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Cardinal O'Hara, Fredonia top final girls basketball polls

State classification in parentheses; first-place votes in brackets.

Team, Record, Points
1. Cardinal O’Hara [7] 21-6 70
2. Amherst (A) 19-5 60
3. Clarence (AA) 22-3 52
4. Williamsville South (A) 20-4 50
5. Lake Shore (A) 20-2 40
6. Frontier (AA) 14-7 32
7. Sacred Heart 18-8 25
8. Olean (A) 19-4 21
9. Kenmore East (A) 19-3 11
10. Mount St. Mary 18-6 6

Others receiving votes: Lancaster (AA) 5, St. Mary’s of Lancaster 2, Hamburg (A) 1, Lockport (AA) 1.

Pollsters: Jeff Martin, Mike McCarthy, Dan McDermott, Richard Mihalik, Frank Payne, Paul Twarosek, Tim Lindner, Dennis Sarow, John Glose.

Team, Record, Points
1. Fredonia (B) [4] 20-6 61
2. Panama (D) [2] 20-6 57
3. Frewsburg (C) [1] 21-4 49
4. Depew (B) 17-6 42
5. Wilson (B) 20-4 41
6. Franklinville (D) 18-4 39
7. East Aurora (B) 17-5 26
8. Ellicottville (D) 14-2 15
9. Allegany-Limestone (C) 14-9 9
10. Medina (B) 17-6 7

Others receiving votes: St. Mary’s of Lancaster 6, Chautauqua Lake (C) 5, Buffalo Arts (B) 2, Albion (B) 1, Randolph (C)1.

Pollsters: Brian Baker, Jeff Collver, Andrea Drabik, Kevin Klumpp, Lindner, Frank Martin, Fran Snyder.


The two polls of local girls high school basketball teams couldn’t have been more different during the course of the season.

Among large schools, Cardinal O’Hara (21-6) was the No. 1 team in the poll at the start of the season, No. 1 at the end of it, and No. 1 every week in between. In fact, no other team ever received a single first-place vote. No one will ever top that standard for dominance.

In contrast, the small-school poll turned into a scramble. East Aurora led each week in the early going until center Emma Brinker suffered a season-ending knee injury, and the list of contenders changed weekly. A team that got hot at the end figured to win the honor, and Fredonia did that by going all the way to the New York State semifinals. The Hillbillies (20-7) finished just ahead of Panama, which reached the State’s Class D finals.

Cardinal O’Hara coach Nick O’Neil enjoyed the wins along the way, but he points to the season-ending loss in the playoffs to The Mary Louis Academy as proof about just how good the Hawks were.

“The team we lost to went all the way to the Federation championship, and their best player,” Danielle Patterson, a Notre Dame commit, “played in the McDonald’s All-America game and was one of the top players in the country,” O’Neil said. “I didn’t know that until I saw her in the game.

“It just shows what we’re doing at Cardinal O’Hara is something special. In the last five years, we’ve had a girl on the All-Western New York first team, and in four of those years we had two. I hope we can continue that.”

The Hawks have established the dominant basketball program in Western New York for those five years. In 2016-17, they landed two players on the All-Western New York first team. They were the only team, in fact to have two of the top 20 in the area, and two more players were named as honorable mention selections.

“I wouldn’t say we overachieved,” O’Neil said. “I went back and looked at our schedule. We played four of the five top teams in Double-A, those who were ranked one through five. In Class A, we played four of the top teams. Our schedule was the best in the state outside of Long Island Lutheran or Christ the King,” two downstate powerhouses.

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The Cardinal O’Hara coach hopes the performance of his team is helping the level of play throughout the region by raising the bar for excellence.

“I have seen it for the last couple of years,” he said. “All of our girls were playing AAU ball and training hard, and they are playing great competition in high school. You can see how other coaches are starting to play the same teams that we’ve been playing. I’ve tried to secure games against some of the better teams from around the state. I feel that it only helps us.”

Fredonia knows something about the value of a tough schedule too. Hillbillies coach Carol Zirkle started in the preseason by scrimmaging good teams. When the games started to count, the tests continued.

“You want to play tough teams, but you need to have a purpose,” she said. “Franklinville was a tough team. Allegany-Limestone has a strong forward, Franklinville has great guards. Lake Shore is very quick.

Panama has a great press. You are trying to schedule teams that force you to improve.”

When the playoffs arrived, the Hillbillies were ready. Everyone knew they were better than a sixth seed, although that’s where the complicated point system placed them in Class B1. The first couple of wins came fairly easily, and then the thrills began to mount.

“The girls just seemed to get better,” Zirkle said. “We had been watching East Aurora all season, and we came out against them and our top defenders played incredible ball. Then we’re at the game we want to win at Buffalo State, and we pulled that off to beat Depew for the B1 title. To be down by 10 points and come back and win was a thrill.

“Then we played Wilson, and I knew how good they are. It was intense, and we won. Then we got Mynderse” in the Far West Regionals. “We were able to see them on line, and they looked very good on tape. The girls responded.”

Both Cardinal O’Hara and Fredonia had “stars.” Zeigler and Cori Dickson were first-team All-Western New York, while Hannah Cybart of the Hillbillies was a second-team choice. But they had plenty of support from their teammates.

“Our girls have to buy into the team concept,” O’Neil said. “Sometimes it’s hard for the girls when kids from other schools score 30 and 40 points, knowing they could do the same thing. But we want to have team success. We want to showcase all of the girls’ talents. ... Anndea and Cori ask to come out of the game if we’re way ahead so that the other kids can come in. I appreciate that, because it helps me coach, and it shows what kind of kids they are.”

For Fredonia, Cybart was the unquestioned leader, and it was a good idea to have her touch the ball on most possessions. But sometimes during the playoff run, Cybart was in foul trouble or closely guarded. Other players stepped up.

“That was a key to our success - there were so many players who could score,” Zirkle said. “It really seemed to help.”

The point was emphasized in the state semifinal, when Katie Price scored 20 points in less than six minutes in the third quarter to keep Fredonia close.

“She was in such a zone that day,” the coach remembered. “She just knew the ball was going in. That was one of the most impressive stretches of time I’ve ever seen a player have.”

It never takes a coach long to start thinking about the next season once the current season ends. O’Neil and Zirkle hope they won’t be in a rebuilding mode after their great seasons.

“We lose four seniors - that’s probably why everyone is calling me for a game next season,” O’Neil joked. “We’ve got a young core that’s very good. I think we’ll have girls on the All-Western New York team next year. Other girls laid the foundation for them, and they’ll lay a foundation for those to come.”

“We lose four - the Cybart twins, Hannah and Caitlin; Zoya Kotter, a defensive specialist; and Morgan St. George, our first sub,” Zirkle said. “That’s a lot of talent we’re losing but they’ve done a great job of developing a team atmosphere. I hope the juniors will be able to step up next year.”

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