Coming off back-to-back Section 4 Class B titles, and with nearly every key player back from last year, expectations are high for the Vestal girls lacrosse team.
But a season-opening 14-10 loss to Corning — the Golden Bears’ chief rival for Section 4 Class B supremacy this season — served as a reminder that a third Section 4 title is far from a given.
“We’ve got all these kids back, with a lot of experience,” said Vestal coach Dave Williams, whose team rebounded from the Corning loss with decisive victories over Union-Endicott and Chenango Forks. “We’re just trying to peak at the end of the year instead of the beginning.”
There is a plethora of high-caliber returners for Vestal, starting with a pair of Division I-bound players in senior attack Devon McKercher (headed to UMass-Lowell) and junior attack/midfielder Tomasina Leska (verbally committed to Cornell).
There are also seniors Megan Taylor (defense), Sarah Benyo (attack), and Nicole Lyons (attack), along with sophomore midfielder Noel Patterson, a starter since eighth grade.
Newcomers of note are junior Julia Lovagia and freshman Jamie Peters in the midfield.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement since that first game,” Williams said. “We’ve set individual goals for these girls, and we’re focusing on things like turnovers, ground balls, decisions with the ball … things to get better at so we can be the best we can be.”
Here’s a look at the rest of Section 4 girls lacrosse this season:
Union-Endicott has a new head coach in Ed Yetsko, who spent the previous four seasons as women’s coach at SUNY Broome. He’ll be faced with the task of rebuilding an offense that lost 75 percent of its scoring to graduation last year.
Among those Yetsko is counting on for increased production are sophomore midfielder Kayla Prosinski and junior attack Lisa Leska, who combined for 38 goals last season. Senior Laura Proctor should also help lead U-E’s attack, with Lacey Rezucha and Danielle Colella anchoring the defense.
A veteran group of returners should have Corning once again in the sectional title mix after claiming the Class A crown last season.
Seniors Neena Merola, Taylor Turner and Taylor Mathis are back in the midfield, seniors Anya Crawford and Katie Hartman on defense, and senior Sara Shaddock in goal. Junior attack Morgan Hogue also returns for the Hawks.
Horseheads will lean on a trio of seniors in midfielders Abbey Benesh and Erin Strollo, and goalie Danielle Sherman.
Defending Section 4 Class C champion Maine-Endwell should make a strong bid at a repeat, but the Spartans do have to make up for the loss of eight starters.
Among those who are returning for M-E are a trio of Section 4 all-stars, attack Dani Cronk, defender Jordan Woodsinger and goalie Hannah George, a sophomore who is in her third season as a starter. Attack Madison Burlingame, a senior, and defender Kari Lesko, also a senior, were also key contributors from a year ago.
Leading scorer Andrea Zlinsky, a midfielder, is one of four key seniors back for Owego. Seniors Cayla Harris (goalie), Caitlin Watson (midfielder) and Harper Prentiss (defense) return, as well as junior Jenna Harris (attack). Newcomers include a quartet of sophomores, midfielder Emily Merrill, attacks Jadyn Dodge and Alana Gonzalez and defender Caitlin Henry.
Johnson City returns All-Section 4 goalie Becky Conklin and its two leading scorers from a year ago in senior midfielder Gabrielle Moran and junior attack Emily Russin. Defenders Sarah Espe and Grace Corbett also are back, with newcomers Beth Krome (midfield) and Samantha Majewski (attack) expected to contribute greatly.
Chenango Forks’ starting lineup features six players who are sophomores or younger. However, the Blue Devils do have some talented experienced players with senior attack Sierra Torillo and senior defender Kellsey Wiser, both Section 4 all-stars last season, as well as senior goalie Karley Harmon, senior attack Victoria Doll and junior midfielder Vanessa Mirch.
Seton Catholic Central has seniors Laura Meier (defense) and Jordan Wilson (midfielder) among its returners, a group that also includes junior Maura Ingram (attack) and sophomore Maeghan O’Brien (attack).
Binghamton has a particularly youthful roster this season with only two seniors, attack Katie Gaudet and defender Katelyn Edwards. Other significant holdovers from a year ago are Molly Martinichio and Colleen Holleran on offense, and Lily and Allie Westbrook on defense.
Ithaca incurred significant losses to graduation, most notably All-American and leading scorer Lindsay Biondi (72 goals), who now plays at Maryland. Coach Lyn Reitenbach believes she can count on senior midfielders Molly Long, Katie Carroll and Allie Cornell-Roberts on a squad that otherwise largely features youth and inexperience.
Third-year program Elmira has a capable group of returners in senior Nicole Hill (defense) and juniors Sierra Sancomb (attack), Jordynn Kurcoba (midfield), Shelby Brost (midfield), and Alexis Brooks (attack).