3-0) evened the score at 1-1 on an own goal as a ball deflected off a Homer defender during a crossing attempt.
With the score deadlocked at intermission, the game remained 1-1 until the late game burst by the host Lakers.
Nick Rodgers started the Cazenovia run as he converted a nice feed from Andy Schicho with 18 minutes left. Seven minutes later, Rodgers slide a pass to Mark Esposito, who found an opening and delivered a low, hard shot past keeper Jack Kissel. Rodgers completed the scoring with 4:01 remaining after another pass from Schicho.
“Nick Rodgers and Andy Schicho are two very good players,” Shiffman said. “Both guys are tall and lanky. They struck the ball very well.”
Three Trojan players drew praised from their coach after the game.
“Paul Zimmerman continues to improve and play well,” Shiffman said. “Derrick McCall is really hustling and seems to be on the ball all the time. Erich Londhorst got his first game with significant minutes and did a very good job.”
Joe May played the first half in the Homer goal and made four saves while Kissel played the second half and notched three saves.
Homer will return to action Tuesday as the_Trojans host Marcellus in a 6:30 p.m. contest at Butts Field.



Homer girls have plenty of quality runners

Staff Writer

The quantity may not be there, but the quality is as the Homer Central cross country team prepares to open the 2006 season Saturday morning at the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Invitational.
The Trojans will also head into the new season for the first time in 29 years without veteran coach Jerry Frare, who retired after the 2005 season was completed. The new head man will be Jim Baldwin, who has been an assistant track coach for the past three seasons, but has never coached cross-country.
“There are some big shoes to fill,” Baldwin said of taking over the program. “I am lucky because, even though I am new, I have two very good assistant coaches who I have worked with before.”
Gordon Valentine is back as an assistant coach in 2006 and so is Jason Clark.
“Their experience and dedication to the program will continue the tradition of excellence in Homer cross country developed by Jerry Frare over all these years,” Baldwin said.
There are just six girls on the varsity roster, but four make up the fantastic core of which the program will continue to grow. Juniors Heather Wilson, Megan Harmon, Laura Niederhofer and Caitlin McMahon are back and this quartet was part of the 2005 OHSL Freedom Division undefeated dual-meet and league championship teams. The Lady Trojans placed eighth in the OHSL Overall Championships and placed second in the Section 3 Class B Championships at South Jefferson.
Wilson placed second at sectionals and third in the OHSL Overall Championships, fourth in the Freedom Division Championships and 16th at the State Meet.
“Heather has really worked hard this summer,” Baldwin said. “That commitment has really paid off in the pre-season. Heather is looking for a strong season and a return to the state meet at Warwick Valley.”
Niederhofer had a strong season as she placed eighth at the Freedom Championships and 17th at the Class B Championships while Harmon was 20th and 30th in the same two events. “Laura and Megan have run strongly in the first few weeks of practice,” Baldwin said. “Laura also had a successful summer cross-country camp.”
McMahon has shown great promise, but her sophomore season was cut short by injuries. She returns healthy this fall, but the coaching staff will not push her hard early in the season.
“Caitlin has been making the slow progression back into running form she showed as a freshman,” Baldwin explained. “The coaching staff wants to allow her time to develop strength to be ready for the heart of the season instead of pushing her in the early part of the season.”
Rounding out the roster for the varsity girls are senior Caitlyn Baldassarre and junior Jessica Bramhall.