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Excuse Kenmore East for all the early-season optimism, but they're entitled.

The Bulldogs knocked off Section V power Fairport, 2-1, in its season opener last week, stirring thoughts of a return trip to the sectional finals and maybe beyond for the boys' soccer squad.

This team from Rochester has been a Section VI nemesis, eliminating area teams in the regionals the past three seasons.

Kenmore East is no stranger to the sectional finals, they just haven't won one since 1982. They've been there the past two years only to lose heartbreakers to Clarence in 1998 and Sweet Home in 1997 by identical scores of 2-1.

"The kids themselves would like a crack at it again. A couple of our seniors have been on both teams," said Bulldogs coach Dick White. "After ending up on the short end twice, we want a taste of what it would be like to win it.

"Right now we're trying to work hard at having them worry about making sectionals. Just to say we want to win the final is a tough thing in your mind to start out with. It's a long road to get there. It's kind of a lofty goal, actually, but we're thinking about it."

Kenmore East is a team without stars following the graduation of Phil LaMancusa, a two-time first-team all-state pick. The Bulldogs have a sophomore/junior dominated lineup with four starters back. Senior center/midfielder Nick Wheeler was a third team All-WNY pick last year. White said his other go-to players are forwards Chris Robey, Nii Sowah of Nigeria, Brian Miller, defender Matt Perryman and senior co-captains Jesse Pohle and Jim Lewis, both defenders.

"People were able to concentrate on Phil, and looked at him as being our big producer," said White. "This year's team plays well together, and it's not going to be easy to concentrate on one player. We move the ball pretty well and it's a hard-working group."

A case for Clarence

If Kenmore East does manage to reach the Class A final, don't be surprised if Clarence is there to greet it. The Red Devils have every intention of defending last year's title.

Clarence was hit hard by graduation, losing four first team All-WNY picks. Those seniors helped the Red Devils to a 20-2 campaign, which included a 19-game winning streak and the ECIC II title. Clarence finished ranked No. 12 in the state and No. 1 among WNY large schools.

"It's certainly going to be tough: we lost some very good players, but we had a good junior varsity last year and the core of our depth is back," said coach Mike Neelon, now in his fourth season. "Part of our success last year is we had depth at every position."

Part of that depth is on defense, led by seniors Nick Scalzo, Matt Moyer and Rick Colt. At the other end of the field is senior forward Peter Demmitt, who finished in the top five in scoring in ECIC II last year.

On the defensive

While Clarence was busy winning its first sectional title since 1984, other titles were being decided: Williamsville South (Class B-1), East Aurora (Class B-2), Chautauqua Lake (Class C) and Hinsdale (Class D).

South, which beat East Aurora in the Class B final, lost three of its top four defenders, its top two scorers and its goalie. Regardless, coach Peter Sugg likes his team's chances. "I feel good about this year, even though we lost a lot," he said. "We're gonna be right up there. We've got kids who are going to plug in, and I think we'll be very good." Among the Billies' top players are Tim Cummings and Greg Daniels.

The Blue Devils return seven starters including All-WNY second teamer Ken Jonmaire, a senior forward who led the team in scoring last season with 20 goals. Also back is Andy Marky, a two-time first-team ECIC IV all-star.

Allegany-Limestone returns All-WNY third teamer Tony Anzalone, a junior forward.

Hinsdale's title came in just its third season fielding a team.

Say good-night, Dick

The only coach Sweet Home's ever had has retired. Dick Banaszak, who started the program in 1968, has passed the program to his junior varsity coach, Dave Gerstach.

Banaszak coached the Panthers to a 284-172-29 record with eight sectional titles and five ECIC I crowns. He retired as a technology teacher in 1997, but stayed on to coach two more seasons.

In three decades, Banaszak said he's coached boys wearing everything from beads to earrings. In the early years he had no junior varsity and carried 50 to 60 players.

"We had some great, great teams," he said. "I'll miss working with kids and the rapport. It was just a lot of fun."

Both coaches in West Seneca are new. Ralph Palumbo, East's varsity coach since 1976, has stepped down and has been replaced by JV coach Rick Schmitt. Palumbo will remain on the sidelines, but only to watch his son Tav play for the Iroquois modified team. After 11 seasons with the boys, Ken Kirk of West has moved to the girls. JV coach Dennis Rich takes over the boys program.

Russ Wiseman, who has strong ties to the boys and girls soccer programs at Holland, is back coaching the boys after a three-year hiatus. Wiseman began as the boys JV coach in 1972. He started the girls program in 1980, and coached both teams for 10 years (girls played in the spring at the time). He gave up the girls in 1990 and the boys in 1996 before returning this year.

St. Francis seeks threepeat

St. Francis is shooting for its third consecutive playoff title in the Msgr. Martin Association. As a No. 4 seed in last year's playoff, the Red Raiders beat Timon/St. Jude in double overtime. Nick Carosa, Kevin Seitz, Vince Ferraro and Brett McCabe are the nucleus of this year's team.

Canisius, winner of the regular season title, returns a pair of All-Catholic picks with Brian Mozingo and Andy Teach. St. Francis and Canisius meet Sept. 21 at the Amherst Soccer Center at 4 p.m.

Timon/St. Jude and St. Joe's return a pair of All-Catholic picks each with John Glose and Tom Hebert (Timon/St. Jude), and Tim Kennedy and Kevin Long (St. Joe's). Jack Jerge, who coached Timon for 20 years, retired and was replaced by Stephen Rokitka. Dan Clayton (St. Mary's) and Chad Fortner (O'Hara) also are returning All-Catholic players.

Best of the rest

Niagara Frontier League champion Lewiston-Porter returns five starters, including a pair of three-year starters: Rick Fleck, a 6-foot, 170-pound midfielder, who will be counted on offensively, and sweeper Ryan Pankratz. Junior goalie Anthony Tanzini, the only underclassman named first-team All-WNY, is academically ineligible this season. Junior Matt Wedge gets the nod in goal in place of Tanzini. The Lancers boast one of the top programs in WNY with 13 sectional titles, but are looking for their first since 1993. . . . Williamsville East returns senior midfielder Eric Deyle, an ECIC II all-star and senior forward Jeff Boyle, who looks strong after missing most of last season with a hamstring injury. . . . Defending ECIC I champion Lancaster returns seven starters, led by scoring threat senior Al Franjoine and senior defender Jake Palmerton. The Redskins also have a pair of All-WNY second teamers with senior midfielder Darrin Harzewski and junior forward Mark Affront. . . . With eight starters back, Starpoint is eyeing a third straight title in the Niagara-Orleans League. Back for the Spartans is Brad Conklin, a third team All-WNY pick, and his twin brother Todd, the team's second-leading scorer last year. Summer leagues have helped Akron improve dramatically. The Tigers beat Starpoint in their league opener. Newfane should also be among the N-O title contenders. . . . Second team All-WNY midfielder Mike Abrams returns to Allegany-Limestone. . . . All-WNY third teamers who are back are: Nick Gembar (Lancaster), Anthony Chirico (Frontier) and Robert Warner (Buffalo Public Schools champion City Honors). . . . Iroquois, winners of ECIC III at 10-0-2, returns eight starters including All-WNY second teamer Scott Dayer and league all-star Kevin Obersheimer. . . . Nichols, winners of the state title among the Alliance of Independent Schools, returns five starters from a 16-3-1 team. The top returnees are seniors Josh Feine, Patrick Lewis and Nii Quaye. . . . Joe Adamec (Lancaster) enters his 36th season, the longest coaching stint in WNY. . . . Matt Haefner, a fundamentally strong goalkeeper, is one of eight seniors who will be starting for Amherst.

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