There was a common theme to last year's Section VI championships -- longtime powers were upset in the title games.
There is also a pretty common theme to this year's season -- those teams who lost in last year's finals have come roaring back.
The Hamburg boys and Lancaster girls had long title-winning runs ended in last year's finals. The Hamburg girls also lost in the 2011 Section VI finals, and those defeats have fueled some of the most impressive campaigns of 2012.
The Hamburg boys had a four-year title run end with a 10-9 overtime loss to Niagara-Wheatfield in last year's Class B final. That's a fact that coach Jerry Severino hasn't had to remind his team of this season -- at least not too many times.
"I had some personal threats I intended to deliver to the team, and I verbalized it in winter, and got some real dirty looks," Severino said with a laugh. "I told them, 'Don't make me think about last year ever again and I won't mention it ever again.' A few times during the season, I've mentioned it when things have gone bad when we didn't focus.
"But potentially this is about as deep a team as I've had and as talented a team as I have ever coached in my career."
"Definitely [last year's loss] has been a big motivation," said junior standout midfielder Max Maxwell, who has verbally committed to the University at Maryland-Baltimore County. "I don't think there's a day that goes by that we don't think about it. My brother [James, now the goalie at Onondaga Community College's powerful program] won four titles, and I was supposed to do the same. That was a letdown last year, and hopefully it won't be the same outcome this year."
Hamburg is atop the laxpower.com computer rankings for Western New York teams with an 11-1 record. The ranking got a big boost after a huge victory over 13-time Michigan state champion Brother Rice on April 24.
The Bulldogs feature a lineup of 10 seniors who will play in college, including defenseman Josh Babcock (Albany), attackman Patrick Nowak (Division II Le Moyne), midfielder Ryan Jurek, goalie Tom Lipomi and attackman Mitchell Shafer (all Division II Lake Erie College), midfielder Nick Benningfield (Division II Limestone), Connor Ryan (Adrian), midfielder Patrick Byrne (Alfred) and midfielder Jake Fiore (Cortland State). The team is so deep that its backup goalie -- senior Ed Armold -- will play at Keuka College next year.
"This Hamburg team has played its very best lacrosse when faced with real challenges," said Severino, "and that's what I like about them."
The Hamburg girls, who lost to Lake Shore in last year's Class B final, have been part of a crowded field of talented teams on the girls side. Also among that group is Lancaster, which had a run of six straight sectional titles end with a loss to Frontier in last year's Class A championship.
The Hamburg girls are 9-2, including a very impressive 12-6 win at traditional Section V (Rochester area) power East Rochester on April 16.
Lancaster front-loaded its schedule with tough Section V opponents, starting 0-3 to Webster Thomas, Webster Scroeder and Mercy (the teams now have a combined record of 20-11) in games that were decided by five goals or fewer. The Redskins have put a great run together recently, winning six straight -- including a 12-11 win at Hamburg last Friday -- to move to 9-4 with three games left in its regular season.
Around the cages
*No one should forget about those Frontier girls, the team that knocked off Lancaster in last year's final and also took a double-overtime, 10-9 victory from the Redskins on April 25. The teams meet again in a major matchup at Lancaster at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. That's part of a big week for Frontier, which is at Niagara-Wheatfield on Thursday.
*Defending Class C girls champion Amherst has won seven straight sectional titles, but this year Lake Shore -- the team that beat Hamburg in last year's B final -- has moved down to Class C. Amherst and Lake Shore have already played two doozies, with Lake Shore winning, 9-8, on April 17 and Amherst taking a double-OT win, 13-12, on May 1.
Amherst, which notched an 8-7 win over Nichols last week, also has a big matchup at Lancaster at 10 a.m. Saturday.
*Mount St. Mary, winners of seven straight Monsignor Martin championships, look on track for an eighth. The Thunder are again undefeated in league play, with their only loss a nonleaguer to Rochester's Aquinas. Friday afternoon the Thunder host Sacred Heart in their Leukemia & Lymphoma Awareness Game.
*Nichols (2-4), featuring Northwestern-bound standout Spring Sanders, has again played many top Section VI schools (it will host Hamburg on May 16 and Frontier on May 17). It also plays in the Midwest Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association.
*The Orchard Park boys appeared to be putting together a bounce-back year after having their 16-year Section VI championship streak broken by Clarence, 7-5, in last year's Class A final -- especially after it beat the Red Devils, 14-5, in the teams' first meeting on April 18. After last year's postseason stunner, Clarence recorded its biggest regular season victory in program history on Monday night with a 13-11 win over visiting OP. OP's only loss this season had been at Section V power Pittsford, 16-5, on April 28.
*Bishop Timon-St. Jude has been, as expected, the top team in the Monsignor Martin Association, but there is some great action going on in the league. On Thursday, Nichols heads to St. Joe's, which is coming off the program's first victory over Rochester's Aquinas and hosts rival Canisius this afternoon. Nichols beat St. Joe's, 15-13, on April 24.