Rachel Heidenreich thought fate had ruined an opportunity of a lifetime.
When the Lancaster senior and first team All-Western New York selection tore her anterior cruciate ligament back in January while playing in an offseason lacrosse league at Sahlen’s Sports Park, she thought the Division I dream had died at the same time as the likelihood of her playing her final year as a high schooler.
It turns out only part of that came true. She isn’t able to take the field to aid in Lancaster’s quest of defending its Section VI Class A because of the injury, but she’ll still live the Division I dream at Albany.
She made her official visit to the college after the injury and signed her letter of intent last month.
She’s not able to run up and down the field and use her offensive gifts to make life difficult for her opponents this spring, but she’s doing her best to teach others to do so as an assistant to coach Julie Buccieri.
“I’m trying to help them see the field as I did and help make them the best players they can be,” said Heidenreich, who scored 50 goals last season and has 97 and 145 points in 59 career games. “I definitely wish I was out there playing, … but it is what it is.
“I think coaching helps me visualize the field better. One of the things I struggled with was where to run back to and be defensively. Now I can see clearly what I should be doing.”
Buccieri said the team had to adjust to life without Heidenreich because she had been the main go-to player during three years as a starter. It’s also difficult to replace Heidenreich’s on-field passion and intensity, but Lancaster persevered and entered the final week of the regular season ranked No. 1 in Western New York with an 11-2 mark – both losses coming against Rochester-area schools – including 6-0 in the division.
“I wish she was playing, but this is the next best thing,” Buccieri said. “She knows the game so well and has a great way to connect to her teammates.”
While Heidenreich is a big loss, there are 15 returnees looking to lead Lancaster back to the sectional final. Key players include returning All-WNY pick and All-American Allie Stewart and All-WNYer Grace Gabriel. Both are coming off 50-goal seasons. Gabriel has 44 goals, while Stewart has 36 goals and 66 points.
Besides Heidenreich, the other seniors for Lancaster who will play collegiately include Stewart (Canisius), Tori Devins (Buffalo State), Brooke Donnelly (Edinboro) and Hannah Reimer (Mount Union).
As for Heidenreich, she can completely extend her leg and is 10 degrees from full-range bending of the knee. She hopes to be running and training at full speed by summer.
Still, this may not be the only time she dabbles in the X’s and O’s of the sport. “I can see myself coaching when I’m older,” she said. “It’s fun.”
No. 1 vs. No. 2
It doesn’t get any bigger than No. 1 and No. 2 meeting in any sporting event. It’s even better when the teams have a history. Lancaster and Frontier most definitely have that.
Things should be intense today when No. 2 Frontier (9-2, 5-1 in league) visits No. 1 Lancaster at 4:30 p.m.
“Every time we play, we kind of get after it a little bit,” Falcons coach Tim Myslinski said.
In 2011, Frontier snapped Lancaster’s string of consecutive Section VI Class A titles at six with a 6-3 win in the final. Lancaster has won the last two championships, both at the Falcons’ expense and both one-goal triumphs (5-4 in 2012, 9-8 last year).
“They’re a team you want to beat,” said Myslinski, whose club lost 13-5 to Lancaster earlier this year.
Senior Hannah Lease is the cornerstone of the Falcons’ offense and defense. She needs just one goal to match last year’s output of 34. She turned down Division II scholarship offers to attend and play at Division III Hamilton because the college is a better fit for her academic needs. Senior midfielder Taylor Izzo is in her third season and will attend Division II Lake Erie, and senior captain Molly Kacmarski is a major key to the team’s defensive success.
Hamburg, the defending Section VI Class B champion, and last year’s runner-up, West Seneca East, may have an advantage over their foes during the playoffs. Both have played up in the Class A Division during the season with Lancaster and Frontier.
“They’re so competitive. It’s absolutely going to help us come playoff time,” said coach Katy Ryan, whose Bulldogs are 8-4.
Leading the way for Hamburg is future Niagara Purple Eagle Jill Ford who has 35 goals from the midfield position. Niagara-bound defender Lexi Higgins leads the Bulldogs in forced turnovers and ground balls sophomore Claire Herman has already eclipsed the 30-goal mark.
West Seneca East (4-7) has six back from last year’s team, including senior Elena Osmanski (35 goals) and classmate Felicia Suto (35 goals). Senior Biana Dolac is a workhorse in the midfield for coach Jeff Bauda.
Williamsville East (9-3) and Williamsville North (8-2) also could factor into the title picture. North has 11 returnees from last year, including Katie Wolfe, Katie Rupp (22 goals) and senior defender Amanda Woods.
Niagara-Wheatfield (9-2) already met its goal of eclipsing last year’s win total (eight). Emma Falter leads the way with 33 goals, while Marissa Smith is close behind with 25.
Around the cages
• Amherst looks like the team to beat in Class C as the Tigers, who lead the area in goals per game (14.23), look to win their 10th straight sectional title. Grace Lawson leads with 62 goals. They can score, and they also have one of the best goalies in the area in senior Emily Bitka (4.8 goals-against average, 66.0 save percentage), who will attend Albany.
• Sacred Heart has 17 returnees from last year’s Monsignor Martin playoff championship team, including top scorer and senior Remmi Zaepfel (35 goals, nine assists) and goalie Erica Dombroski. The Sharks’ goal this year, do it again and join Mount St. Mary as the only multi-time champion in the league’s nine seasons. Of course, Mount won all the previous titles until Sacred Heart broke the string. “I think we’re pretty solid from goalies to middies to attack. We just have to make sure we put everything together,” said coach Linda Mroz.
• Details for the annual Tom Borrelli Lacrosse Awards Banquet will be announced later this week.