by Scott Kindberg
March 8, 2022
‘We Have Belief’
The last time Nolan Swanson was at the Buffalo State Sports Arena for a boys basketball game was in 1994. Then a senior at Sherman Central School, he was selected to play in the Western New York All-Star Game, featuring the top prep players in the region.
His jersey number — I looked it up — was 41.
Fast-forward nearly three decades.
Swanson and the Westfield team he coaches will be figuratively the owners of two different and significant numbers when they arrive on Grant Street late Saturday morning. As the No. 1 Class D team from Section VI and the No. 2 team in the state, the Wolverines will meet Section V’s champion in the Far West Regional, the winner advancing to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four.
“It’s cliche,” Swanson said Monday afternoon, “but I couldn’t have imagined it … just because you know it’s such a hard thing to accomplish. With the way our program has been in Westfield, we’ve had good teams, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump because of this or that.”
But last Friday night, the Wolverines claimed their first sectional crown in nearly 20 years, downing Sherman for the fourth time. The mere mention of the journey they’ve been on the last three months — 22 wins, including 21 in a row, with a core group of players who have been friends since grade school — left Swanson emotional.
“I’ve had enough in the papers,” said Swanson, who succeeded longtime coach Bob North this season. “I just hope that most of it is 99 percent on my guys.”
Swanson’s “guys” include seniors Darien Swanson, Ethan Weingart, Josh Barresi, Cole Holland, Dominic Quagliana, Harrison Rotunda, Wyatt Schuster and Logan Whitesell; juniors Logan Tuah, Efren Hernandez, Aiden Larson and Chris Rotunda; and freshman Carson Swanson.
They advanced to the Far West Regional by knocking off Franklinville, Pine Valley and Sherman.
“The JCC semifinal and final, it’s like it forged our team,” Swanson said. “Everyone finally understood that nothing matters other than to win the game. Wherever the ball ends up going, it ends up going.”
And, defensively, well, that’s been the Wolverines’ calling card.
“Everybody’s on the same page, they’re focused,” Swanson said. “That’s a great sign that we’re coming together that way at the right time.”
He knows a little bit about performing on the biggest stages. A member of the Wake Forest University and Chautauqua Sports halls of fame for his career as a distance runner, Swanson has successfully coached and conditioned his team to its best season since 2003.
“Even though I was a pro runner, I’ve probably spent more time in a basketball gym than even running, which is crazy to say, but it’s probably true,” he said. “It’s just so much fun for these small towns.”
That was evident by the standing-room-only crowds that filled the Physical Education Complex at Jamestown Community College last week.
“I never played there,” said Swanson. “I forgot what a place it can be when it’s filled up with fans and how loud it is in there. It was an incredible environment.”
Now the Wolverines await the outcome of Wednesday’s Section V Class D crossover game between top-ranked Avoca-Prattsburgh and No. 7 Batavia Notre Dame.
The Wolverines began game planning for the Far West Regional on Monday.
“We know we have a chance of playing the top team in the state,” Swanson said. “We know about them. We can see things online and the boys have watched them online.
“We have belief. We aren’t playing anyone out of our league.”