Ellicottville’s Clayton Rowland (22) puts in a basket during a Section 6 playoff game against Bennett last season.

By Sam Wilson

For what could have been considered a transition year, the Ellicottville boys basketball team still had plenty of success last winter.

The Eagles again won their league, the CCAA East II division, with a perfect 10-0 record and finished 14-8 overall. For a team with just one returning starter and a core of mostly juniors and sophomores, it showed some sustained success for coach Dave McCann’s team. Now, most of that team, four out of five starters and seven players overall, return with expectations just as high, if not higher.

Jordan Grinols and Nik Logel are expected to lead the team as seniors, as are a trio of returning starter juniors.

“Wyatt Chudy, Clayton Rowland and Leif Jimerson all played a ton of minutes last year for us as well,” McCann said. “So Clayton is a pretty vocal leader and leads by example, Wyatt is a hard worker and Leif brings a lot of energy to practice as well. So those are kind of our core guys right now.

“Four of my five starters last year are back and really six of my top seven last year are all back. Then we have some other guys who came along throughout the course of the year. Out of those (seven), six played pretty significant minutes, and we have a few kids up from the JV that played a lot of minutes down on JV last year and are looking to contribute right away.”

Jimerson averaged a team-high 13.6 points last year, while Rowland was second with 10.4 per game.

Leadership for the more experienced Eagles includes working with younger players and taking ownership of the team, McCann said.

“These first couple of weeks, our gym time has been a little tight so we’ve had to practice with our JV guys,” he said, “so that’s a lot of kids in the gym every night for practice and they’re doing a good job of, kind of laying out what the expectation should be for those younger guys to follow and how to do drills and how to do them the right way. So they’re sort of taking ownership over that quite a bit and so far they’re doing a good job with it and it helps having that many guys return because they know my expectations for them and we’re not feeling each other out quite as much. We know what we have to do to get the job done and I think we all have a pretty common goal.”

While working on their game on the court, McCann also has the Eagles focused on some intangible aspects of the sport to stay positive, no matter what the season throws at them.

“We’re just trying to work out some of the kinks right now in execution in our half-court game,” McCann said. “We’re working a lot on just consistent body language and being positive and not letting mistakes get to us, so we’re trying to sharpen our mental toughness a little bit this year. Those have been the focuses early, don’t get down if you make a mistake. Get right back on the next play and be positive, be a leader, be a good teammate. (In our scrimmage), I felt we had some moments where we did a lot of that. They feed off of each other’s energy and when that energy’s positive, a lot of good things can happen. So our goal has been just have them being as positive as possible.”

So far, McCann has been encouraged by the Eagles’ energy in practice.

“It’s always tough to get them, especially the football guys, coming off of a tough loss up at the stadium and having to turn right around and start a new sport,” he said. “That’s usually a tough thing but I think the kids handled it well, they were excited first day, first few days and they brought pretty good energy every day at practice. We’re working a little bit harder each day. We’re relatively healthy, which is always good, a couple nicks and bumps here and there but nothing that seems long-term or that we won’t have guys back. Overall it’s been a pretty good start to the season, I’ve been really happy with the way they’ve looked and what they’ve brought to practice so far.”

The Eagles began the season with December non-league play on Tuesday, visiting Silver Creek and defeating the Black Knights 54-42. Then they’ll play at Gowanda on Friday, with home games next week against Silver Creek and Southwestern. Ellicottville will again play in the Joe DeCerbo Memorial Tournament (formerly the IAABO) at St. Bonaventure in a bracket with Portville, Salamanca and Franklinville Dec. 21-22. Ellicottville will hope the tough non-league schedule leads to another strong league year and a high seed in the playoffs.

“Our goal every year is to try to win the league,” McCann said. “Last year we were fortunate enough to win all of our league games and I think that’s kind of our goal again this year, start by winning the league and we’ll see what happens. C2 is pretty competitive this year with a lot of good teams scattered throughout, obviously, you have Randolph coming back as the C2 champion and everyone’s trying to get to them. But there’s a lot of good teams in the C2 so we just have to make sure we’re putting ourselves in the best position to be in a good playoff spot and be playing our best basketball at that point.”