Everything for the East Syracuse-Minoa girls basketball team pointed toward a surge to the top of the OHSL Freedom division in 2009-10 -- at least upon first glance.
Most of second-year head coach Steve Graham's roster was back from last winter, when ESM went 9-11 and made the Section III Class A playoffs before falling to Fulton.
Not only that, but the Spartans had spent much of the off-season continuing its work on the court, whether in AAU tournaments or in other competitions, all in an attempt to be sharp once the high school season began.
But ESM ran into quick adversity in Monday night's opener against Cortland, as foul trouble, and the work of Courtney Tennant, led to a 54-36 loss to the Purple Tigers.
Cortland, a Class A semifinalist last winter, relied on its transition game to bolt out to a 13-4 lead in the game's first five minutes.
ESM used outside shooting to catch up, 18-18, early in the second quarter. But after Alex Casella's 3-pointer with 6:26 left in the half, the Spartans would not get another field goal until the middle of the third quarter -- a drought of nearly 11 minutes.
Much of that was due to the whistles, which sent starters Mallory Buckley and Arnela Mesic to the bench for long periods of time. ESM trailed, 28-21, at the break, and would get no closer as Cortland used an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter to get clear.
Tennant was at the heart of these matters, the Cortland forward picking up 25 points, 11 of them from successful free throws. Maggie Brown added 10 points.
As for the Spartans, Becky Teschler led with 12 points, with Buckley and Casella held to six points apiece in their limited time on the court.