The Ithaca, Vestal and Johnson City boys lacrosse teams have enjoyed strangleholds on their respective Section 4 championships in recent years, a trend all three hope continues this season.
Ithaca has won five consecutive Class A crowns, Vestal the past three Class B titles and Johnson City the past two Class C titles. While the Little Red has an entirely new starting lineup from last year’s state runner-up, both Vestal and Johnson City have many key players returning as they seek a return to the state playoffs.
They will all undergo their quests in a revamped Section 4 Boys Lacrosse Conference, which will consist of three divisions, one more than a year ago.
Division I will consist of Binghamton, Corning, Ithaca, Horseheads, Vestal and Union-Endicott; Division II will include Chenango Valley, JC, Maine-Endwell, Oneonta, and Owego; and Division III will feature Chenango Forks, Dryden, Elmira Notre Dame, Seton Catholic Central and Whitney Point.
Elmira will compete as an independent this season with first-year varsity program Watkins Glen.
Binghamton is seeking its sixth consecutive winning season, and will do so under first-year coach Mark Ward, who was instrumental in building the Owego program several years ago and has also had head coaching stints at Seton Catholic Central.
Ward inherits a squad with 17 seniors, but also three sophomores and three freshmen. Two of those freshmen, goalie Thomas Draper and attacker Stavros Zervos, will start. Among key seniors are All-Section 4 Division I defenseman Salen Turkovic and midfielder/face-off specialist Ben Stallman.
Ithaca has gone 69-8 the past four seasons, advancing to three state final fours, including a pair of state runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2012. Though suffering heavy graduation losses, the Little Red do return senior attack Charlie Estill and junior attack Zach Johnson.
Corning will have an new starting attack but returns midfielders Spencer Passmore, Sam Crusha and Garrett Huff. Austin Cates (defensive middie) and goalie Nick Nehring also return. Coach Chris Hogue is hopeful attacks Kyle Grimaldi and Aidan Olmstead and midfielder Devon Sullivan can emerge as viable contributors.
Former Vestal standout Chris Dutkowsky takes over the coaching reins at his alma mater. Dutkowsky’s squad features a good group of senior midfielders in Section 4 all-star and Syracuse-bound Pat Carlin, Cortland State-bound Zach Cook, and Rob Potenzino. Troy Harding, another senior, will be a key presence at long-stick middie.
Junior Jake Nelson, a Section 4 all-star, is the top attack, and senior Nick Nestlerode returns in goal. Defensively, seniors Kevin Tung and Tyler Lane, junior Kolby Kuratnick and sophomore Eamon Reynolds will be key.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” said Dutkowsky, of extending Vestal’s sectional title streak. “I just want to keep everything going the way it’s been. The (kids) have been great. I came in, and right from the start they trusted the change to myself and (assistant) Scott Faulkner very well.”
Union-Endicott should show improvement defensively behind a veteran group that consists of goalie Luke Wilbur and defensemen Justin Ketchum, Sean Silkworth and Brendon Brown. Midfielders Peter Ciacelli, Chad Strauss, Marco Carney and attack Justin Flint are the top returners on offense.
Potential impact players for the Tigers include sophomore attack Ben Bedosky and junior long-stick middie Brandon Coletti.
Horseheads could emerge as a Section 4 Class B title threat. The Blue Raiders are bolstered by a quartet of returning Section 4 all-stars: senior attack Jordan Gush (33 goals last season), senior defenseman Bailey Bourgeois, senior goalie Chris Buccarelli and sophomore midfielder Ian Cook (27 goals-25 assists).
Johnson City went undefeated through regular-season and Section 4 postseason play last season, and while the Wildcats must replace nine Section 4 all-stars, there is sufficient talent another title run.
Most notable among the returnees are senior midfielder Nick Neferis (56 goals-18 assists) and junior attack Shane Majewski (63-31), who was Section 4’s leading scorer last season and is the school’s all-time goals leader with 224.
JC also features three other Section 4 all-stars in sophomore Adam Korutz — who moves from long-stick middie to defense — goalie Chris Charnetsky and defenseman Colby Chapman.
Maine-Endwell, which lost 11-10 to Johnson City in last year’s Class C final, should be among the chief challengers again this season.
The Spartans’ defense is led by Section 4 all-stars Hunter Hazen and Steve Salvatore, both juniors. Senior attack Brock Post, another all-star, was one of the top scorers in Section 4 last season, and defensive middie Kyle Urban was also an all-star.
Senior Tyler DeSario is the new starting goalie, replacing All-American Tanner Cosens.
Chenango Forks and Whitney Point both enjoyed solid seasons a year ago and could find themselves in the title hunt as well.
Forks, Division III champion last year, has Section 4 all-stars back in midfielders Jack Sherwood, faceoff specialist Ryan Bronson, and defenseman Alex Freije. Among other key returners are Jake Gaworecki (midfield), Cody Lamond (face-off specialist), Logan Hall (attack), and John Colm Sweeney (defense).
Whitney Point features high-scoring Jake Lynch and Corey Hodges on attack, as well as goalie Drew Gardner, all three earning Section 4 all-star honors last season. Donovan Sturdevant is another key returner.
Owego lost several key players to graduation and will lean on returners Brandon Pauly on attack, Tyler Ford, Pat Bilbrey and Sean Smith in the midfield, Ryan Wilson at long-stick middie, Dave Lopez on defense and Nick Figuerado in goal.
Seton Catholic Central has Section 4 All-Stars Dan O’Brien (midfielder), Sam Crowley (attack) and Connor Foley (defense) leading the way. The Saints also feature a solid goalie in senior Keyshawn Baker and experience on defense with Bobby Kelly, Ben Kondrup and Kendrick McMahon. Joe Hess, Ryan Moran, and Mike Schmidt should provide ample offense.
Chenango Valley’s top returner is Section 4 all-star and four-year varsity player Bryan Pert on defense. Seniors Brian Ball and Karlton Ruf are other notable defenders. Warriors coach Chris Ruf must replace his team’s top three scorers from a year ago and is hopeful Ryan Corey and Reed Grunder can pick up some of the scoring slack. Nick Pert will handle face-off duties.
Elmira Notre Dame has the high-scoring senior duo of Jonas McCaig and Brandon Mahajan on attack. Both are returning all-stars, along with senior defender Will Pochal as part of a veteran roster that should improve upon last year’s 3-13 campaign.
Dryden features considerable experience with third-year players Joe DeLucia (Section 4 all-star), Ross Cole and Dan Atwood, all capable scorers. Midfielder Erik Dardia leads a unit that also includes senior Howie Lauretti and Duran Joyce. Jake Czpranski (long-stick) and Griffen Wood (defense) are seniors who should have an impact.
Elmira has a new coach in Jason Stukey, a graduate of longtime state power West Genesee High who was the Express’s JV coach the past two seasons. He will guide a team that features returners Kyle Johnson and Joe Cerio in the midfield, Jordan Goldbourn and Tim Forrest on defense, Tyler Prunoske and Shea Ames on attack and Brandon Taft in goal.
Watkins Glen, under coach Joe Kostolansky will play a schedule against varsity and junior varsity competition.