Rough as the road to a Section III Class B championship was for Cazenovia's girls basketball team last winter, the path in 2009-10 figures to be rougher.
Gone from that title team is Kiley Evans, the team's leader for much of its great run the last three years. Also gone is Kassie Kleine, the Lakers' top defender, as well as guard Lindsey Smith.
Some standouts, like junior forwards Ashley Stec and Ellen Burr, are back -- but even their strong presence could not prevent Cazenovia from a season-opening 57-53 defeat to Bishop Ludden last Tuesday night at Buckley Gym.
As far as openers go, this was a big one. Cazenovia, 21-4 and a sectional champion a season ago, was facing Ludden, coming off its own 15-6 mark and returning all five starters. These were, perhaps, the two favorites in the OHSL Liberty division.
The dueling strategies were obvious -- the Lakers would go inside, often, to Stec and Burr, while the Gaelic Knights intended to increase the tempo and rely on its deadly outside shooting.
Ludden struck first, inching into a 14-9 lead by the end of the first quarter. But with Stec and Burr dominating in the paint, Cazenovia struck back in the second quarter and had a slight 24-23 edge by halftime.
Much the same thing happened in the second half -- only Ludden proved more effective. It hit on eight 3-point shots, to Cazenovia's one (by Raeanne Clabeaux), and the Lakers fell behind 40-34, a deficit it could not overcome in a high-scoring fourth quarter.
Stec finished with 20 points, while Burr added 15 point and Clabeaux contributed nine points. On Ludden's side, Ashley Cianfriglia had 20 points, including four 3-pointers, and got more help as Bella Knapp (10 points), Kayla Kiblin and Natalie Barletta (eight points each) produced well.
Cazenovia would not play at home again for two weeks, until a Dec. 15 visit from Solvay. In between, the Lakers would have another week to practice before trips to Jordan-Elbridge and Phoenix.