Everyone involved with the Fayetteville-Manlius boys basketball team sees an opportunity to really make noise in the 2009-10 season.
While many traditional powerhouses (like Henninger, CBA and Central Square) underwent massive roster turnover, the Hornets bring back three starters - Brian Zapisek, Mike O'Neil and Jack Giles.
More importantly, they have players well-versed in head coach Tom Blackford's system, which puts a great emphasis on defense, the great equalizer in basketball - especially when the shots are not falling.
This was quite evident in Saturday's season opener, when the Hornets' ability to shut down an opponent made the difference in a 55-47 victory over Fairport in the Peppino's Invitational at Henninger High School's newly-dedicated Joe Mazella Court.
Fairport, considered one of the strongest programs in Section V (Rochester area), had a clear size advantage, in that it started players 6-8 (Max Brown) and 6-6 (Kevonte McClain). Despite this, F-M would have answers every time the Raiders tried to get away.
The Hornets erased a six-point first-quarter deficit to tie it, 15-15, at the end of the first quarter, but Fairport promptly went back in front and restored its six-point edge, 28-22, by halftime. A big part of it was the Red Raiders holding Zapisek, F-M's leading returning scorer, to just three points.
All that changed in the third quarter - at least the part about Zapisek's production. He hit on a 3-pointer, then put together three consecutive three-point plays, helping the Hornets catch up again at 38-38 as the game went to the final period.
Once again, Fairport appeared to have a reliable answer, outscoring F-M 9-4 early in that fourth quarter. But after McClain hit two free throws with 5:01 to play to make it 47-42, the Red Raiders would not score again.
In possession after possession, anywhere a Fairport player tried to dribble, he found defenders in green and white. The shots were contested, too, and F-M pounded the boards to prevent second-chance points.