By AARON GARLAND
Niagara Gazette — There is a new standard for the Niagara-Wheatfield girls lacrosse team.
They experienced success in the Niagara Frontier League last season, and are now shifting more focus toward augmenting their play against Class B opponents.
The Falcons finished 10-7 overall a year ago, which included winning the NFL with a 7-1 league record. But their season ended in the quarterfinals of the Section VI Class B playoffs, losing to West Seneca West, 19-8.
“Our goals, NFL is a part of it, but I would say our main goals are just continuing success in Class B,” fourth-year Falcons head coach Kristen McGuinness said. “Kind of learning how to compete with those teams and then move on just playing well with them all season and being ready then for postseason play.”
Having graduated only two seniors after last season, the team returns seven seniors and 10 of 11 starters from 2012. With that, the Falcons are well-positioned to get further in the postseason this year.
“The team’s coming in with a lot of confidence from the 2012 season and the success that we had in that,” she said. “And then just coming in a little bit older and with experience in the offseason will definitely help us move ahead this year.”
The lone starter N-W loses is defender Mackenzie Oddo, who was the 2012 Gazette Player of the Year and now plays on NCCC’s team. Senior co-captains, midfielder Laura Messer and defender Kayla Markott, will be looked upon to help fill the void left by Oddo.
McGuinness sees Messer as equally important on both ends of the field, considering her a well-rounded player. On top of her standout defensive play, she was the Falcons’ second-leading scorer in 2012.
Also returning for the Falcons is junior Marissa Smith, who led the team with 31 goals a year ago. Expected to complement Smith on the offense are junior midfielders Madelyn Gansworth and 2012 JV leading goal-scorer Allison Rickard.
Though a deepened run in Class B sectionals is what N-W will strive for this season, playing local teams in the five-team NFL should help prepare them for that.
“It’s great to see that there’s competition between a league and playing each team twice you kind of learn a little bit about them and it builds that competition between the girls,” McGuinness said of the league. Grand Island Having a veteran-laden roster, second-year Grand Island coach Jennifer Shalke has accumulated a higher outlook for this season.
The Vikings lose three seniors from last season’s team that went 3-12 (3-5 NFL) and Shalke is confident in her upperclassmen’s abilities to improve the team.
To help attain her goal of having the first winning season in program history, Shalke aspires for the team to double their scoring output from last season. They scored around six goals per game last year, and Shalke wants 12 per game in 2013.
“We lost too many close games last year because we weren’t scoring goals, so I like to set the bar high for my girls,” she said.
Leading the offense will be seniors Megan Carroll and Megan Wendt. They were the Vikings’ first- and second- leading scorers in 2012, respectively.
It is also a pair of seniors that will anchor the defense, with Marina Scerra and Grace Olszewski returning to the back end. Midfielders Mia Villani and Madz Wright are part of a large junior class Shalke also expects a lot from, since many of them have experience starting on varsity.
Shalke noted with her first year coaching the team under her belt, she can apply what she learned during it to advance the team’s play.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve taken away, when you get a team to play together, they go so much further when they believe in each other,” she said.
Entering their fifth year as a program, the Wolverines are relying on a collective team effort to cope with the departures from last year’s team that finished 2-15 (1-7 NFL).
Niagara Falls graduated eight seniors in 2012, including co-captains Alyssa Campana and Brandi Hunt, who is the school’s all-time leading scorer. The graduating class also comprised the whole starting defense unit from last year.
With so much roster turnover, fifth-year Wolverines coach Williams Schmidtke is looking for balance at every position, specifically the attack, to maximize the team’s potential. Leading the team will be a trio of captains — senior midfielder Sydney Smith, senior goalie Brooke Spambauer and junior midfielder Maddi Chille.
“I think I’ve got capable girls, the pie is going to be split up,” said Schmidtke, who will have seven seniors this year. “… It’s going to take that balanced attack. “That way, (opponents) won’t know exactly who to really key on.”