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Jacks Defeat Olean, Remember Woolston

On a night where the NT community came together to remember Taylor Woolston, a junior who passed away unexpectedly last weekend, the Lumberjacks gave them an honest effort and a nice non-league victory.
By Frank Wolf
Published on January 8th, 2023 @ 9:00am

"Nothing brings people together more than shared suffering." Those were the words of North Tonawanda varsity boys basketball coach Ryan Mountain Friday night following the Lumberjacks 59-51 win over Olean.

On a night where the NT community came together to remember Taylor Woolston, a junior who passed away unexpectedly last weekend, the Lumberjacks gave them an honest effort and a nice non-league victory.

A moment of silence was held prior to tip-off after public address announcer Joe Kraus delivered a touching tribute for Woolston, who was in her Junior year at the school. Most in attendance wore blue as a sign of unity. Woolston was a varsity lacrosse player and was remembered as a great friend and kind spirit.

Mountain was also one of her teachers. "Taylor was a beautiful soul, and last night wasn't easy. There was a candle light vigil at the little league football field where everyone gathered to release balloons. When the music started, I just broke down and lost it."

A GoFundMe fundraising campaign for the family was well over the $25,000 goal Saturday morning. Woolston had played basketball for the Jacks and her jersey was on display at center court behind the scorers table.

The Lumberjacks controlled the tempo for most of the game and at one point in the third quarter held a 10-point lead. Olean would rally thanks to some stellar defensive play and the hot handed duo of Thomas Bates and Cade Anastasia, and a lead-changing three by Jake DeRose. The Huskies held a brief lead before Patrick McNeil and Moses Merchant hit back-to-back three's, giving the Jacks the lead for good.

McNeill led all scorers with 19 points while Merchant poured in 14. Quinn Haynes and Michael Shapiro each finished with double digit scoring. Olean ran out of fouls to give in the final minutes and NT took advantage from the charity stripe to seal the deal.

The Huskies are a team that Mountain had been wanting on his non-league schedule. "I was born there, we moved when I was two, but I still have a lot of family there. Whenever we go to Buff State I just love how they play. I have a lot of respect for their program and it's all about Sectionals. Olean is a team that can win our bracket."

"What I was hoping to find out about my team, I found out tonight," Mountain said. "I love 'em, I thought they played their hearts out. Pat (McNeil) hit a couple huge shots for us. Shapiro did one of the most selfless things I've ever seen. He took himself out. He knew we needed Pat in there, who we were trying to get some minutes to rest, and that's leadership right there. We had some turnovers, we had some fatigue but our guys took care of the ball late and pulled it out. Olean had a couple of really tough points there but we didn't lose confidence which was nice to see."

NT improves to 4-4 overall. Olean is now 6-4 and will head to Allegany-Limestone in a huge league match-up.

"This was a night I don't think anyone in the building will ever forget. Taylor was a student of mine; it was a beautiful night for North Tonawanda. As a coach, I like to coach every team like it's my last. I pour all my energy into trying to create wonderful moments for the boys that last a lifetime. Who knows, maybe Taylor helped us down the stretch. I don't know how the season will end, it might end with that championship plaque. It might not. I feel good knowing that this team can feel this success together and feel these emotions and be able to celebrate what they deserve. We needed this win," Mountain said.

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