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PARK SHIFTS INTO OVERDRIVE <br> TINY INDEPENDENT IS UNDEFEATED AND RANKED NO. 2 IN THE STATE

Take a look at The News boys basketball small schools poll.

No. 1 . . . Turner/Carroll. Check.

No. 2 . . . Traditional. Check.

No. 3 . . . Park.

Park?

The team from the itty-bitty Independent Athletic Conference? The one with just 58 boys in the entire high school?

Yes, that Park.

Undefeated through 12 games, it has earned its highest spot ever in The News Poll by dominating its nine non-league opponents. The tiny private school in Snyder -- which sends 100 percent of its graduates to college -- has beaten two Class A, three B and four C teams by an average of 26 points per game.

And the word has gotten out. The Pioneers are also the No. 2 team in the New York State Sportswriters Class D poll behind Blind Brook (Section I).

"People that know basketball know we have a good team," said Michael Dugan, who has coached at Park since 1980. "People know that for a small school, we'll come out and we'll play you tough."

As a member of the IAC -- along with Christian Central, West Seneca Christian, Gow and St. Mary's School for the Deaf -- respect among the powers of Section VI and the Msgr. Martin Association is not easily attained. Park's 13-0 record makes it one of just two unbeatens in Western New York (Sherman is the other at 9-0), but it's the Pioneers' 9-0 mark in nonleague action that has them tucked right behind defending state champions Turner/Carroll (Class B) and Traditional (public school Class C).

"It feels good to see us up there," said leading scorer Jason Hargrove, who averages more than 27 points a game. "I think we should have set up a game with Traditional. I'm not sure if we could hang with Turner, but it would be a good game with Traditional."

The Pioneers won their bracket of the Al Pastor Tournament (with victories over Emerson and McKinley), their own tip-off tournament (Grover Cleveland, Cleveland Hill), and their own holiday tourney (Hutch-Tech, Burgard). They've also beaten Wilson, St. Mary's of Lancaster and Medina. Medina was the only Western New York team to beat Park last year, a 93-81 overtime decision. This year, Park beat Medina by 53 points (96-43).

A trio of senior four-year starters is led by Hargrove, a pure scorer who passed the 1,600-point mark for his career earlier this season. Hargrove is a front runner for New York's Class D Player of the Year award after earning a second-team all-state selection last year. Jason Zawodzinski (6-4) is an intelligent pivot man, while guard Stephen Coppola is an excellent passer. Complementing the Pioneers' attack are senior forward Ricco Jones and sophomore guard Dominic Currie-Bishop, who both have solid jump shots to accompany some explosive driving ability.

"We've had the same squad for the last few years -- some of us have been playing together since middle school," Coppola said. "I think the difference between this year and last year is that we're playing defense. We're pressing, we're getting into teams' faces and doing a good job playing pressure defense."

Park went 22-2 last year, including a loss in the New York State Independent Schools Athletic Association semifinals, but never was voted higher than No. 7 in The News Poll and wasn't even ranked by season's end.

"Being such a small school we don't get a lot of recognition," Coppola said. "Now this year it's starting to come around and it feels really good that we're finally being noticed."

Only two non-league matchups -- with Starpoint (tonight) and Canada's Governor Simcoe (Feb. 14) -- and four IAC games stand between Park and a perfect regular season. Then, as the public and Catholic schools head to their tournaments, Park's postseason is the NYSISAA tournament in New York City.

"We have a shot to make it to the finals if we do everything right," Dugan said.

Park isn't alone as a surprise team making noise and news this season -- so are Riverside, Kensington, Frewsburg and Fredonia.

Riverside: The Frontiers (7-5, 4-2), led by high-scoring Karl Rainey, raised some eyebrows by handing East Aurora its first loss of the season. Rainey scored 41 points in Riverside's 94-70 rout of Bennett on Jan. 13.

Kensington: After losing its top eight players from last year's squad, the Knights jumped to a 4-0 start in Yale Cup play and handed Iroquois its lone loss. Kensington's record is 7-6, but its losses were to toughies St. Joe's, Turner/Carroll, Seneca, Sweet Home, Hamburg and Edison (Rochester).

Frewsburg: The Bears have started the season 10-3 and 5-2 after going 9-12 and 5-7 last season. Despite last week's 32-point loss at CCIAC II favorite Westfield, the Bears should improve markedly on their No. 9 seeding in last year's Class C-2 Sectionals. Silver Creek, whose records are identical to Frewsburg's, is another turnaround case. The Black Knights went 11-10 last year, including 5-9 in CCIAC I.

Fredonia: Southwestern was expected to battle Olean for the CCIAC I title, but Fredonia (10-4, 5-2) has made it an intriguing three-team mix. The Hillbillies have been thumped by Olean twice, but knocked off Southwestern two weeks ago. Their other losses are very respectable (LaSalle, Orchard Park).

Teams on top

Timon/St. Jude: Grabbed the area's top spot with pulse-pounding, 78-70 victory over Turner/Carroll last Friday. Charlie Comerford is a 6-foot-5 microcosm of the Tigers (12-1, 4-1), as he's able to hurt teams by banging inside or by hitting the three-point shot. Only blemish is an overtime loss at St. Joe's.

Turner/Carroll: No big men, no problem. The ultra-quick Chargers (10-2, 2-1) have been totally suffocating on defense, which usually turns into their offense. Teams have to play a near-perfect game to beat them. Julius Page has been steadily spectacular, while Ka'Ron Barnes has been spectacular with his steadiness. Only nonleague loss was to national power DeMatha (Md.) at a tournament in Hamilton (Ont.).

Traditional: Like Turner/Carroll, their spot amongst the top teams was expected. Their three losses are deceiving: Bulls (10-3, 6-0) have lost twice to Turner/Carroll and once at Utica Notre Dame in a rematch of last year's state title game. Has only Yale Cup games remaining and should be primed for a run at a repeat Class C state championship.

Niagara Falls: Talk about going out in style! In their final season before merging with LaSalle to form the "new" Niagara Falls High School Wolverines, the Power Cats (9-1, 6-0) are the favorite to be Section VI's Class A champ. The Cats topped 100 points last week vs. Grand Island, and their only loss was at Pennsylvania powerhouse McDowell.

St. Francis: St. Francis' 82-63 rout of St. Joe's solidifies its No. 3 standing in the large school poll and its spot amongst this top five. Has thrived despite an injury to 6-4 junior forward Michael Kubera.

ON THE RISE

Park: Aiming for perfect season and Class D state title.

Riverside: Karl Rainey and Co. dealt East Aurora its only loss.

Kensington: Have reloaded after losing a ton of talent.

Frewsburg: A CCIAC II surprise along with Silver Creek.

Fredonia: Made CCIAC I three-team race by beating Southwestern.
ON TOP

Timon/St. Jude: Arrived on top with win over Turner/Carroll.

Turner/Carroll: Looking toward Feb. 22 rematch with Tigers.

Traditional: It'll be hard to keep them from returning to Glens Falls.

Niagara Falls: Shaping up to be a great final year for Power Cats.

St. Francis: Another Msgr. Martin team edges out St. Joe's.

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