Defending co-champs to meet in N-O opener

By Mike Wertman, Sports Writer Posted 8 February 2021 at 9:55 am

Photos by Cheryl Wertman – Albion’s Bailey Blanchard, left, Medina’s Tyler Chinn and Roy-Hart’s Tom Ragonese will help lead their teams into Friday’s Niagara-Orleans League season openers.

Last season Albion ended a lengthy title drought by sharing the Niagara-Orleans League boys basketball championship with Newfane at 9-3 a game ahead of runner-up Medina at 8-4.

Interestingly, the defending co-champs will meet in the N-O season opener as Albion will visit Newfane on Friday.

Friday’s other openers will have Barker at Medina and Roy-Hart at Wilson as Akron draws the bye.

Senior Bailey Blanchard, who earned N-O All-League Honorable Mention last season, heads Albion’s group of returning regulars which also includes seniors Anthony Freeman, Zach Coleccechi and Chris Shabazz. The Purple Eagles also return seniors Elijah Lloyd, Christian Doty, Kyle Woolston and Damion Lattimer.

“We’ve got a good group back so we”re looking to build off of last year and keep that rolling,” said Travis Downs who has taken over the varsity helm after guiding the JV squad the past couple of years. “The expectations are high both for the kids and me. It’s going to be a quick start so we have to hit the ground running.”

The Purple Eagles graduation losses included first team N-O All-League honoree Deyonci Farley, second team selection Kevin Hillman and Honorable Mention pick Liam Ward.

Newfane’s veteran group is led by seniors Sam Capen, a second team All-League honoree, and Michael Carmer, an Honorable Mention selection. The Panthers also have experience in seniors Deuce Capen, Jeremy Foltz, Trevor Heschke and Cade Littman.

The Panthers graduation losses included first Team All-League honoree Garrett Srock, second team selection Josh Everett and Honorable Mention pick Connor MacAvoy.

Medina returns a quartet of starters in seniors Tyler Chinn and Brian Fry along with juniors Joe Cecchini and Jarin Rhim. Chinn earned second team All-League honors while Fry and Rhim were both Honorable Mention selections.

The Mustangs also return experience in seniors Christian Drisdom, Dontea Rhim, Matt Henning and David Rhim along with junior Ricky Wood.

The Mustangs only graduation loss was Nate Sherman who earned first team All-League honors.

“We’ve got a good group back and we’re very happy to be getting the season in,” said Eric Hellwig who has taken over the varsity  reins as Tom Forrestel is not coaching this season due to Covid-19 concerns.

Roy-Hart, which is looking to improve upon last year’s 4-8 N-O record, also returns a good veteran contingent including seniors Tom Ragonese, Rhett Goodwin and Jon Gillings along with juniors Gavyn Boyle and Aiden Petrie.  Ragonese was a second team All-League honoree while Godwin and Boyle were both Honorable Mention selections.

“We’ve got five guys returning with good experience and that certainly will help us,” said Joe Pawlak. “The big keys for us are to play solid defense, rebound and get out and run. This is a close group and they are excited to get the season going.”

Barker graduate Jake Haight, who helped lead the Raiders to an undefeated (14-0) N-O title season his senior year (2014), takes over the varsity helm.

“Our goal is to give the guys a season and have fun doing it,” said Haight. “The kids are all excited to get back. It’s for them.”

Senior Joey Brandt, who earned All-League Honorable Mention last year, heads Barker’s veteran group which also includes seniors Shane Gerhardt, Logan Harris, Cole Ecker and junior Nathan Meza-Ray. The Raiders lineup also includes senior Nick Guezera and sophomore Brad Cantrell who looks to handle the point guard chores.

Wilson, which went 7-5 last year, is led by senior Mike Miller who earned All-League Honorable Mention. The Lakemen’s graduation losses included first team All-League honoree Luke Bradley.

Akron, which went 5-7 last year, returns a solid veteran senior group including first team All-League honoree Adam Mietz, Honorable Mention selections Mitchell Holtz and Jake Mazza along with David Kalinowski.