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As if things in ECIC I boys soccer weren't competitive enough, here comes Hamburg to make things even harder.

The Bulldogs, who won just two games and finished second to last in the league last season, are ranked third in the WNY boys soccer coaches' poll after a 4-0 start that includes a 2-1 defeat of powerful Clarence.

"The kids are working incredibly hard and putting in a great amount of effort," said third-year Hamburg coach Jim Harrigan. "We've got a very tough division. At this point of the season I wouldn't have thought we'd be this successful as far as our record -- I definitely thought we would be competitive."

Competitive is the buzzword of the ECIC I. A league that already included defending Section VI Class A champion Lancaster became even more powerful with this year's addition of the other Class A finalist, Clarence. To make room, the league lost last-place West Seneca West.

How grueling will this regular season be? Based on last year's results, the weakest team entering the season appeared to be Hamburg.

"There's nobody that's going to be easy," said Lancaster coach Joe Adamec. "Whoever's healthy at the end of the season is going to be the key."

Injuries helped contribute to Hamburg's 2-8-2 season last year, as four starters were out for half the season.

Senior captains Nick Watkins (midfield), Andy Echeverria (midfield) and Matt Infante (sweeper) lead a Bulldogs lineup comprised mainly of juniors. Two juniors that have been impressive have been forward Brandon Derkacz -- who gave Hamburg its 2-1 win over Clarence with an outstanding breakaway effort -- and midfielder Justin Zeis. Other key Bulldogs are sophomore A.J. Schwartz and seniors Karl Swarts and Ryan Danison.

"The team is very consistent and that's been a big plus for us," said Harrigan, whose team made the Sectional tournament two seasons ago. "We're consistently playing well -- there hasn't been a 60 minutes that we've stunk it up or a half that's been awful. . . . They understand what they have to do as a team, offensively and defensively."

Williamsville East notched a big early-season victory in girls soccer by beating Lake Shore, 4-1. The Flames, who provided the undefeated Eagles' lone regular-season blemish last year with a tie and lost to them on a shootout in the sectional final, had four different goal scorers and got some big second-half saves from Jenna Gage. "It was nice because we played above expectations," said coach Chris Durr. "Hopefully we can keep it going." . . . It is Iroquois who is on top in the WNY girls soccer coaches' large school poll, followed by Grand Island. . . . The Msgr. Martin Association's Division I has a three-way battle going with Holy Angels, Mount Mercy and Nardin, but Sacred Heart should move up once 1999 league MVP Julie Kowzan returns from injury.

Cable wins on state course

Cross country runners are among athletes that like to visualize their performances before their actual competition.

After running at the site where this year's state meet will be held, Frewsburg's Trevor Cable not only can visualize the course, he can visualize winning.

Cable won the Division III boys race Saturday in the New Hartford Invitational at SUNY Utica/Rome. The meet divided teams into four races, not necessarily by school size. Cable beat runners from eight state-ranked schools, such as Class A state power Ithaca, in winning his race in 17:01. His time was third fastest in the four-race meet and tops among local runners.

"It's an advantage for our team to have seen the course, because there's hills there, and woods with wood-chip trails," said Cable, who will be competing with several other top area runners Saturday at the McQuaid Invitational in Rochester. "We're really hoping that our team goes (to states) -- now everybody on our team can visualize what we'll be running on."

Karen Kozub of Alden was the top area girls finisher, taking second in the Division I girls race in 20:44.

Local schools competitive

McQuaid of Section V showed this past weekend why it's one of the state's best boys volleyball teams by winning the 23rd annual Eden Pan-Am Invitational, but Msgr. Martin teams Canisius and St. Francis also fared well.

St. Francis dropped a three-game final to McQuaid, which was led by brothers Brian (MVP) and Dan (all-tournament team) O'Dell. Canisius and Syracuse-area Central Square rounded out the final four of the 16-team tournament.

Eden coach Robert Pierce called St. Francis junior Scott Greene "phenomenal" while Canisius junior Joe Zera was a "difference-maker." Greene and Zera were among eight juniors on the 10-player all-tournament team.

While Eden and other Section VI powers didn't make it past the quarterfinals, that might be more a sign of the competitive balance of the public schools as well as the talent level of the tournament.

"It's highly competitive for boys volleyball in Western New York right now," said Pierce. "This season will be up and down like a thermometer. I don't see any dominant team right now, which is good."

On the girls side, Sweet Home kept rolling by beating some of Pennsylvania's best at the North Allegheny Tournament, dropping just one game on its way to the title. . . . Lancaster went undefeated until the final of the Frontier Invitational, where it outlasted Orchard Park in a three-game final. . . . At the Amherst Tournament, Lew-Port and tourney MVP Sarah Moore bounced back from a pool play loss to beat the hosts in a three-game semifinal and sweep West Seneca West in the championship.

Around the halls

Jamestown bumped Pioneer out of the top spot in the News large school football poll this week, while Albion passed Salamanca for third position in the small school poll as the Purple Eagles prepare to host a Saturday's showdown with Tonawanda. . . . There's no room for losses in the small school poll: Allegany-Limestone dropped right out of the top 10 with its shutout loss at Cassadaga Valley. All top 10 small schools have yet to lose. . . . Upon further review, Allegany-Limestone's Anthony Jeffries was credited for 412 yards on 14 carries against Wilson, not the 447 that was initially reported. That knocks Jeffries down to the eighth-best on the state list of single-game rushing performances, rather than fourth best. . . It couldn't get any better for Bennett this weekend: first a visit from alum Bob Lanier as part of its 75th anniversary celebration, then its first football win in three seasons. . . . The Nichols football team will host Olean Walsh on Saturday at 2 p.m for the Independence Bowl. The series is tied, 3-3.

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