Even 11 months later, the Ellicottville boys basketball team remembers what a bitter ending tastes like.
Regular season success has become an expectation for this group at Ellicottville, winners of five consecutive league championships in CCAA East II (including winning the last two outright after tying with Franklinville twice). Friday’s season-opening 85-39 win over Pine Valley and Tuesday’s 68-24 win at North Collins marked the Eagles’ 29th and 30th consecutive victories in league play.
But for all their league victories, the Eagles have fallen just short of their ultimate goal in the postseason in recent years. Since moving up to Class C (in the C2 bracket), Ellicottville has lost back-to-back sectional semifinals by a combined seven points. The year before, in 2017-18, ECS lost a 1-point heartbreaker in the Class D semifinals.
“Ultimately we want to try and get to that sectional final and ultimately win it,” Eagles coach Dave McCann said. “For these guys, I think we've lost in the semifinals the last two years by a total of seven points and both those games I thought we had chances to win and we just didn't get over the hump. I think we've learned from those things and I think we're in a pretty good spot with what we have returning. I think the motivation's there to do that and hopefully have a successful season.”
For a group of nine seniors, this season represents a chance to finally get over that hump. Of course, after the season was delayed due to COVID-19, Ellicottville’s seniors were thrilled to get the chance to play again.
“We're kind of taking the attitude that we're not going to take any day for granted,” McCann said. “So far it's been a pretty relaxed atmosphere in practice, guys are having a lot of fun, they're laughing, they're joking. We're just trying to make the most of it. We know it's a shortened season but like I told them from the beginning of the year, at least they get to put some sort of conclusion to the careers they've had.”
Ellicottville has three seniors with at least three years of varsity experience: Clayton Rowland (his fourth year after being called up as a freshman), Leif Jimerson and Wyatt Chudy. Junior Logan Grinols is also in his third varsity season, having seen action in his freshman year. McCann sees the Eagles’ experience as a big plus as they prepared for a condensed, two-month season on short notice, practicing for a little more than a week before game action started.
“I was in kind of a little bit more fortunate situation than I think some of the other schools around (us) in that I had a majority of my kids coming back from last year,” McCann said. “We have 11 guys on the team this year, 12 counting an injured one, and really all but one of them had played last year. We returned quite a bit of experience, so really the first couple of weeks have just been about trying to get legs under kids and getting them back into game shape and just getting the basketball skill up to a more game-ready level and that's come along really quick.”
That advantage appeared to help in the Eagles’ season-opening win. McCann also commended his three co-captains for their leadership.
“With this many seniors, a lot of them are stepping up,” McCann said. “My three that have been with me the longest (Rowland, Chudy and Jimerson) have all taken strides in leadership, I think they're a little bit more vocal this year than they were last. They've all embraced that role but then I look at kids like Ryan DeKay who's going to be my sixth man this year. He comes in and leads by example on defense, he's tons of energy and just plays hard and plays smart. We have kids like that that are all stepping up in practice. They're wanting to succeed and putting the effort forth to do that.”
Class C2 includes nine schools this year: Ellicottville, Randolph, Maple Grove, Frewsburg, Silver Creek, Cassadaga Valley, Holland, Westfield and Barker. As the season progresses, McCann will stress playing a full 32 minutes to give his team a chance to compete with the best in the biggest moments.
“I think we need to just play consistently,” he said. “Last year I think we struggled and especially in bigger games to put together a full 32 minutes. When you're playing good teams down the road like Salamanca and Randolph in the playoffs and some of these other teams in our league like Franklinville, we've got to be able to play a full 32 minutes. We can't afford, we're not talented enough to have a 10-minute span or an 8-minute span where we don't play our best. That's the ultimate goal I want to see.”
2021 Ellicottville Boys Basketball Schedule
(All games 7:30 unless otherwise noted)
12 — Pine Valley
16 — at North Collins, 6:30 p.m.
18 — at Forestville
19 — at Randolph
22 — Cattaraugus-Little Valley
24 — Randolph
25 — at Franklinville
27 — at Salamanca
3 — at Pine Valley
5 — North Collins, 6 p.m.
9 — Forestville
12 — at Cattaraugus-Little Valley
16 — Franklinville
19 — Salamanca