Not too many high school lacrosse teams recover from a three-game losing streak to win a title. St. Joe's was one of them.
"I'm a big believer in playing a tough schedule," Marauders coach Peter Hudecki said. "Wins and losses don't matter all the time. We played some top-ranked teams who had won state titles. We competed with them, and it taught our guys how to play in difficult situations."
Maybe that's why Hudecki wasn't too upset when St. Joe's suffered those one-sided losses during the spring trip back in April.
"I would have liked to have done better on that trip, but it got us ready for the conclusion," he said.
The Marauders won 14 of 15 games once they got home, with the only loss coming to Section V powerhouse Pittsford. That stretch was climaxed by a victory over Canisius in the Msgr. Martin Athletic Association championship game.
St. Joe's did drop the Catholic state title game to Kellenberg, but that hardly spoiled the season.
"It was a great year, a great finish," Hudecki said.
Memorable seasons sometimes need time to develop, and such was the case with the Marauders this time around. Hudecki and his coaches had a job to do when the team first gathered in the early spring.
"It was a case where we had to find where our guys were best suited, what they could do," he said. "We figured that out early, so we could work with the kids. I have a great coaching staff. We had some great senior leadership this year. They all competed and put it out there."
If there was any doubt that St. Joe's had things figured out, it came in a stretch in May. The Marauders rebounded from the loss to Pittsford to beat Canisius, McQuaid and CBA of the Syracuse area in less than a week. There was no stopping St. Joe's from there through the MMAA championship.
St. Joe's shared the area spotlight in 2017 with Akron. The Tigers had a remarkable season in which they didn't lose in the months of April and May. Akron dropped a game to Canisius in March and another in the state semifinals in June. Along the way they picked up 18 wins.
In the process, the Tigers finally slayed one of their demons. Penn Yan had eliminated Akron three straight times in the Far West Regions. Nelson Logan scored the game-winner in the second overtime to send the Tigers to the state semifinals in Class D - the first Section VI team to go that far since 2013.
CBA emphatically ended any state title hopes, but even that is part of the learning experience for the team.
"Coming up short against Christian Brothers Academy was heartbreaking," Tigers coach Gary Sundown said. "I haven't even wanted to see the replay; the sting has yet to go away. At Akron we win or we learn; we never lose. We will be back to settle some unfinished business."
Orchard Park, Hamburg and Grand Island all won Section VI championships before falling in the regionals. It's tough to have great seasons without really good players, and the top teams did well when it came to postseason honors.
For example, Owen Hill of Akron won The Buffalo News Prep Talk Player of the Year award. The junior finished with 61 goals, which made him an easy choice for the All-Western New York team.
Hill has been around the game for most of his life, picking up a stick for the first time around the age of five.
"He has had plenty of time to gain experience playing with the likes of his brother, Chaunce, and his cousin, Larson Sundown - both Akron alumni," Gary Sundown said. "This is Owen's fifth year as a varsity player."
St. Joe's made three contributions to the All-WNY team. The Marauders were led by Jack Lalley, who won the Tom Borrelli Memorial Award as the top senior boys player in the area for 2017.
"He's a classic Academic All-American," Hudecki said. "He's a great kid and great captain. He knew when to take over a game. Jack is an extremely good athlete. He's a hockey player, and he's also a golfer. He tried playing football but got injured."
The other two first-teamers from the Maruaders were Kellen Pulera, the only sophomore on the All-WNY team, and junior CJ Goss.
"Kellen is an excellent left-handed attacker," Hudecki said. "He's already getting a lot attention from colleges. He had 49 goals and nine assists. He's a really good finisher, and catches anything in front of him.
"CJ is a tenacious defender. He recently played in the Under Armour All-American game. CJ is a lefty, and most dominant offensive players are righties, so that helps him with matchups."
Hill and Lalley were joined as repeaters from the 2016 All-WNY team by Jason Chiodo of Hamburg and Josh Dahl of Orchard Park. Canisius contributed Joe Cooley and Jake Lutz to this year's team. Two of Dahl's teammates, Pat Sullivan and Mitch Streety, made it for the Quakers. Fellow Bulldog Jacob Smeader joined Chiodo on on the team.
Others on the squad were Jacob Cotter of Medina, Brandon Sveda of Niagara-Wheatfield, Brett Naylor of Clarence and goalie Ben Mazur.
It's a talented group, a sign that lacrosse continues to establish strong roots on the area's sports landscape.
"It was good to see teams like Grand Island step it up," Hudecki said. "We need guys to step up and help out with more youth development. We are working on it; U.S. Lacrosse is working on it. The teams are all playing heavy competition - the best versus. the best."