New York Section V As Deep As Ever Heading Into Playoffs
New York's Section V, which encompasses the city of Rochester, the Genesee River Valley and parts of the Finger Lakes Region, is becoming one of the most talent rich regions for lacrosse and this season is highlighting that.
Class A, B, and C are each deep with talent this year and, while there are some emerging front-runners, no one is necessarily untouchable as the post-season approaches with no untouchable front-runner at any level. Each class has at least three teams that could challenge for the sectional title, though all three defending champs entered the season with a slight edge.
In Class A, Pittsford entered the season as a favorite and has lived up to the billing thus far this season, owning a 13-0 record heading into Tuesday's matchup with rival Penfield. The Panthers are certainly the favorite overall this year in Class A, having yet to allow more than 10 goals and outscoring Section V Class A opponents so far by a combined 64-19. If anyone can contend with the Panthers, the Patriots are hoping it's them.
Pittsford has one of the deepest midfield units in Section V that features four players that are committed to Division I schools. Leading the way for them are the Barker brothers. Senior Brandon Barker and his younger brother, sophomore Colby Barker (Ohio State) are going to cause matchup problems for teams all year. Brandon led the team in points last season with 33 goals and 20 assists; his brother has emerged as a force this year, putting up 39 points so far.
Penfield has the top goalie in section V with Ohio State-bound Willie Klan who transferred from Webster Schroeder for his senior year. Klan has the ability to take over games and has excelled this season surrounded by the rest of the Patriots squad.
Class B is strong this year, with four or five tough teams. Victor is the returning champion but with Webster Thomas dropping to class B and Canadaigua and Irondequoit the traditional powerhouses all returning a bunch of talent from last season, anything could happen in the playoffs. But as team's wrap up their regular season, it is the Blue Devils who are undefeated at 12-0 and in the drivers seat.
Who can stop Victor's roll? Webster Thomas has one of the best players in the section in Kevin Hill (Penn State); he is leading the Titans with 69 points on 49 goals and 20 assists so far. In addition to Hill the Titans also have Travis Ford (Fairfield) who has a cannon for a shot and has 53 points so far this season. Irondequoit is under new head coach Mark Lovett this season and while struggling overall with a 4-7 record, the team is 4-2 in conference play.
Canadaigua is a very senior heavy team. Connor Hulme (Quinnipiac) is leading the way with 25 goals and 20 assists. He has been the focal point of the offense as he was last season. At 8-4, the Braves have a strong resume with their only losses to Class B opponents coming to Churchville-Chili and Victor.
Once again, Penn Yan is the top dog of Class C but there is a group of teams that are right behind them looking to overtake the Mustangs as the season reaches its boil. Pal-Mac, Geneva, and Aquinas are all improved and will be challenging for the section title. Tyler Hulbert is the reigning Finger Lakes player of the year and the senior attackman has become the catalyst of the Pal-Mac's offense this season. He leads the entire section with 74 points. But the Mustangs will be tough to top – their only losses were close battles against two Class B opponents, Webster Thomas and Canandaigua.
Geneva graduated a bunch of points but returns a squad full of upperclassmen. Aquinas has been steadily improving under coach Grant Catalino's tutelage and has played each opponent pretty tough this year.
While there are certainly some teams that are better known on the national level, the depth of the Rochester area and the enhanced level of talent is one of the more intriguing stories in high school lacrosse.
Class A: Pittsford (Current record: 13-0; 2014: Section V Class C Runner-up)
Key players: Brandon Barker, Midfield (Ohio State '15); Jared Connors, Defense/LSM (Virginia '16); Kevin Maguire, Goalie (St. Johnís '15); Mike Perotto, Defense (Binghamton '15); Jon Perotto, Attack (Vermont '16); Colby Barker, Midfield (Ohio State '17); James Felix, Midfield (Le Moyne '15); Jack Kaufman, Attack ('16); Frank Imburgia, Defense/LSM (Hobart '17)
The Panthers were upset last year in the Section V Class A championship by nearby rival Fairport in a wild 7-6 affair. The sting still felt by coach Andrew Whipple's team has been a driving factor this year as they've mowed through the competition.
This has been the No. 1 team in the USA Today High School Sports Upstate New York Super 25 rankings for the entire season thus far. The Panthers are scoring exactly 13 goals per game heading into Tuesday's matchup with Penfield, but more impressively, they are surrendering only 4.5 goals per contest. With the section's best defense and some of the league's most athletic defenders, Pittsford's offense can operate with less pressure.
Pittsford has been a program on the rise in Rochester for the previous few seasons, and it appears things are finally coming to fruition. The seniors on the team are battle tested and looking to help establish the team as a true powerhouse in Section V. The only team that has tested the Panthers so far is a Corning out of Section IV, a squad that fell to Pittsford 8-6.
Class B: Victor (Current record: 12-0; 2014: Section V Class B champions, NYS semifinalist)
Key Players: Ryan Maloney, Attack (Cornell '16); Max Lambert, Attack (UMass '16); Jamie Trimboli, Midfield (Syracuse '16); Mike Demarco, Midfield (Binghamton '16); TD Ierlan, FO/Midfield (Albany '16); Patrick Barrow, Defense (Albany '16); Jack Callahan, LSM (Bryant '16)
Last year's Class B champs are expected to repeat down the stretch. Coach Jim Andre's team is littered with Division 1 commits at every position. The Blue Devils' schedule pits them against the likes of Section IV's Corning and Section VI's Hamburg, both quality wins on Victor's resume coming against two traditionally strong team.
In addition to those teams and their challenging Class B schedule, the Devils have won games over some of Section V's top Class A teams as well, including Webster Thomas and Fairport.
On offense the Blue Devils feature five of their top six scorers from last season. Junior attackman Ryan Maloney (43g, 27a) is the team's top scorer from a year ago. After recovering from an injury early in the season, Maloney is back to form with 28 points. Max Lambert is another returner to the attack and led the team in assists last season; he's already assisted on 21 this season. The midfield is also very strong with Jamie Trimboli (Syracuse), Mike DeMarco (Binghamton), and Dan Barrow (Mercyhurst). TD Ierlan (Albany) is one of the better FOGO's in all of Section V.
"If there was one player who has the ability to change the game it would be TD," Andre said early this season.
As strong as they are on offense the Blue Devils may be even stronger on the defensive end. They returned five all-league players on defense from last season. Their top guy is Patrick Barrow who marks the opposition's best player. Andre described Barrow as, "explosive player with a great stick." He's helped Victor allow only 4.5 goals per game this season.
Class C: Penn Yan (Current record: 8-3; 2014: Section V Class C champions, NYS semifinalist)
Key players: Sean Emerson, Attack/Midfield (Siena '16); Austin Fingar, Midfield (Cornell '16); Tyler Bray, Defense ('15); Jake Covert, Defense ('16); Gage Ponsetti, Goalie (Siena '16)
The Mustangs lost a lot from last season's state semifinalist squad, but still return as this year's frontrunner in Class C. Coach Brian Hobart and his team have made it this far into the season with an 8-3 record, with losses coming only to Worthington Kilbourne (Ohio) and Class B opponents Webster Thomas and Canandaigua. In addition, Penn Yan took games over the Buffalo area's Clarence and St. Joseph's Collegiate, Horseheads out of Section IV, and Albany Academy from Section II.
Junior Sean Emerson returns the most points from last season and he's greatly underrated on the national scene with 178 career points and another season after this one to go. Emerson is playing a mix of attack and midfield this season. Another junior, Austin Fingar, is back on the midfield after a strong sophomore campaign that saw him register a goal and five assists in the state quarterfinals against Akron. Both players have been on the varsity since eighth grade and have gotten better each year. Junior Craig Gerhardt is a lefty attackman that has been banged up in the past but has come on strong with 33 points this season. The offense has been rounded out by new role players.
Hobart described this year's defense as having "no superstars and a very lunch bucket group."
Next in Line
Class A: Penfield 6-5
With the addition of transfer and standout goalie Willie Klan, the Patriots got a huge lift this season. Though the results haven't been as impressive as might have been expected in the preseason, Penfield has a 4-0 record in its conference has nothing to lose in looking to knock of Pittsford in what might be the biggest game of the year in Rochester.
Class B: Webster Thomas 10-2
Coach Rob Ruller's Titans have the majority of their team that went to the sectional semifinals last season as a class A school. With the drop to Class B this season and returning All-American Kevin Hill (Penn State '15) they are in good shape to win section V.
Class C: Gananda 10-1
The Blue Panthers have quietly put together a 10-1 season, including a big 7-5 win over Geneva. This Finger Lakes team has put up big goal totals all season long and could be a nightmare matchup with Joe Fisher leading the way with 59 points.
Players to Watch
Class A: Willie Klan, Goalie, Penfield, Sr. (Ohio State)
An honorable mention American Family Insurance All-USA preseason honoree. The top goalie in the section moved from Webster Schroeder to Penfield for his senior year after being a three-year starter for the Warriors. Klan finished 2014 with a 46.5 save percentage and a 9.5 goals against average; this year he has made 124 saves and allowed only 76 goals. He is energetic, communicative and is one of the best stoppers in Upstate, if not the very best.
Class B: Kevin Hill, Midfield, Webster Thomas, Sr. (Penn State)
The senior midfielder is the only returning U.S. All-American in the section. Hill also participated in the Under Armour underclass games for the Upstate squad last summer. A four-year starter for Coach Rob Ruller's team that has upped his point total each season scored 51 goals and added 16 assists in 2014. This year he's totaled 49 goals and 20 assists so far, already topping his production from last year. If Thomas is going to make a deep run into the playoffs they will need Hill to play to his potential as the top player in Class B.
Class C: Austin Fingar, Midfield, Penn Yan, Jr. (Cornell)
The junior is a blue collar, do-it-all midfielder for Brian Hobart's team. Fingar takes face-offs, plays offense, and then stays on to play defense. He notched 26 goals and 32 assists in 2014; he's got 36 points so far this season. The lefty plays the quarterback role for the offense from the midfield better than anyone else in Section V and is equally adept at scoring or feeding.
Ken Stockmann hails from Long Island, where he played his high school lacrosse at Smithtown in Suffolk County. He went on to play Division III lacrosse at SUNY Plattsburgh from 1999 to 2001, where he served as an assistant coach for three years after his playing career. Ken currently lives in Rochester, N.Y., where he has been a junior varsity, modified and youth lacrosse coach. In early 2014, he began covering Division III lacrosse for Inside Lacrosse. Follow him on Twitter @Longstick33.