League shuffle has Black Knights facing stiffer competition

By JEREMY IZZIO

OBSERVER Sports Reporter

When the Silver Creek Black Knights’ head baseball coach, Mike Janisch, saw his newly realigned division for 2014, he had two thoughts.

“One, we weren’t very successful last year so it was going to be hard to be successful this year,” Janisch said. “And two, it was going to be a great challenge to be competitive in this league.”

Silver Creek’s new league opponents include four past state champions: Dunkirk (1988), Falconer (2000), Fredonia (2006, 2013) and Frewsburg (1991, 1995, 1996) as well as Southwestern, another team that has historically been very competitive.

With the new level of competition comes both positives and negatives. Janisch sees it as an opportunity to test his team and watch it improve, but also realizes that if they are not successful, it will be hard on his athletes over the course of the season.

“One positive is that better competition gives us a better opportunity to improve as the season goes on,” Janisch said. “The downside is that if you keep losing it becomes difficult to maintain a positive spirit with the team. So there are both sides of the table. You want to (have a good record), but you want to be as good as possible with the athletes you have.”

Many coaches have questioned the new realignment for one reason or another. This most recent shuffling of teams was done, in part, to cut down on travel costs for the schools. But while travel has been cut down, many coaches feel some teams have an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to playoff seeding.

The new divisions have a mix of schools from higher and lower classes, which are based on school size. When a team from a lower class defeats a team from a higher class, they receive more “power points” toward their playoff seeding. The opposite is true when a larger school earns a victory over a smaller program.

Many coaches feel this puts some teams at a disadvantage while giving other schools an opportunity to accumulate more points toward a better playoff seed. Janisch, however, doesn’t put as much emphasis on seeding.

“At times seeding can be overrated,” Janisch said. “If you are the best team, then go out and prove it. Problems come from when teams try to maneuver an easy draw to go further in the playoffs. In my estimation, it’s always better to be there than not. You can’t control who you play in Sectionals. Playing just to make it to Sectionals is wasting a lot of opportunities for your athletes.”

Another aspect of realignment is the regaining, or losing, of rivalries. With a regional alignment such as the most recent one, many teams are playing schools that share a close proximity.

“Anybody that is close in proximity is going to have a rivalry. That’s the nature of the beast,” Janisch said. “The kids play together in summer or high school ball so they are always playing each other. That’s something that is great, because the kids get a chance to get up for a ball game.”

Two teams that have always shared a rivalry were Silver Creek and the Forestville Hornets.

Separated by just over six miles, the two villages have spent decades battling each other in youth sports all the way through varsity athletics. Now, with both baseball programs suffering from low numbers, the teams have merged.

The merger has benefitted both teams and has allowed the solidified program to remain competitive in a very difficult division.

“Merging has benefitted us in many ways,” Janisch said. “The athletes have melded real well. They are a super group to work with. It has been lots of fun trying to lead and coach this group. It does create some logistical issues, which the administration is trying to reduce, but it has gone as smoothly as it possibly could.”

The merger has also given the program an opportunity to be led by two coaches with extensive experience.

Jack Frost, the head coach of Forestville’s baseball team, is now a part of the Silver Creek program and has lent a fresh voice in the pursuit of being competitive in one of the toughest divisions in the Chautauqua Cattaraugus Athletic Association.

“Working with coach Frost has been really great,” Janisch said. “He knows the game and kids well. We can use our combined knowledge to help the kids quite a bit. At times he will coach the Silver Creek kids and I will coach the Forestville guys. The words are different from both of us and we have a different way to look at each situation.”

Despite the fact that Silver Creek is playing tough competition and may not have the success it would have if they were matched with teams their own size and skill level, Janisch feels regional realignment is better than the alternative.

The alternative could have teams traveling much farther to play teams more evenly matched in size and ability, which presents a different set of hurdles to overcome.

With great travel comes the need to pull athletes out of their classrooms early. Janisch believes facing stiffer regional competition is worth not having to sacrifice education for the sake of athletics.

“I’m for a regional alignment,” Janisch said. “You may not have all schools the same size and strength, but it does cut down on transportation and puts the educational experience at a premium. You don’t have to get the kids out of class early for away games. You may have to buck up and play tough competition, but I’m more against tremendous travel, which wastes time for education and athletics.”

The new 2013-14 divisional realignments have caused much debate. Some coaches are for regionalism while others put a higher value on playoff seeding and a more level competitive curve.

But just as coaches are beginning to come to terms with the new realignment, another shuffling of divisions is on the horizon for next year, and the new adjustments are sure to have coaches once again questioning what is best for the student athletes.