This year, the theme is variety.
Since its inception in 2015, the Times Herald’s recollection of the top 10 local sports stories of the year has largely centered on two categories: The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team and the Big 30.
Our latest iteration is no exception. The Bonnies, after forging one of the biggest turnarounds in program history in 2018-19, accounted for multiple selections for the fourth time in five years and the No. 1 spot for the fourth-straight year. Local high school athletics, which accounted for another four trips to the New York State Final Four, another Western New York Player of the Year and a medalist at the NYSPHSAA Swimming Championships, claimed five of the 10 spots, garnering its usual 50-or-so percent of the list.
But here’s where our 2019 top 10, voted on by OTH staffers J.P. Butler, Chuck Pollock, Sam Wilson and Corey Dieteman, differed slightly from years past: The number of sports represented. Indeed, the following list includes everything from basketball and football to volleyball, swimming, wrestling and golf.
Here are the top 10 local sports stories of 2019, with others receiving votes listed at the end of the piece:
1. BONNIES FALL JUST SHORT AFTER REACHING A-10 TITLE GAME
It wasn’t supposed to be here.
Not after a 4-10 start. Not after early-season injuries to three starters and an overdependence on youth had the season spiraling south by January.
In a year where it was selected to finish fifth, however, St. Bonaventure not only rallied to exceed that mark, placing fourth and earning the “double bye” at the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but topped George Mason and Rhode Island in convincing fashion to reach the championship game for the second time in seven years.
Facing No. 6 Saint Louis, Bona seemed poised for another trip to the NCAA Tournament, leading by as many as 15 before taking a nine-point advantage into the break. After an ice-cold second half, though, it wound up falling behind by eight with 3:45 remaining before making one last push.
The Bonnies pulled within two on a Courtney Stockard 3-pointer with 56 seconds remaining, then got the ball back after SLU missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the other end. On their final possession, however, they missed on three opportunities to tie or take the lead, most notably when Nelson Kaputo’s corner 3-pointer from in front of his team’s bench bounced out at the buzzer.
In that moment, the Bonnies had suffered a disappointing and heartbreaking 55-53 loss to the Billikens. But by even reaching that point, they’d enjoyed one of the biggest same-season turnarounds in program history, going from 4-10 to within one shot of back-to-back trips to the Big Dance.
— J.P. Butler
2. OLEAN’S JEFF ANASTASIA RETIRES AFTER LEADING HUSKIES BACK TO NYS FINAL FOUR
The ‘storybook’ ending was not to be, but it was still a remarkable ride for the Olean High boys basketball team in legendary coach Jeff Anastasia’s swan song.
Anastasia, the Huskies’ coach of 32 years, announced his retirement following an 83-63 New York State Class B semifinal loss to Glens Falls on Friday, March 15. The loss to Glens Falls and Mr. New York Basketball Joe Girard, who now plays point guard for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, brought Olean’s season to a close at 25-1. Olean held Girard below his stunning 50-point-per-game average, but he still scored 39 on the Huskies.
“Sometimes that storybook ending doesn’t happen,” Anastasia said following the game. “But the memories are all there of this season. Nothing but great memories.”
Anastasia retired with 602 wins and two state championships, having led the Huskies to titles in 2008 and 2016.
Led by first-team all-state point guard Mike Schmidt, Olean followed up its perfect regular season with Anastasia’s 14th career Section 6 title (61-48 over City Honors), then a victory over cross-town rival Allegany-Limestone, 53-43, in the sectional crossover game. Olean topped Greece Odyssey in the Far West Regional 61-47 to return to the state final four.
Along with its coach, Olean lost a group of 10 seniors, including five starters. Anastasia’s longtime assistant and JV coach Tim Kolasinski succeeded him as Olean’s first new boys basketball coach in 33 years.
— Sam Wilson
3. FRANKLINVILLE GIRLS BASKETBALL WINS FIRST STATE TITLE
One year after the bitter disappointment of losing the New York State Class D girls basketball championship to Delhi’s Delaware Academy, 54-51 in overtime, Franklinville earned its first-ever crown last March.
And coach Allan Dunlap’s Panthers did it sans one member of 2018’s Big Three. Ally Haskell graduated that June and had signed with St. Bonaventure’s softball team as a pitcher.
No matter, Ally’s sister, Dani, only a junior, was on her way to exceeding 2,500 career points, and still had the other third of that key trio in Abby McCoy, Dunlap’s daughter.
Franklinville, 21-5, endured four character-building losses to larger schools and one to Panama, in the Cattaraugus County IAABO Tournament, the favored team it would beat for the Section 6 title, 54-53, behind Dani’s 28 points.
Haskell, without her sister, averaged 28 points per game and was selected Big 30 Player of the Year.
After winning the sectional title, the Panthers beat Elba, 49-32 behind Dani’s 33 points to win the Far West Regional.
But Haskell, who committed to Canisius, saved her best for the NYS Final Four.
Dani scored 33 in a 56-26 win over Section 2 champion Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons in the semifinals, then dropped 39 on Edwards-Knox in a 61-47 victory over the Section 10 winner, which it had beaten, 59-40 in 2018’s semis.
Haskell was the landslide MVP, joined on the All-Tournament team by McCoy, while Brianna Broadwell, lost to a knee injury in the sectional title win over Panama, claimed the Sportsmanship Award.
— Chuck Pollock
4. PORTVILLE VOLLEYBALL AGAIN REACHES STATES, BUT IS DENIED TITLE
Rarely in 2019 did any team look like a challenge for the two-time defending state champion Portville Panthers.
But in the end, the Panthers were just short of a three-peat in the New York state Class C championship. After a perfect regular season, the Panthers won sectional, subregional and regional titles on the way to the state final four. But after going 4-2 in semifinal pool play, Portville fell to Section 1’s Valhalla in four sets (17-25, 25-22, 25-16, 25-13) on Sunday, Nov. 24.
“Usually after a loss, I do not like to lose and it’s such a terrible feeling,” Portville coach Kelly Unverdorben said after the championship. “But it was a weird feeling today, because we got done and I did not feel bad. I was just so incredibly proud of my team and how well they all played and fought for every point. They never let up, they just kept fighting and trying to get through everything.”
Led by first-team all-state performers Kylie Blessing and Laura Wilhelm, Portville didn’t drop a set the entire regular season. Its biggest scare in the road back to states came in the Section 6 Class C final against longtime sectional nemesis Eden, who took the Panthers to five sets.
After winning titles in four of the previous five years (2014 and ‘15 in Class D, ‘17 and ‘18 in C), the Panthers will look to return to the top of the state bracket in 2020, with just one senior set to graduate.
— Sam Wilson
5. OLEAN’S JEFF PRESCOTT/SALAMANCA’S CHUCK CRIST ARE INDUCTED INTO BUFFALO SPORTS HOF
In November, Cattaraugus County enjoyed a first as two of its natives were inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in the same year.
Salamanca’s Chuck Crist and Olean’s Jeff Prescott were part of the 13-member class who joined the 343-member Hall in a ceremony at the Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center.
Crist, 68, was a four-sport star at Salamanca where he was MVP in all of them: football, basketball, baseball and track. He was recruited by Penn State for both football and basketball, but chose hoops when he wasn’t allowed to try out for quarterback.
After graduation, he was signed by the New York Giants as a free agent and started a seven-year NFL career as a safety that included stints with the Saints and 49ers.
Prescott, now 50, was entirely focused on wrestling during his career at both Olean High and Penn State.
At OHS he won four Section 6 and three New York State championships and was the state’s Most Outstanding Wrestler as a junior (1986). He had a stretch of 120 consecutive wins, sixth longest in NYS history.
Prescott was selected as one of the Nittany Lions’ Top 100 athletes of all time, courtesy of a career in which he was a three-time All-America and twice an NCAA champion (1990, ‘91), earning Most Outstanding Wrestler honors the latter season.
Their induction brought to 10 the number of members either from Cattaraugus County (Crist, Prescott and Allegany’s Bud Carpenter, long-time Bills trainer) or St. Bonaventure (Eddie Donovan, Larry Weise, Bob Lanier, Tom Stith, George Carter, Whitey Martin and Dale Tepas).
— Chuck Pollock
6. FRANKLINVILLE’S DANI HASKELL IS NAMED WNY GIRLS POY
Dani Haskell already had plenty to celebrate before Saturday, April 22.
Then a junior at Franklinville, Haskell led her Panthers’ girls basketball team to its first New York state championship in Class D in March and collected her third Big 30 Player of the Year award, an honor she shared with co-winner Sara Pfeiffer of Olean last year. But in April, Haskell was named the Buffalo News’ Sister Maria Pares WNY Player of the Year.
Haskell was the first player from a “small school” to win the award since it was first awarded by the News in 1993, and only the third from the Big 30, following her cousin Joelle Connelly (Pioneer) in 2007 and ‘08 and Olean’s Rachel Bantelman in 2010.
The Canisius-bound Haskell averaged 28 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals as Franklinville went 20-6 en route to the state title as a junior.
As a senior, Pfeiffer averaged 36 points per game and also earned a first-team honor on the News’ All-WNY team. She helped the Huskies reach the Section 6 Class B-1 final and set the school’s single-game record with 63 points in a regular season game against Maple Grove.
A pair of seniors from the Olean boys team, Mike Schmidt and Matt Droney, made the second and fourth teams, respectively.
— Sam Wilson
7. OLEAN’S TRIETLEY CAPS RECORD-SETTING YEAR WITH THIRD-PLACE FINISH AT STATES
Alexis Trietley had set out to finish in the top 10 in each of the two events for which she qualified for states.
The Olean High swimming standout not only accomplished that goal, she also reached the podium in her best scholastic performance to date.
After earning the No. 6 seed in the preliminaries, Trietley swam the 100 freestyle in a school-record time of :51.44, placing her third among public high school competitors and fifth in the federation on the final day of the NYSPHSAA Swimming and Diving Championships at Ithaca College.
It was the second-straight day the OHS sophomore set the school standard in that event after turning in a time of :51.73 in prelims.
After securing the No. 10 seed on Day 1, Trietley also logged a 1:52.76 in the 200 freestyle, good for eighth in the public high school division and ninth in the federation. Those represented significant jumps for Trietley, who placed 21st and 24th in the state in those same events last year.
“What an incredible day at finals at the New York State swim tournament,” Olean coach Dan Brown said. “Those were her best finishes (in three trips, beginning with her eighth-grade campaign in 2017) to date at the state tournament.
“We’re looking forward to seeing what the near future holds for this young lady.”
In total, Trietley set 19 school and pool records in her sophomore season.
— J.P. Butler
T-8. CAMERON COUNTY’S SESTINA TRANSFERS TO KENTUCKY FOR FINAL SEASON
He’d already made the most of his Division I basketball career
As a role player in his first two full seasons, Cameron County product Nate Sestina helped Bucknell to a pair of Patriot League Tournament titles and back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, he tallied 15 points and 16 rebounds in leading the Bison to an opening-night overtime victory over St. Bonaventure and earned Second Team All-Conference honors after averaging 16 points and nine rebounds and helping Bucknell back to the Patriot League title game, where it fell to Colgate.
Last spring, he only added to a notable collegiate experience, earning a scholarship offer and choosing to play his graduate transfer season for coach John Calipari at Kentucky, one of the top programs in the country.
His leap to a “blue blood” program and high-major college basketball represented one of the most profound accomplishments for an athlete from the Big 30. But it wasn’t merely a symbolic move.
Sestina, the 2015 Big 30 Player of the Year, has become a key contributor for the Wildcats, starting six of nine contests (he missed three games due to a broken wrist) while averaging seven points and six rebounds on 46 percent shooting in 25 minutes per game. The 6-foot-9 forward scored a team-high 17 points, including a 5-for-8 mark from 3-point range, in a recent loss to Ohio State for the Wildcats, currently ranked No 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
— J.P. Butler
T-8. MARK SCHMIDT BECOMES WINNINGEST COACH IN BONA HISTORY
It was undoubtedly going to happen last season … the only question was when.
Upon entering the 2018-19 campaign with 193 career victories — just 11 shy of the all-time program record — Mark Schmidt, at some point, was going to establish himself as the winningest coach in Bona history. And after tying the mark with a 76-51 triumph over Saint Joseph’s five days earlier, he further etched his place in program lore on Feb. 17 inside the Reilly Center.
Securing the outcome almost from the outset, Bona jumped out to a 16-0 lead — and got a career-high 32 points from Kyle Lofton — before downing George Mason, 79-56. That gave Schmidt his 203rd victory in his 12th season, allowing him to surpass the legendary Larry Weise (202 wins over 12 seasons) for the top spot.
In the aftermath, a pair of touching tribute videos were displayed to a crowd on its collective feet and a surprised Schmidt. The first was an array of congratulatory snippets from some of the biggest presences in Schmidt’s career, including former player Andrew Nicholson; Gary Williams, who coached Schmidt at Boston College; former Bona boss Jim Satalin; Bona grad and ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski and Weise himself.
The second was a montage highlighting some the Bonnies’ most memorable victories leading up to No. 203.
“It’s humbling, it’s emotional,” said Schmidt, reflecting on the videos that played on a big screen just above him.
— J.P. Butler
10. CHRIS BLOCHER TIES TED KOCHAN FOR MOST MEN’S AMATEUR TITLES
It was the most revered record in the 83-year history of the Southwestern New York-Northwestern Pennsylvania Men’s Amateur Golf Tournament.
In the 11-year span between 1960 and ‘70, the legendary Ted Kochan won the Twin Tiers most prestigious match-play tourney nine times.
It seemed untouchable.
But last August, at age 43, Chris Blocher, a physical education teacher and basketball coach at Hinsdale Central School, again inscribed his name in the Men’s Amateur record book … this time twice.
The former St. Bonaventure star already held the tournament standard for qualifying round medalist honors with six, surpassing former leader Les Rettberg’s five.
Then, on Aug. 10 at Bartlett Country Club, Blocher tied Kochan by earning his 11th spot in the finals. A day later, he won his ninth title in the 36-hole final, a milestone achieved over a span of 23 years.
His latest championship came over Bradford’s Mitch Faulkner, a 21-year-old senior-to-be at Clarion University. Blocher downed the tourney medalist — Faulkner shot a 1-under par 69 — 6-and-5, in a match that wasn’t decided he pulled away starting on the 24th hole winning four straight for a 5-up margin.
Afterward, Blocher admitted, “Nine (wins) was never a goal … the goal was always medalist wins). Nine seemed so far out there it didn’t appear obtainable. The stories they would tell about (Kochan’s match-play proficiency) … nine wins seems to be a number you can’t get to and he did it in a span of 11 years.”
— Chuck Pollock
Others local stories receiving votes: St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team beats Hofstra, 73-45, as part of the 100th anniversary celebration that includes 1970 Final Four team and members of the All-Time Team; Seven New York Big 30 football teams reach sectional semifinals and Franklinville/Ellicottville reaches title game but falls in rematch with Clymer/Sherman/Panama; After a record-setting football season, Pioneer’s Mike Rigerman wins the NYS wrestling championship in the 220-pound weight class.