By AARON GARLAND
Niagara Gazette — After losing eight starters from last year’s Class B finalist team, the Niagara-Wheatfield lacrosse team is restocking the lineup — but not without the leadership of some established faces.
The new-look squad will be headed by a triad of captains who are set to play NCAA Division I college lacrosse after their playing days with the Falcons. Senior attackmen Robert McMicking and Zachary Dubuc are committed to the University of Tampa, while junior midfielder/attack Brennen Ferguson will play collegiately at Syracuse University.
“Very exciting players,” Falcons head coach Vince Schiffert said of the trio, who finished as the three top scorers on the team last year. “They’re one of the better attacks in Western New York.”
Led by its captains, scoring shouldn’t be a problem for Niagara-Wheatfield. However, it did graduate five of six starters at midfield, two starting defensemen and its starting goalie from a team that finished 16-3 (13-2 Class B) in 2012.
Some young players will now be looked upon to fill the voids left by the departed seniors. After reaching and playing Hamburg in the Section VI Class B finals the last two years — they won the final in 2011 — Schiffert’s prospects for this season have not been deterred.
“We have high expectations every year,” Schiffert said. “Sometimes we have a year like this, where the guys are young, you graduate a lot. So we take our lumps early on. The idea is it matters at the end of the year. You take some lumps early, it pays off later.”
One young player that is expected to step up is sophomore defender James Stenzel. Schiffert described him as a dynamite player, who is fast and a great athlete.
Several other freshmen and sophomores are expected receive significant playing time, but there will be an adjustment period with them. Once they are adept with the level of play, Schiffert noted there is no reason the team can’t replicate what has been accomplished the last two years.
“I think this is going to be one of those years where we’re going to struggle with some young guys until they figure out our system and they learn to play with each other,” he said. “And by playoff time it should be OK, and I’ll be looking forward to getting back into that championship game again.”
Junior midfielders Justin Westmorland and Kevin Daunce are not projected to light up to scoreboard this season. But they are hard-working, high character players that embody the mantra head coach Kris Brayley is instilling in his team this season — “Play without fear.”
“Fear will cripple you. It will take the joy away from the game and it will cripple you,” Brayley said.
Wilson experienced the most successful season in school history last year, going 13-5 (9-5 Class C) en route to making the sectional semifinals. The Lakemen lose eight players from that team, including Aric Frieschlag, who now plays at NCCC, and the school’s all-time scoring and assists leader, Tyler Martin.
With a young roster that Brayley described as a “fearless bunch”, he is embracing a style that emphasizes more ball possession to limit opponents’ time on the offensive. Tri-captains, junior defender Timothy Walch, senior midfielder Zachary Mariani and senior attack Zachary Magoon, will join Westmorland and Daunce in leading the young squad.
Magoon and junior Jacob Farmer are the team’s returning leading scorers. Last season, Magoon had nine goals and 29 assists, while Farmer netted 37 goals.
Brayley is assisted by Ed Schiffert, who was WNY Assistant Coach of the Year two seasons ago, Eric Frieschlag, John Gansworth and Brian Peck. With no modified or JV program, Brayley largely attributes the development of players to his assistants.
“They show up every day,” Brayley said of the volunteer coaches. “We can really break kids down and work on some really fundamental skills and work them up along the way and try to put some strategy in as we go.”
The Lancers enter 2013 as the sixth year of the program, and they look to further develop it.
“We’re still facing growing pains,” said Lew-Port head coach Dan Helms, who has coached the team since day one. “But there’s definitely some expectations to get a few more wins this year. … The goal is to continuously climb the ladder.”
Guiding the effort to grow the team is a group of seniors.
Alex Haim will take over in goal for the graduated Will Wilczek. Co-captains Noah Giusiana and Dakota Pembleton are back to stabilize the defense. Other co-captain, midfielder Jack Tewsley, is back after a strong junior campaign and John Anderson will be looked upon as the team’s leading attack.
The Lancers finished 3-15 overall, 2-9 in Class C last season.
Chaz Bulera prepares for his second season as head coach of the Vikings after finishing 3-13 overall, 1-12 in Class B last year. No further information was made available.