It’s time to say so long to the middle sports season once and for all with the final Power 10 of the winter.
Usual rules apply. State champions easily capture my attention. So, too, do champions whose respective sport fails to offer a playoff tournament that extends beyond the boundaries of Western New York. Remember, there are no state Catholic tournaments for boys volleyball (in the fall), girls hockey (winter) and baseball (spring).
The good news: There aren’t more state champions than spots.
The bad news: Choosing between the obvious two contenders for the top spot was like trying to pick between pizza and wings. Having one without the other just didn’t seem right.
But I hate ties, so I made the tough decision. Without further ado, here’s the final Power 10 for the winter season:
1. Olean boys basketball. The Huskies came within four points of completing the perfect 29-0 season. Their losing in the Federation final to Collegiate, 49-45, gave me cause to think about this for a bit. But a 28-game winning streak that included the storybook ending for longtime coach Jeff Anastasia – winning a state title in the same weekend he’s inducted into the state basketball hall of fame – swayed me. The “Hall of Fame” chant by the players in their coach’s direction during the championship trophy presentation at Glens Falls Civic Center was perfect.
2. St. Joe’s hockey. The Marauders, the 2013 Power 10 winter champions, ended the season on a 21-game winning streak – handing unbeaten St. Anthony’s (L.I.) its only loss in the state Catholic final for their fourth title in six years. St. Joe’s streak included three wins at the Mount St. Charles Holiday Faceoff Classic, the first time the Marauders (26-2-1) have won that tournament in 18 tries. Tough decision settled by the fact Olean needed to win more playoff games than St. Joe’s in order to win its state crown. Huskies also needed to defeat an unbeaten team with home-court advantage during the final four.
3. Canisius basketball. The Crusaders may have fallen short of the Federation championship repeat in Class A, losing in the overall state semifinals to an Albany Academy team that lost to the Collegiate of New York City crew that beat Olean for the Federation’s B crown. But this season still ranks as one of the best in Canisius history. The Crusaders won a school record 26 games, winning their second straight state Catholic title and sixth Manhattan Cup championship in eight years.
4. Middle Early College boys basketball. Gary Foster, JoJo Staton, Billy Rivera, Brian Johnson, Amir Jemes. The all-senior starting five put on a clinic on how to play unselfish basketball during the final four in Glens Falls en route to the state Class C championship. Those five players with 17 seasons of varsity experience combined will be hard to replace.
5. Kenmore East boys hockey. The Bulldogs had a storybook season of their own en route to beating defending champion Skaneateles for the Division II state title at HarborCenter. Kyle Pray earns Coach of the Year honors, while his son Trevor nets championship-clinching goal and state Player of the Year. Trevor and his lifelong linemate AJ Marinelli put on a show during postseason, which included Trevor’s record five-goal game in the sectional final and an 11-goal team effort in the state semifinals. The pair has kept busy this spring, playing doubles for Kenmore East’s tennis team.
6. Cardinal O’Hara girls basketball. The Hawks went unbeaten against Western New York competition en route to winning the regular-season and postseason titles in the Monsignor Martin Association. Hawks were placed in tough Class AA for state Catholic playoffs by virtue of winning the regular-season league title. O’Hara scored three wins over eventual state Catholic Class A champion Sacred Heart. Dropped close decision in the state Catholic Class AA semifinals.
7. Williamsville North girls basketball. The Spartans’ historic season ended with a thud in the state semifinals with their only loss, but at least they became the first Section VI team ever to reach the final four in Class AA. Ericka Taplin should have her jersey retired after carrying Williamsville North to victory in that epic Far West Regional with a 30-point effort.
8. Monsignor Martin girls hockey. Linda Mroz’s charges went 13-0-1 to win a second straight Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation playoff championship and fourth in five years. Part of me wishes I could rank them higher but that’s the cruel arithmetic that comes with selecting this list. Lots of worthy teams, but not all of them make the top 10.
9. Williamsville South boys basketball. Coach Gabe Michael’s crew reached state semifinals for the first time by relying on the offensive talents of the Dolan brothers and relentless defense. Billies’ only loss to a Western New York team came in early December to Canisius.
10. Sacred Heart girls basketball. Sharks lose top player Kathleen Ryan to season-ending injury in January but still find way to win their first state Catholic championship since 1992 thanks to Sarah Young, Micaela Ryan, Danielle Hore and Co.
High honors: Panama boys and girls basketball, Kenmore girls hockey, Canisius boys swimming, Frontier boys bowling, St. Francis boys bowling.
Honor roll: Alden rifle, City Honors swimming, Lake Shore girls basketball, Holland girls basketball, Lancaster rifle, Lancaster track and field, Lancaster wrestling, Niagara-Wheatfield wrestling, Olean girls basketball, Orchard Park girls bowling, Park boys basketball, Williamsville North boys hockey, Section VI girls gymnastics, Sweet Home track and field.