Just less than a year ago, members of the Shenendehowa boys’ lacrosse program were sitting together during a break in an offseason workout. That’s when the squad saw a figure approaching from a distance, leaving the Plainsmen athletes and coaches to try to figure out his identity through the day’s shadows and heat.
“And, it was Peter Russo,” remembered Plainsmen coach Jason Gifford. “He just came in and said, ‘I want to play lacrosse again.’
“And we’ve been thrilled to have him back,” added Gifford, whose squad plays today in the Section II Class A semifinals against Shaker.
It’s easy to see why Gifford’s Plainsmen are thankful to have Russo back in the mix. After a year away from playing lacrosse, Russo has emerged this spring as one of the area’s top offensive threats in his first varsity season. Through 17 games, Russo has scored or assisted in every game for the 13-4 Plainsmen, with 27 goals and 13 assists.
“He’s stepped up great,” teammate Liam Cannon said. “He’s been burying goals lately.”
In the Plainsmen’s 9-8 victory Tuesday against Guilderland in the quarterfinals, Russo registered a hat trick — a feat the senior is no stranger to on the ice. Russo has long been one of the area’s top hockey players — he earned that sport’s Section II Player of the Year honors in 2014 and 2015 — and his love for hockey pulled him away from lacrosse last spring to focus on getting ready for his senior hockey season.
In all, that decision worked out for Russo. One of the most accomplished hockey players in Shenendehowa history, Russo was a two-year captain for Juan de la Rocha’s team, and left the Plainsmen seventh in career scoring with 150 points. A mid-90s student, Russo will continue his hockey career at Binghamton University, which fields a team at the highest club level.
Russo completed the Plainsmen’s summer and fall lacrosse programs before returning to the ice this past winter. When that season ended with a disappointing loss in the semifinals, Russo went from being a captain to a varsity rookie with something to prove.
“I had to earn my way, earn the respect of my [lacrosse] teammates,” Russo said. “In hockey, it was all kind of expected of me.”
The transition has been a smooth one for Russo. Many of the traits that made him great on the ice — soft hands, touch, an understanding of spacing — have transferred to the turf, including a shot that comes from a low position with an upward motion.
“Coach always makes fun of me because I shoot better from a hockey position than I do from a regular lacrosse one,” Russo said of the slapshot style he’s brought to Section II lacrosse fields.
More importantly, the maturity he gained serving as a top hockey player helped him with the patience needed as he got reacquainted with lacrosse.
“He never seems to get rattled, to be honest,” said de la Rocha. “He’s always showed composure, both on and off the ice.”
That showed in Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup with Guilderland. Tied at 7-7 early in the fourth quarter, Shenendehowa was only able to relax a bit when Russo netted back-to-back goals in a span of 50 seconds to give the Plainsmen their first lead since the second quarter.
“I’m happy for him — and I’m glad we have him,” Gifford said.
Russo, too, is happy the Plainsmen lacrosse program has him back in the fold. After he spent last spring missing the game, Russo said this season has been one of the most enjoyable of his career.
“I don’t know what I would have done without it,” he said. “This has been a great season and a great team.”
A previous version of this story misstated the tournament Shenendehowa lacrosse played in. The team is playing in the Class A tournament.
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Categories: High School Sports