(Qeyion Williams & Niagara Falls look like a top ten once again. Photo by Buffalo News)
As a pollster for the Buffalo News, I'm asked to send in my weekly ballots ranking the top ten large and small schools. The polls don't start until next week, but who wants to wait that long to see a top ten? . Here's a look at how I would have voted this week and some of the rationale used to get there.
1. Jamestown (AA) - With four starters returning to the team that nearly won the Class AA state championship in basketball, after several of its players did win a state championship in football, how could I slide the program who finished last season in this spot, down below anyone else?
2. Canisius (MMA) - They opened their season by winning the Tom Keenan Memorial Tournament, which included knocking off the 17th ranked team in Canada, and did so without TJ Wheatley and on limited practice time due to the football team winning states.
3. Nichols (MMA) - The defending Manhattan Cup champs are imposing and loaded, but need to get back to the level they finished last season at to move up higher. They had no problem with earning it last year.
4. McKinley (A1) - The Macks looked like a team with their sights set on another regional appearance when they took Cheektowaga apart on Saturday.
5. Amherst (A2) - It says a lot about a program to lose a player of Jordan Nwora's calliber (and Justin Jones a couple years back), yet continue rolling. The Tigers have built an outstanding program that I hold in high regard.
6. Williamsville South (A1) - The Billies are just one game into their season, but it was a statement victory on the road at Williamsville North. We'll see how they respond in a game with less emotion.
7. Cheektowaga (A2) - Tonight looms large for the Warriors (hosting Amherst), coming off a disappointing outing at McKinley. The Macks tend to make teams look bad - now it's up to Cheektowaga to make themselves look good.
8. Niagara Falls (AA) - After a year away from this poll, I think the Wolverines deserve a place in it again. No shame in the season-opening loss to the 7th ranked team in Canada, Vaughan, but rather I was impressed with the effort and chemistry that continues to develop at NFHS.
9. Lancaster (AA) - The Redskins are 3-1, with the loss coming in a tight contest against Nichols. Lancaster has big expectations this season, like competing for the title in ECIC I, reaching Buff State, and staying in the company of the top ten.
10. Olean (A2) - Your 2014 Coach of the Year is hard at work ensuring that the winning tradition in Olean marches on after graduating the dream team. A 3-0 start, that includes a seven-point road victory at Williamsville East, gets rewarded with this last spot over Williamsville North and Lew-Port.
1. Park (MMA) - If we're going to consider this group a small school, then they make a pretty easy choice for the top spot. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest they could be this high in the large school poll. It's scary how good this team could be, I've wondered if this could be the team to keep Westhill from repeating as Class B Federation champs.
2. Middle College (C2) - The defending Yale Cup champions and Class C state finalists are re-loaded for another run and have begun the season by cruising past Lockport & Randolph.
3. East (B2) - The addition of 6-8 Jovell Littlejohn and improvement of Damone Brown, along with the winning culture at East, keeps the Panthers as the favorites to repeat as Class B2 champs yet again.
4. Fredonia (B2) - Head coach Greg Lauer has done an outstanding job with this program, building the Hillbillies into a consistent winner that isn't afraid to face top competition and adjusts to the strength of teams they face.
5. St. Mary's (MMA) - Speaking of coaching, how about the success Paul Rath has enjoyed since taking over at St. Mary's? There's been no dip in production by the Lancers over the past two seasons and he'll have this year's group right back in the thick of things, despite graduating all five starters.
6. Silver Creek (C1) - The goal coming into this season was to get the players re-committed to the team, after last year's group struggled with that concept void of the leadership provided by Zed Williams during their run to states. Not only have the Black Knights bought in, but one of WNY's very best, Billy Brooks, has become a leader to his responsive teammates.
7. Salamanca (C1) - The Warriors are out to a 4-0 start this season, coming off an appearance at Buffalo State in Class B2 a year ago. With a good mix of everything, Salamanca has high expectations for this year. Now they're in the same class and division as the team I have one spot ahead of them. Things will get interesting.
8. Tapestry (C1) - A 3-1 start for the Thunderhawks and their lone loss came at the hands of Nichols. Tapestry believes they have the right team this season to not only claim the Charter Cup, but also win its first ever sectional crown.
9. Lackawanna (B2) - The Steelers are 0-3, but the first two were on the road against large schools, and the third was an overtime loss to Timon. I still like this team to win the league in ECIC IV.
10. Health Sciences (B2) - They might not want me attending their games anymore. The Falcons are 2-2, with both losses coming when I was there. Regardless, I saw enough in those losing efforts to make me think this team deserves to be ranked - at least this week.