A familiar face is the new boys' lacrosse coach for three-time defending Section VI champion Akron.
Gary Sundown is the head coach again for the first time since 2006. While he's making the final calls on the sideline, he is no stranger to the program. He's been a volunteer coach since 2008, which means he's been part of the championship run the Tigers hope to extend as members of the newly formed Class D division.
Sundown said road games this week at Medina on Thursday and Eden on Saturday should give the team an idea of where it stands.
Akron has the potential to be tough as usual though with a team consisting of mostly juniors. That includes face off specialist and All-Western New York selection Owen Hill, who won 78 percent of his face offs last year. Nelson Logan returns, too, as he scored six goals during last year's sectional final win.
Junior Keenan Ninham returns to the program after missing last season and is another attackman expected to fuel Akron's fast-strike offense. Weylon Abrams leads the defense. While the Tigers may be in Class D this year, they still face some of the large-school contenders in nonleaguers – including Clarence and Niagara-Wheatfield to end the regular season.
Akron's Class D rival Eden returns 10 who helped the Raiders reach the Class C semifinals last year. Top players include midfielders Henri Young, Josh Plarr and Donovan Ersing, along with goalkeeper Patrick Cuddihy.
GI looks to end drought
Grand Island hasn't won a Section VI championship in boys' lacrosse since program founding father Bill Riffel's tenure as coach.
The Vikings look to end a drought that dates back to 2000 and secure their seventh championship with a 23-player roster that not only includes 14 with starting experience but several fourth-year ones who have helped GI post back-to-back winning seasons since a three-win campaign as freshmen.
"They are ready for the next step," said coach Ted Lee, whose team went 13-5 last year – falling in the Section VI quarters to Williamsville South.
Grand Island will be part of what is expected to be a competitive, but up for grabs Class C, due to the shuffling of programs with the addition of Class D this season.
GI's top returnees include All-WNY honorable mention picks and fourth-year starters Joe Boyko, an attackman, and goalie Noah Teator. Third-year starters Jim Thorpe (long stick), Conner Buzby (defense) and Tom Cecere (attack) all earned all-league honors last year. All but the junior Cecere are seniors. The Vikings were off to a 3-0 start as of Monday night with two of the wins over Class B-sized schools.
West Seneca East also looks to improve on last season's 11-7 mark as it too drops into Class C. The Trojans have 11 returnees, five who were starters. That includes senior defensive middie Ian Dolac. Defense and depth figure to be WSE's strengths. Others to keep an eye on include attackmen Drew Werner and Tyler Arndt, along with middies Danny Flynn and Josh Maloney and defenders Christian Rodriguez and Noah Hoot.
Amherst has already won as many games (two) as it did all of last season. Senior PJ Wing is a defender who has committed to Division II Lake Erie College. Others expected to make an impact include sophomore middie Andrew Johnson and junior long-stick midfielder Nick Smith.
Lancaster reached the sectional Class A final last year, losing to Orchard Park.
The Legends return 16 from that team, with the biggie perhaps being goalie Ben Mazur, a Canisius College commit. Other key players include future college players Brett Beetow (middie, Canisius) and long-stick midfielder Bryce Benham (Hobart). Lancaster has already faced OP this season, dropping a 10-8 decision in a game in which it led during the second half. Balance on offense and defensive experience figure to be Lancaster's strengths, according to coach David Mazur.
Clarence has 17 players back from last year's club which lost in the semifinals to the Legends. They include Brett Naylor, Joe Chiarmonte and Andy Avarello on defense and offensive threats Kyle Harsch and Jake Bowman.
Lockport looks to be more competitive within its league and section with hopes of winning a playoff game, according to coach Scott Reddinger. The Lions have seven returning starters looking to improve on a four-win season. They include Antonyho Lloyd, Jack Bull and David Arlington.
Swan song for Faller
Sweet Home's goal is to improve on last year's 12-win season which ended in the quarterfinals.
Improving on that finish would extend the career of John Faller, who has coached the Panthers for all but one season since the program's inception during the 1976-77 school year. He has amassed 372 wins, guiding the team to six sectional titles.
He announced he was retiring after the season during the winter. He's already stepped down as the Panthers' football coach.
Offense figures to be the team's strength. Those who will try to help Sweet Home experience success include Faller's grandson Nate, who scored 35 goals last year and Matt Gademske, who had 49 goals and 21 assists.
Class B report
While defending champion Hamburg figures to be the favorite in Class B again, Williamsville North looks to build on its best season in school history. It has 14 returnees from last year's 14-win club – including attackman Reid Collins. Defense figures to be the Spartans' strength with goalie Josh Pujolas serving as the unit's anchor. Josh Dziama, Brandon Zielienski and Anthony Trigilio are other key defenders for a team whose goal is to reach the sectional final.
Nearby rival Williamsville East has 12 returnees looking to improve on last year's 6-11 mark. Key players for coach Ed Greenway's crew include experienced starting defenders Evan Isenberg and Frank Annunziata and midfielders Dylan Aery and Sam Meltser.
Niagara Wheatfield looks to make a run to its seventh consecutive Section VI Class B final with a team that features key returnees Nate Maloney and Joe Conte. Brandon Sveda scored thrice in a win over Sweet Home.