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The Blackwell Blog

Break through, make some history

Everywhere you turned late last week, there was another team making some kind of big-time breakthrough in various Section III post-season events - or, failing that, they were returning to a place of preeminence they once held.

It was the latter case for Liverpool's boys swim team. Early in the millennium, it was death, taxes and the Warriors sweeping to the sectional titles. Then it dropped off, and the likes of West Genesee, Auburn and Watertown rose to the top.

Well now, look who's back. Liverpool absolutely owned the sectional Class A meet at Rome Free Academy and the subsequent George Falwell Cup at Hamilton College, and it wasn't just that the Warriors turned back Watertown and West Genny, it was the way they did it.

For starters, there was Garrett Clarke breaking Tom Nowakowski's nine-year-old sectional record in the 100 breaststroke on Thursday and then doing so again two days later for All-American status. Then there was Nick Burdo winning twice (100 freestyle, 100 backstroke), and the Warriors also claiming the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, just to be sure.

Plenty of other locals fared well, too, from West Genesee's Collin Zapisek roaring to wins in the 200 and 500 freestyle to Jamesville-DeWitt/CBA's Cole Speidel winning the 100 butterfly, plus victories from Mexico diver Nick Rodriguez and Watertown's Mike Netto, who beat Clarke in the 200 individual medley.

From a team standpoint, one of those milestones took place in the Class C sectional meet at New Hartford, where Holland Patent, led by the Freeman brothers, won for the first time. Rodriguez and his fellow Mexico swimmers were victorious in Class B at RFA a day before Liverpool took over.

Friday brought all of the top Section III bowlers to Strike-N-Spare Lanes in Mattydale, the same venue that will host the state tournament on the first weekend in March.

Here, yet another first-time sectional champion emerged - Camden's boys. Locked in a close battle with Utica Proctor and Oswego, among others, the Blue Devils relied on its depth and pulled away during the afteroon "Baker" team format, beating the Raiders by 200 pins.

But it was familiarity on the girls side as Mikayla Guernsey-led Fulton simply proved too much for Auburn, East Syracuse-Minoa and the rest of the sectional field.

The repeat Red Raiders were also champions in the OHSL during the regular season, but it was ESM's Beth Piston and F-M's Tricia Miller who swept the top two spots in the sectional Shoot-Out to earn berths on the All-Star team for the second portion of the state tournament. Syracuse's J.J. West won the boys portion, qualifying with Whitesboro's Brandon Zalewski.

Yet another team won it all for the first time amid the quintet of Section III girls volleyball championship matches on Saturday at Chittenango. It was Morrisville-Eaton, coached by none other than long-time Cazenovia mentor Brian Ellithorpe, and the Warriors got it by sweeping a long-time power, Dolgeville, in the Class C-2 final.

Otherwise, it was Whitesboro denying ESM in four sets to repeat in the Class A final, Canastota giving yet another championship to legendary coach Marcia Laidlaw in Class B with an impressive sweep of Onondaga, Lowville toppling top seed Tully in the Class C-1 title match and Cincinnatus knocking off unbeaten no. 1 seed Stockbridge Valley to match Whitesboro with back-to-back Class D crowns.

Moving to indoor track, the state qualifier at SRC Arena mostly served as a chance for large and small-school athletes to face each other. A couple of times, the small schools prevailed, whether it was Ryan Manahan (Marcellus) in the boys 1,000, Breanna Burns (Pulaski) in the girls 55 hurdles or Ashley Winn (Cazenovia) going quickest in the 55-meter dash.

Yet the 1,500-meter girls race served as a warm-up of sorts. West Genesee's Laura Leff won that race in a great duel with F-M's Alana Pearl, and then went to the Millrose Games at New York City's Armory and pulled off a third-place finish in the mile in 4:54.71, an amazing effort.

Opening-round playoff hockey, following the chaos of the F-M removal that caused so much heartache for its players, mostly followed the script.

All the home teams won in Division I, meaning that C-NS, who blanked Syracuse, will, despite its top state ranking, have to go to Shove Park to face West Genesee in what could be an all-time semifinal, while Rome Free Academy hosts a Baldwinsville team that, so far, has taken full advantage of the huge break it got from the Hornets' premature departure.

Division II saw a CBA/J-D side brimming with emotion after the passing of head coach Mike McKie's father winning at Auburn 3-2 to get a semifinal date with top seed Skaneateles, while Oswego blasted Cazenovia 6-1 and will visit New Hartford for the other semifinal.

In keeping with the cold-weather theme, congratulations are in order for Old Forge, who swept both sides of the Section III ski tournament Sunday at Osceola, with Maddie Phaneuf (girls) and Adam Luban (boys) each winning the individual races for the Eskimos.

And yes, there was a fair amount of opening-round sectional basketball, with no massive surprises. In our next blog, we'll offer an assessment of where things stand after a blitz of quarterfinal games, most of them Tuesday night.

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