At the start of this year, it didn't appear that Sherman coach Mel Swanson would be enjoying one of his more successful girls basketball seasons.
For starters, there were just seven players (and there would remain just seven for the majority of the season) on his Lady Wildcats varsity roster. And of those seven, one was a freshman, albeit a talented one, and two more were juniors who had played in one game combined the season before. Add to that the fact that the team lacked size (there was only one player who was at least 5-foot-10) in a league with considerable height, that just a pair of his players were consistent scorers - the other five had averaged five points or fewer per game the previous season - and it all seemed to point to a difficult road ahead for the crew in blue and gold.
Except it wasn't.
Sherman coach?Mel Swanson guided the Lady Wildcats to a 19-3 record, including a Section 6 Class D championship, which was the 10th of his long and distinguished career.
P-J?file photos by Rob Tucker
Swanson, already considered one of the greatest coaches in area history - he is, after all, Section 6's all-time leader in coaching victories with an unofficial tally of 557 wins - further cemented that status by guiding the Lady Wildcats to a 19-3 record, a Section 6 Class D title (the 10th of his career), which was the third for the squad in the past five seasons, and yet another Far West Regional appearance.
It was, in short, a Post-Journal coach-of-the-year-type performance.
It was also a lesson in leadership and strategic thinking.
The key to this year's success, Swanson says, was in developing specific roles for each of his players.
There was Elle Reed, scorer extraordinaire; Bridget Yaw, the second scoring option; Danielle Reed, on-court leader; and Samantha Delcamp, Katrina Christmas, Julia Rater and Cadi Hannold, each of them crucial defenders, rebounders, facilitators and, when the occasion called, big-time bucket scorers.
"We had worked in practice on emphasizing that we needed each of those pieces to come together for success, and it says a lot about the group that each of them played their roles so perfectly," Swanson said.
"Elle was our nucleus, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and you don't see a lot of times teams with one main scorer advancing (as far as we did). The reason for that was Elle's skills and the other's fulfilling their roles. They each realized what role they needed to play and what we needed to do if we were going to have a chance to win."
Swanson's strategy, which his players bought into immediately, began to work just as fast.
Sherman opened the season with victories over Class B foe Falconer and Class C opponent Maple Grove to capture the Cassadaga Valley Tipoff Tournament title. Later, the Lady Wildcats beat Southwestern (of Class B) and Ellicottville (a league rival) for the Southwestern Christmas Classic Tournament championship.
Working together as one, well-oiled unit, Swanson's Lady Wildcats kept on winning, capturing 13 of their final 16 contests (including wins over Ellicottville three more times) and never allowing, save the season-ending loss to Section 5 private school Batavia-Notre Dame in the Far West Regional, more than 60 points to an opponent in a single contest.
In a sign of how tough the squad could be, Pine Valley, at the time one of the hottest teams in Class D and just coming off an upset victory over top-seeded and defending sectional champion Clymer, managed just 37 points (to Sherman's 60) in the sectional final.
"I was so proud of them," Swanson said. "We had girls with different talents - not a lot of offensive talent other than Elle and Bridget - but talents in other areas that made us very competitive every night. That's a big plus, and it says a lot about them, especially those girls that were battling in the trenches for us because that was huge.
"To win the section was a real tribute to how well the team played."
And, of course, how well Swanson coached.