One would be hard-pressed to put together a tougher schedule than the one coach Chris Dole and his young Chautauqua Lake Thunderbirds have endured thus far this season.
Already they've squared off against Maple Grove, last year's Section 6 Class C-2 runners up, Westfield, another strong contender for this year's Class C-2 crown, Southwestern and, most recently on Sunday evening, Salamanca.
Through this trial by fire Dole and his squad - a group still learning to adapt to the speed of a varsity-level contest - have kept one maxim in mind.
Chautauqua Lake’s Ian Clute puts up a shot while being surrounded by Salamanca defenders during the consolation game of the Southwestern TaBone Christmas Classic on Sunday night. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
"Win the battles within the war."
And though they suffered yet another defeat to Salamanca, 55-43, in the consolation game of the Southwestern TaBone Christmas Classic at Jamestown Community College, dropping the Thunderbirds to just 1-6 overall, Dole sees improvement and sees the team winning those battles within the greater war.
"There's improvement," he said. "The kids aren't hanging their heads, they understand (what they have to do), the little things like executing our offense. We just have to keep working and hopefully as the season goes on it'll get better."
Case in point: The Thunderbirds, trailing 11-2 early in the opening period, put together a 6-0 run over a three-minute span to eventually cut the deficit to 14-8. Later, over the final four minutes of play, Chautauqua Lake outscored Salamanca, 8-0, behind five points, including a triple, from Ian Clute, and two points apiece from Cody Latimer and senior (just one of two on the team) Jordan Briggs.
"We crawled back a little bit (at times)," Dole said. "We made a nice little run in the first half when they switched to man-to-man and we also had a good run when we executed a simple pick-and-roll with Clute and (point guard) A.J. Hulton.
"But they couldn't stay with it. It's not second-nature yet, and when it is we'll be competitive."
Not helping the Chautauqua Lake cause was the white-hot start Salamanca got off too in the first quarter.
Led by Jarron Ball, who tallied 11 points in the first quarter alone, the Warriors connected on four of their first five 3-point shots. A pair of baskets by all-tournament choice Tanner John, who finished with 14 points to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists, and Salamanca was ahead 18-8 by the end of the opening period.
"Everything went down for them," Dole marvelled. "I turned to (assistant coach Ed Hulton) and said, 'They're hot.' At the beginning they were absolutely hot."
And they didn't slow down a bit in the second.
Jared Fish, who finished with a team-high 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists, kicked off a 22-8 spree over the next 8 minutes that gave Salamanca an insurmountable halftime lead, 33-18, and Chautauqua Lake wouldn't make it any closer than 15 points until late in the final period.
Clute, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half, was the Thunderbirds' all-tournament team selection.
NOTES: Southwestern won its own tournament (over Sherman, 48-38) for the first time in the Christmas Classic's three-year run and Pete Trathen was selected the MVP. ... Other all-tournament team members were Alek Peck of Southwestern, Ryan Robson of Sherman and Jake Card, also of Sherman, who earned the Defensive Award. ... Clute hauled down 14 rebounds and blocked three shots, while teammate Kyle Mayer added three assists.
John 6 1 14, Ball 4 2 13, Crandall 1 0 2, Fish 6 3 15, Hinman 2 0 5, Stahlman 2 2 6, Beattie 0 0 0. Totals 21 8 55.
CHAUTAUQUA LAKE (43)
Clute 5 5 16, Mayer 2 0 4, Thomas 4 1 9, Hulton 2 3 7, Miller 0 2 2, Briggs 0 3 3, Latimer 1 0 2. Totals 14 14 43.
3-point goals: John, Ball 3, Hinman, Clute.
Salamanca18 15 13 9 - 55
Chautauqua Lake 8 10 10 15 - 43