The Franklinville girls basketball team had not had a practice the entire season where it didn’t talk about Panama in some form or fashion, preparing to square off against the perennial power for the Section VI Class D championship.
Ever since Allan Dunlap took over as girls coach three years ago, Panama is all Franklinville has known. And for good reason. Panama won three straight sectional crowns from 2015-17 and beat Franklinville the last two years while on its way to state runner-up finishes.
“We focused on them, right or wrong – sometimes I wondered if it was the wrong thing to do – from day one of the season to when we played them,” said Dunlap, who has 20 years of coaching experience between the boys and girls programs at the school. “Even when we were getting ready for Sherman (in the semifinals), we were preparing for Panama. We were more prepared than we’ve ever been.”
Dunlap’s vision came to fruition last Saturday, when Franklinville ended Panama’s three-year reign with a 65-46 win at Jamestown Community College for its first Section VI title since 1987.
Sophomore Danielle Haskell was firing on all cylinders, dropping a season-high 36 points. Classmate Abby McCoy scored 11, while senior Allyson Haskell, Danielle’s older sister, added eight.
“It’s an emotional high that game, and it’s easy to crash,” Dunlap said.
Yet Franklinville didn’t waste any time hitting the reset button.
“It’s funny,” Dunlap said. “The kids the next day at practice, Monday, we joked about it at the beginning of practice. We talked about that chapter being over. Our goals have totally changed. Our goal is to win Saturday and get downstate.”
A win against Section V’s Elba (21-3) during the Far West Regionals Saturday at Rush-Henrietta would send the Panthers (23-0) to what Dunlap believes would be the program’s first appearance in the state semifinals.
As the last unbeaten girls team in Western New York, Franklinville has as good a shot as any team from Section VI at advancing to next weekend's final four at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
That’s not to say the road has been easy to get to this point.
The Panthers loaded up on their nonleague schedule and came away unscathed with wins over the likes of Sacred Heart, East Aurora, St. Mary’s of Lancaster, Allegany-Limestone, Holland and Fredonia twice.
“It definitely means a lot to our kids, and we’re finding out that it means a lot to our town and community,” Dunlap said. “The kids know now it’s one and done. They mention 26 now. That’s our goal – 26. Panama’s always been our goal, but when it became reality, now they know that undefeated for the rest of the year means state championship. There’s a little bit more weight to it.”
Franklinville has the firepower to make it happen.
It all starts with Danielle Haskell, Western New York’s leading scorer at 26.2 points per game.
“Danielle is a huge key,” Dunlap said. “We go how she goes. If she’s creating for everybody, we need to take advantage of the attention she gets. Sometimes she attracts two and three people at a time with her ability to penetrate and her skillset. We need to make plays for her and for us.”
It doesn’t end with her, though. Allyson Haskell, who’ll head to St. Bonaventure in the fall on a softball scholarship, is a top 20 scorer in the section at 18.3 points per game. McCoy averages 14.1 herself.
All three are capable of scoring in a variety of ways, which could play right into Franklinville’s hands with the type of game Elba plays.
While scouting the Section V Class D title game Tuesday, Dunlap said Elba predominantly used a zone defense to slow the pace.
“If they slow us down, they will be playing zone against us,” Dunlap said. “We have to be able to knock down shots and hit open shots and really take advantage of opportunities. On the other side of that, we need to try and not let them slow the game down. From transition defense to offense we need to fly, push up floor and not let the defense set up.”
After a week off, the Panthers are eager to hit the hardwood again and continue their postseason run. Heck, they would’ve played Tuesday if they had the chance.
Ten girls on the team travelled with Dunlap to watch the Section V final earlier in the week and “all of them,” Dunlap said, “their exact words in the stands were, ‘Coach, I want to play right now.’”
Besides being a year older, wiser, faster and stronger, that’s the biggest difference between the Franklinville of this year and the two years past.
“The group of kids we have, I’m most proud of that the 11 kids now all have just bought into being a part of something bigger than themselves,” Dunlap said. “There’s not one kid who wants the season to end, and I think that’s rare. Sometimes kids have other obligations or are ready for spring sports whether it be track or softball, but I can honestly say for the first time that I don’t feel that way about any of them.
“Every kid wants two more weeks. They’re sacrificing anything else they would want for this. That’s making it special for us.”