A year ago at this time Olean coach Jeff Anastasia was studying the Class B-1 bracket at the seedings meeting at Depew, wondering if he had the horses to win a Section VI title.
Not only did his Huskies do that, they rode all the way to Glens Falls where they captured the state's Class B championship. Olean opens defense of its title this week as the annual Section VI Tournament tips off.
Olean won CCAA I for the eighth year in a row and brings back one starter from last year's championship squad, Joe Palumbo.
"When people say we're the defending state champions, we're a totally new team," said Anastasia, a 1977 Olean graduate. "We told the kids, 'Hey, go out there, we're starting over again.' We're trying to extend and move on from what last year's team accomplished."
Coaches like to make a case that their bracket is "loaded." The point is well-taken in Class B-1 where five teams come in as champions of their league. No. 1 seed East Aurora took ECIC III, No. 2 Olean won CCAA I, No. 3 Medina won the Niagara-Orleans League and No. 4 Lackawanna and No. 5 Alden shared ECIC IV.
Here's an overview of the 2008-2009 tournament:
On the starting block: The 34th annual tournament for girls begins on Tuesday with 19 prequarterfinals games at the higher seed.
The 71st boys tournament gets going on Wednesday with 30 prequarterfinals. A total of 86 boys teams and 75 girls will compete for titles among the seven classifications.
The Niagara Falls boys and the Clymer girls, both 20-0, are the only undefeated teams in the field.
Defending champs: Boys: Niagara Falls (Class AA), McKinley (Class A-1), East (Class A-2), Olean (Class B-1), City Honors (Class B-2), Allegany-Limestone (Class C-1), Maple Grove (Class C-2), Pine Valley (Class D).
Girls: Jamestown (Class AA), Williamsville East (Class A-1), Pioneer (Class A-2), Olean (Class B-1), Falconer (Class B-2), Allegany-Limestone (Class C-1), Frewsburg (Class C-2), Ripley (Class D). Class C-1 and C-2 has been combined into Class C.
Ticket takers: Ticket prices will remain the same from their increase of a year ago. The prequarterfinals and quarterfinals are $3 at the door with presale tickets available for $2. The semifinals are $5. The finals, cross-over games and Far West Regionals are $6.
Boys win streaks: Besides Niagara Falls' season-long win streak, Sweet Home enters the tournament having won 17 in a row and Williamsville North's streak is at 14. Akron is on a 13-game roll.
Top seeds: Boys: Niagara Falls (Class AA), Sweet Home (Class A-1), East (Class A-2), East Aurora (Class B-1), Akron (Class B-2), Randolph (Class C), Maple Grove (Class D).
Girls: Lockport (AA), Williamsville East (A-1), Pioneer (A-2), Olean (B-1), City Honors (B-2), Salamanca (C), Clymer (D). Seedings are based on points earned through league play.
Who's got next? Winners of the overall classes in boys advances to the Far West Regionals against the champions from Section V Rochester. Section V will host this year's event at Brockport on March 14. The five-game marathon begins at 9 a.m.
The Erie Community College Flickinger Center will host the girl's Regionals on March 13-14.
Hitting the road: Class C usually lends itself to some pretty long road trips. Just ask Barker. In a Wednesday prequarterfinal, No. 10 Tigers travel to No. 7 Salamanca. It's a 2-hour, 10-minute drive over 103 miles.
The girls, a No. 12 seed, play at No. 5 Holland on Tuesday, a 1 hour and 27-minute jaunt.
Closing it down: 17 girls teams opted not to participate: McKinley, Riverside, Riverside MC, Grover Cleveland, Lafayette, Dunkirk, Burgard, Buffalo Arts, Emerson, Leonardo daVinci, WNY Maritime, Buffalo Science, Oracle, Brocton, Panama, Hinsdale and MST Prep @ Seneca.
The boys teams not playing are Oracle, Eden, Falconer and Panama.