The 2016 season will be pretty tough to top for St. Joe's, but that doesn't mean the Marauders won't give it the good old college try.
The Marauders carry the designation of being the hunted this boys lacrosse season following a campaign in which they captured their first-ever Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association championship.
The goal isn't just to repeat as champion. It's to return to the New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association title game and avenge a loss to Fordham Prep in last year's final.
While St. Joe's lost four key contributors to graduation who all earned scholarships to play collegiately, it still has guys back in the fold who played vital roles in the team's triumph over rival and 2015 champion Canisius High School in the Monsignor Martin final.
The biggie could very well be returning All-Western New York selection Jack Lalley. The middie scored the championship clinching goal in overtime last season and is one of several stalwarts on what figures to be a potent offense.
Casey Kelly may be a sophomore but is a co-captain and another Marauder with a nice scoring touch (10 goals through four games). Cole Campbell, a transfer from Nantucket and a Monmouth commit who scored more than 60 goals last season, has found the back of the net seven times and has 17 points through four games. Kellen Pulera is another scoring threat, as is freshman middie Hunter Parucki.
St. Joe's returns its defense from last season in Zack Deakin, Mike Greco, Ian Woods and long stick midfielder CJ Goss. Other defensive specialists include Louis Surace and Kyle Clifford. Face-off specialist and Canisius College commit Trevor Folsom also returns.
Sophomore Jack Rapini takes over as goalkeeper from Eric Deakin and Cameron Carpenter, both of whom are playing collegiately. The Marauders also added Colin Bathory as an assistant coach. He's the former longtime coach at Division III Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
Those trying to knock off St. Joe's from the top of the league mountain include its main rival, Canisius.
The Crusaders figure to be bolstered by the return of LeMoyne College commit Jake Lutz, the defender and a team captain who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
Canisius has a dozen returning starters, including attackmen Joe Cooley, Max Vitale and Henry Popko. Jack Baldwin is back at midfield. Defender Clayton Karam and goalie Daniel Lafferty are also back for a team whose strength is its defense, according to coach Joe Smith.
St. Francis looks to get into the title conversation during veteran coach Mike Burke's second year with the program.
"We are moving in the right direction," said Burke, the former Bishop Timon-St. Jude pilot.
Those who look to keep the Red Raiders moving up in the standings include midfielders Ryan Wierzbicki, a Canisius College commit, and Austin Palmer. Jacob Bell anchors the defense.
Nichols is off to a 3-3 start but dropped league games to St. Joe's and Canisius. The Vikings visit Bishop Timon-St. Jude on Wednesday. The Tigers are looking for their first win after dropping a pair of close games by a total of five goals, including their only league contest to St. Francis, 10-7.
The contest Wednesday is the start of a busy week for Timon under second-year coach Brian McNulty. The Tigers face St. Joe's on Thursday and play two tournament games Friday and Saturday.
Timon is a little young, including its defense, but has lots of athleticism throughout the lineup. A pair of All-Catholic returnees leads the offense in senior Neil Gardner, a Lake Erie College commit, and junior Christian Watts. Watts moves from attack to midfield. Another middie to keep an eye on is senior Jon Waugh.
Key players for Nichols, which lost in the Monsignor Martin final two years ago in overtime, include Will Johnson, Erik Urbank, Nick Ennis and Jack Pfalzgraf.