The Niskayuna boys’ lacrosse team became Section II’s first to reach the state semifinals in 2000. In 2005, the Silver Warriors were the area’s first contingent to win at that stage and advance to a championship.
This afternoon, in the culmination of the program’s 16th season, the Silver Warriors again have an opportunity to break new ground.
“To be the first Section II team to win a state title is definitely a motivation. To be the first Niskayuna team is, too,” junior attackman Mark Panneton said Friday. “It would be awesome to be remembered for that. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Unbeaten Niskayuna will meet Canandaigua today at 4 for the state Class B championship at Marina Auto Stadium (formerly Rhinos Stadium) in Rochester. Niskayuna’s first state final five years ago ended with a 15-2 loss to powerhouse West Genesee.
“What we have a chance to do, it’s a little mind-boggling,” said senior defenseman Steve Abba, an All-American who scored a goal in Thursday’s 15-8 state semifinal win over Sayville. “The coaches definitely deserve it for all the time they put in. It would be awesome for them. It would be awesome for all of us.”
Niskayuna (24-0) is hoping today’s game plays out like its previous three in this year’s state tournament, when it built substantial halftime leads in wins over Saugerties (20-0), Somers (14-5) and Sayville.
“My goal for this season was to start quickly, especially on offense. In the regionals in 2007 and 2008 [Class A games against Yorktown] we got down, 3-0, both times. We couldn’t get out of the hole, and lost by one goal and three goals,” said Niskayuna coach Mike Vorgang. “We talk about winning the first second, the first minute and winning the quarter.
“The challenge to that is when it doesn’t happen, you have to be resilient.”
Panneton scored three of his four goals in the first quarter Thursday as Niskayuna raced to a 6-2 lead. Jared Franze and fellow All-American Dan McKinney both had two goals before the half was through as the state’s No. 1-ranked team increased its advantage to 9-3.
“Our offense has been doing a great job. They definitely propel our defense. They pump us up,” said senior goalkeeper Stefan Sloma. “When they’re scoring, it makes us want to play better.”
McKinney finished with five goals and three assists against Sayville after producing seven goals and one assist against Somers. In the Saugerties game, the Georgetown-bound midfielder and his brother, junior attackman Justin McKinney, both had three goals before that game was 10 minutes old.
“I think we’re just ready to play. We work for this so much. This is what we want,” said Panneton. “If you lose, you’re out. That’s been the attitude we take every day.”
The Silver Warriors will be done, one way or another, early this evening, hoping to complete a perfect season against a formidable Canandaigua (Section V, 21-2) team that has rattled off 19 straight victories since bowing to Corning East. The Braves also lost their season opener to Orchard Park.
“With these coaches, Mike Vorgang, Chris DeLano and P.J. Williams, we’re always the most prepared team,” said junior midfielder Guy Waltman, whose goal Thursday gave Niskayuna a 12-3 third-quarter cushion. “We go out with a good scouting report and know what to expect. We’ll be prepared for this team, and hopefully, we’ll come out on top.”
Canandaigua got three goals from Tom Lacrosse, and Marshall Johnson won 16 of 17 faceoffs in a 12-6 state semifinal win over Jamesville-DeWitt Thursday at St. John Fisher College. The Braves defeated Hamburg (17-3), Irondequoit (17-6) and Brighton (15-7) before that.
“They’ve very well-organized, well-coached. They have good players at all positions,” Vorgang said of Canandaigua, an eight-time Section V champ (Class A and B), but first-time state finalist. “I could tell they did a good job scouting [Jamesville-DeWitt] because they’d slide to some guys and not to others, and they’d lock off some guys and not some others.
“If they did their homework on us, they’ll know some of the things we do and who our top guys are. We put in some stuff to play a chess match with that.”
Two of the key pieces for Niskayuna will be faceoff man Mike Hall and Sloma, who started the last two games after backing up James Manchester all year. Manchester is out with the chicken pox.
“I found out I’d be starting the day of the Saugerties game,” Sloma said. “At first I was nervous. I had big shoes to fill. I had to go in and be confident and relaxed, and after starting the last two, I feel confident heading into this game. If I give up a goal, I’ve got to stay positive and stop the next one.”
The eight goals allowed against Sayville were a season high for Niskayuna. In 20 other games, it surrendered three goals or less, one of the reasons for its No. 14 ranking on the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse national poll.
“We’ve got to play together as a team,” said Abba. “[Thursday night} we did alright, but we have to communicate better on defense. They’re an organized team and they move the ball well. Look at the colleges their guys are going to, and they’re not at the highest level, but they’re a good team. They can play.”
Last season, Canandaigua lost in the state Class A semifinals to eventual champ West Genesee. Section V has had only one state champion in Penn Yan (Class C) in 2001.