The field hockey teams at Williamsville North and Pioneer advanced to the state final four last season, and they appear ready to make another postseason run in the next few weeks.
Even though both schools graduated 12 seniors each from last year's teams.
Remarkably, the Spartans and Panthers have plugged the holes and kept plugging away. Defending Section VI Class A champion North is 13-1-1 in the ECIC's large school division while Class B champ Pioneer is 13-2 among small schools. Last week, both teams beat Iroquois, which had been undefeated and ranked first in Western New York.
North repaired its losses in the most unlikely of ways -- eight of the Spartans' starters are either sophomores, freshmen or eighth-graders. Scoring leader Chantae Miller (22 goals) and starting goalie Nicole Lewis are freshmen -- Miller had a goal and two assists, while Lewis had seven saves in North's 3-0 win over Iroquois.
"You lose 12 seniors, you don't know how the kids moving up are going to react to this level," said North coach Kris Lapaglia. "They have just responded. It's just great to see."
Pioneer trailed Iroquois, 2-0, at halftime Wednesday before charging back for a 3-2 overtime victory to hand the Chiefs their first loss.
"After halftime, the team really came together," said Pioneer coach Jana Landahl. "It seems like they step up and play really well in the big games against the tough teams. It makes me really confident going into the playoffs."
Senior Kelsey Landahl (Jana's daughter) scored the game-winner on a penalty stroke two minutes into overtime. Kelsey Landahl got the Panthers started by scoring off senior Rahel Wilson's penalty corner, and Wilson added the tying goal by flipping the ball over the goalie with 10 minutes left. Defender Lindsey Schwab -- another of the 10 seniors who have helped smooth the Panthers' transition from last year -- had several key stops.
"She's our rock," Jana Landahl said. "She just steps up to the ball so fast."
The regular season ends this week, with the Section VI seedings meeting Oct. 27 and prequarterfinals starting the next day.
A challenger to North will certainly be Orchard Park (14-2), which blanked Lancaster, 3-0, Monday. Last year's Class C champion was Barker (8-3), which plays at Roy-Hart (7-1-3) at 4:30 p.m. today for first place in the Niagara-Orleans League. Also today, a nice nonleaguer has Iroquois hosting Nichols at 4 p.m.
Another flip for Lancaster
The Lancaster girls gymnastics team is making great routines routine.
Just a week after the Redskins set a school team scoring record (170.25), Lancaster broke the Section VI record for a team score with a 175.15 while defeating Williamsville South (172.60) and Amherst (101.30) in a Division I meet at South on Wednesday. The old sectional record was 173.40, set by Williamsville South in 2003.
The team score was helped by a record-breaking balance beam performance by sophomore Christine DelPrince, who scored a 9.6 to top the 9.55 posted by Michelle Ralabate of Williamsville South in 1987 and Brittany Weisner of Williamsville North in 2002.
Around the halls
* Lake Shore football coach Bill Moore wants to make it clear he wasn't faking a handoff on his injury report last week. Senior quarterback Jake Graci was initially diagnosed with a broken ankle after the Week Six loss to Grand Island, but a second look at the X-ray during the week by a family doctor revealed the fracture was a long-ago injury that has since healed. After being cleared late Wednesday, Graci playing valiantly on his badly sprained ankle, particularly with tough-tackling defense.
* The two longest football losing streaks in the state belong to Western New York: Bennett (25 games) and Clarence (18).
* The Hamburg football crowd put the home in Homecoming by singing "Happy Birthday" to Anthony Costanzo on Saturday after the senior scored two touchdowns.
* Nardin took fifth place with 145 points in the Varsity A race at Saturday's Eastern States Invitational. Meg Battin (20th, 16:32), Jill Shea (23rd, 16:36), Katie Pietrak (26th, 16:41) and Caitlin English (29th, 16:46) led the Gators on the 2.5-mile course at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
* St. Joe's graduate Tim Spitler, a second-team All-Western New York basketball guard last year for the Marauders, has continued the family tradition (Chris at Holy Cross, Pat and Andrew at Canisius) by earning a walk-on spot in Division I basketball by making the team at St. Peter's.
* Robert Harris, a first-team All-Western New York basketball selection for Niagara Falls last season, has joined several other local standouts at Daemen College.