Spring often means winning at Niagara Wheatfield.
From the lacrosse field to the diamonds to the tennis court, the Falcons are no strangers to success, finding it consistently in the Niagara Frontier League, if not at the sectional level.
This spring would have been no different. With Chase Chapman and Jocelyn Fike firing away for the lacrosse teams, and the likes of Ryan Mellerski and Lauren Vickers leading baseball and softball, there was plenty to be excited for in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the spring season just as it was getting underway.
Here’s a look at how things may have shaken out in Sanborn:
Head coach Vince Schiffert has fielded some fantastic teams over the years, so when he says he was excited for a season, it carries some weight.
“This team had the potential to contend for a championship,” Schiffert said of his 2020 squad. “This year’s team was very similar to some of our best teams in the past: lots of seniors in each position, great leadership returning, a loaded offense, solid defense and good goalie.”
The Falcons would have carried 15 seniors, including Chase Chapman, their two-time returning leading scorer and captain, and Brian Smith, last year’s top defender.
Also back was goalie Colton Pankiewicz, who was “poised to have a big year.”
“He was not a starter last year, but he put in a ton of work, improved over the summer,” Schiffert said. “He put in his time working out and in tournaments and is a great team leader.”
Desmond Pickell, a “real difference maker” as a scrappy midfielder who missed all of last season with a foot injury, was back, and the smooth JT Hamby spent the offseason growing, lifting weights and playing box lacrosse ahead of his third varsity season.
“He was a beast this year,” Schiffert said. “He just grew into his body, weightlifting, getting stronger, just a shame. He’s a kid that would have had a dynamite season.
“He had all the smooth offensive skills but now had the strength to impose his will on the field.”
Schiffert was also expecting big things from short-stick defensive midfielder Ben Foster, who brought a rare set of skills.
“He’s very athletic, fast and tough,” Schiffert said. “The last time we had a good SSDM like Ben, we went to the Section VI championship.”
Jacob Lizzio, Kyle Ackerson, Zack Lloyd, Trevor Sztorc, Connor Kilgour, Joseph Hoover II, Aidan Patterson, Preston Dolan, Brandon Smith and Drango Hawkins made up the rest of the seniors class, a group that included many who’d been playing lacrosse together since 6 or 7 years old for the Tuscarora team.
Schiffert was also excited for a few youngsters, including freshmen Landen Johnson, River Printup and Evan Belter.
Sophomore Jake Gansworth was also in for a big year.
“He played last year as a ninth-grade attackman,” Schiffert said. “He improved the most of all our guys this offseason. The last couple tournaments he was a beat at midfield both on offense and defense.”
Schiffert said he program is going to feel the loss of a season that was shaping up to be this special.
“This is gonna be a big deal,” he said. “This year we had some underclassmen try out. They’re pretty good ballplayers, and I kept them so they could get some playing time this year, so next year when they need to be the man, they got some experience under their belts.”
What do you get when you pair one of the top scorers in school history with a few talented up-and-comers?
Head coach Trish Pineda sure wishes she could have found out.
Pineda’s Lady Falcons missed their final season of Jocelyn Fike, who seemed poised to shatter school records as a senior while showing a flock of excitement-worthy youngsters the ropes.
Fike, who is headed to D-1 Youngstown State this fall, had 86 goals and 15 assists as a junior and was “very close to” the school scoring record.
She would have run with freshman Tristan Davis, who Pineda said was ready to stop into the role as NW’s top secondary offensive threat, as well as sophomores Olivia Rickard and Nina Hamby.
“We had high hopes this year,” Pineda said. “We had a lot of talent that moved up. ... Those three missed out playing with some of our senior talent that we’re going to miss.”
The Mackenzies, senior Musgrove and junior Smith, would have rounded out the attack, while Hannah Wilson returned to net. Senior Allison Dena and junior Lily Conroy were set to be the team’s top defenders.
Also in the senior class of 10 were Kaylin Mt. Pleasant, who returned to the program for her final season; attackers Haley Navenma and Kelsey Downie; and defenders Sarah McGuire, Gabrielle Captain and Reanna Walck.
Mt. Pleasant, Dena and Wilson will move on to play at D-3 D’Youville, while Musgrove will play at D-3 Hilbert. Downie (D’Youville), Walck (NCCC) and Captain (UB) will move on but not play at the collegiate level.
“This year was going to be our big breakthrough coming out with the talent we had,” Pineda said. “I think next year’s going to be another building year and that’s going to hurt us, trying to get the younger kids exposed to the fast pace of the varsity level.”
Head coach Jim Hagerty’s Falcons were ready to make another run at the Niagara Frontier League championship, returning a large chunk of the roster that fell to Kenmore West in last season’s Section VI Class A-1 championship game.
“Since we were basically returning most of the field and most of the pitching staff, I had planned on us doing pretty well,” Hagerty said. “... I would say given that us and Ken West were in the sectional final last year, I would have been disappointed if we weren’t competing for a league title.”
Ryan Mellerski would have been the man on the hill this year after splitting the spotlight last season with Tommy Peltier, who’s now playing for D-1 Canisius College. Mellerski will head to NCCC in fall, and as of this writing was not planning on playing baseball.
Stepping up in Peltier’s place would have been Ben Eodice, a junior who’ll take over as ace in 2021.
Matt Lysiak, Ben Solomon, Tyler Hassen and Adam Liberti made up the rest of the senior class. Lysiak would have slid from left to centerfield this spring, while Solomon would have played right field and pitched. Hassen would have had the “first shot” at second base, while Liberti — a fourth-year varsity player — had been manning the hot corner since his sophomore year.
Lysiak, Solomon and Hassen are all headed to UB, which does not have a baseball program. Liberti will play next fall for D-3 Brockport.
Hagerty was also excited to see three more juniors who would have joined Eodice in playing key roles. Andrew Stillinger would have been in his third year starting at shortstop, while Ben Shapiro and Tyler Walton would have been in their second seasons as staters.
Hagerty said the absence of a spring season was a setback for everyone.
“It’s kind of hard to quantify,” he said. “I think the guys who will be back next year would have assumed leadership roles this year and they didn’t get a chance to do that. The seniors who are leaving, a couple of those guys were not everyday players before this year.
“I think this year’s juniors would have benefited from playing a little bit more of a leadership role than they did. Next year’s they’ll be winging it a little bit.”
This was supposed to be Year 1 of the post-Proefrock era for the Lady Falcons.
Kevin Schucker moved up from JV to take over as head coach for longtime leaders Jim and Melanie Proefrock, who stepped away from a powerful program to spend more time at home with their kids.
Along with their coaches, the Lady Falcons lost a group of experienced varsity players to graduation.
“We had a lot of turnover,” Schucker said. “We lost almost 25 years of varsity experience coming in.”
NW had six seniors, all of whom were set to start.
Jenna Bailey, one of the team’s captains, would have returned to first base and batted second. She’ll lace them up for D-3 Buffalo State next year. Middle-infielders Corin Loughrey and Lauren Vickers (D-3 D’Youville) would have also served as tri-captains.
Nikki Kwiatkowski was set to return behind the plate for her third season on varsity. Jordyn Smith, a “really big bat,” was back in centerfield after not playing as a junior, a development Schucker was very excited about. She’ll continue playing at D-3 Medaille. Mikayla Racey, the daughter of Starpoint baseball and football coach Tim Racey, would have manned right field after working her way back from an ACL injury.
“You feel really bad for all the seniors, but you feel really, really bad for Mikayla,” Schucker said.
Super sophomore Elanna Lysiak also would have been back at third base.
“To me, she was our offensive MVP last year (as a freshman)” Schucker said. “She was that good.”
Schucker hoped for another big freshman season in 2020, this time from Allison Siejka, who was set to at least serve as DH and join Smith and Lysiak in forming a dangerous middle of the order.
Leah Bailey, a sophomore, and eighth-grader Julia Kwitchoff would have split time in the circle.
“I was really looking forward to varsity this year,” Schucker said. “I felt like we had a good chance of really competing for the NFL title.”
Schucker was sure to thank the Proefrocks for their “20-plus years” of coaching, as well as new assistants, Ali Gonyea (JV) and Mike Hefferon (modified).
“We lean on each other,” Schucker said. “We’re a program. We leave our egos at the door.
“It’s not a lot of turnover. Ali (who had been Shucker’s JV assistant for three years) is ready to take over JV, and Mike’s been doing a great job with modified.”
While fall is when most local high school golf is played, the standouts punch their tickets to championships in the spring.
Three Falcons will miss out on a trip to the Section VI state qualifier, including two seniors, Adam Liberti and Dylan Bennett.
This would have been Liberti’s second trip to sectionals and Bennett’s first.
The third Falcon to miss out is junior Anthony Delisanti, who is very much established as one of the section’s best. Still, it was a chance to return to states after making the cut as a freshman and missing by a stroke (or two) last spring.
“I think he definitely would have had a shot to make the state team,” head coach Tim Codd said. “He’s good enough. He’s proven himself ever since seventh grade.”
After finishing third in the NFL last season, head coach Dan Krolewski was hopeful of another spring of contention.
With three returning seniors and plenty of experienced underclassmen, he had good reason.
“We were definitely hopeful for a successful season,” Krolewski said. “We had a real strong team of starters coming back.”
It all started with the Leitch twins, Bryson and Spencer, and Tony Liu, the senior trio.
“They’ve been with me since they were young,” Krolewski said. “It just stinks that they lost their senior season.
Tom May and Braden Rinehart, a freshman and eighth grader, starters all of last year, were back as well. So was another eighth grader, Quin Conroy, who got his feet wet last season.
Krolewski was worried what the lost season would do from a developmental standpoint, and not just for his players.
“For a lot of these kids, especially in the NFL, that don’t make it to the Erie County clubs, they only play during the high school season,” he said. “That’s the only real instruction they get, outside of maybe doing a little on their own during the offseason. ... It’ll be interesting to see what it does for that development.”