Charles Brown, the lacrosse coach at the Gow School, and North Tonawanda club team coach Ed Carter were talking before a game a few seasons ago, lamenting how tough it was to for their independent programs to schedule games.
"Wouldn't it be great," Brown said, "to have a league for all of us orphans?"
That was the beginning of the Independent Lacrosse Conference. And it's a good thing, because it turned out that there were quite a few lacrosse orphans in Western New York.
The ILC began last year with five teams and is now up to seven. Lockport joined this year with a huge roster after 80 students showed up at a organizational meeting. St. Mary's of Lancaster had 39 students come out for its start-up program. Newfane has more than 35 players in its first year, giving it about the same as established programs from North Tonawanda and Wilson.
"The league is really exploding," said Brown, chairman of the ILC. "The whole model of the league was to attract schools to the sport. Eventually teams will make transition to a varsity lacrosse league, and that's the idea."
Gow, a world-renowned boarding school in South Wales for dyslexic males in grades 7 through 12, has had a varsity lacrosse team since 1935. It participated in the ECIC more than 15 years ago, but too often just didn't have the depth to compete with larger varsity teams. Before the ILC it had struggled to find regular opponents.
The seventh member of the league is Genesee (a regional team including players from several schools in the Batavia area). Park, a charter member last year, was unable to stay in the league this year but should be back. Niagara Falls, Eden and Kenmore East have all been close to fielding teams. There are also girls programs at North Tonawanda, Lockport and Newfane which may possibly form an ILC girls division.
The St. Mary's team has the full support of its athletic department, and while the public school members are technically clubs, they all work extremely close with their schools. The NT program started four years ago when parents lobbied the school board for a team. This week the district may vote to approve NT for varsity status and entrance into Section VI.
"Frankly for as great as (entering the section) would be for the kids and I'd love to see it for our progress, we've been very happy with the ILC," said Carter. "It's been great for us and great for other teams: it gives you a structure to play in, and something to play for. That we've created a home for start-up programs is exactly what we wanted to do."
As a truly independent varsity program, Gow is -- and will likely always be -- the anchor of the league. And if they lose teams to varsity status, that's fine with Brown. "The goal is to have Western New York be as much as hotbed for lacrosse as Long Island or some of the regions in New England," Brown said. "The point is to grow the sport and to have fun."
North Tonawanda won last year's league title, part of a 23-game win streak that spanned its four seasons. NT's first class of four-year players includes senior midfielders Chris Root and Andy Thurlow as well as attackman Brian Johnson and defenseman Tom Sidoni.
Gow, which has midfielders from as far away as Massachusetts and Taiwan -- is atop the league at 4-0 thanks to a crew of seniors which includes goalie Jeff Polian of Amherst. Wilson and Newfane have started the season 2-1. More than 200 fans were on hand for the St. Mary's program's first-ever victory, 6-3 over Lockport Saturday.
This Saturday, the league is holding its first midseason tournament, an all-day festival-type event on the Gow campus that will feature several sponsor tents. "The midseason tournament was another thing where we said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we did it?' " said Carter. "And we're doing it."
Schools interested in joining the league can contact Brown at 687-2023.
Around the boys cage
It wasn't an hour after Orchard Park's 14-5 loss to Amherst last week when assistant coach Joe Biondo's phone started ringing. Quaker players were eager to get their hands on the videotape of the school's first loss to a Western New York opponent in 11 seasons as they started to focus on trying to win an 11th straight Section VI Class A title. OP's losing streak didn't last long. On Saturday, the Quakers won at Section V power Fairport, 10-9. OP, which features Ohio State-bound Andy Pace (attack) and Brian Lalley (midfielder), also owns a win over Section III's Auburn.
Hamburg (6-0) was eager for its shot at Orchard Park -- they meet in the season finale May 18 -- behind a defense led by the only returning All-WNY first teamer in 6-7 senior Anthony Costanzo. Junior Mike Ellwood is their quarterback on attack and freshman Joe Resetarits is averaging 3.5 goals.
Amherst's victory over OP was no fluke. The Tigers have the same patience and discipline and great goalie (Hartford-bound Garrett Allwes) as in recent years, but rather than relying on just one player on offense (like Mike Pizzuto last year) they now have several sticks which can score in seniors John Allen and Justin Pratt, junior Taylor Ebsary, brothers Corey (junior) and Casey (freshman) Rich and 5-6 faceoff fiend Kyle Burton.
It appears that the WNY League will be a battle of private schools Timon/St. Jude, St. Francis (5-0) and Nichols, which returns second-team All-WNY defenseman Ben Duggan.
Timon/St. Jude is 3-2, but its losses came against two of the toughest opponents any WNY team has ever faced when it played at Baltimore superpowers McDonough (17-2) and Boys' Latin (11-2). Tigers also play road games against Section V power Canandaigua and Ohio's Western Reserve (9-1).
Williamsville South posted a nice win (5-4 in double overtime) last week over neighbor Williamsville East, last year's runner-up to Amherst in Class B. . . . Frontier, off a 3-1 start, is another team to watch in the ECIC. . . . Grand Island returns just one starter from last year, attackman Jeff Pickel (44 goals). . . . Salamanca is off to a 3-1 start, and Silver Creek defeated defending Class C champion Gowanda, winner of four of the section's five Class C titles.
Around the girls cage
Section VI's Division II will be filled with battles as last year's Class A champion Hamburg moves from Division I to take on perennial power Amherst and last year's winner East Aurora.
Amherst is 4-0 behind returning All-ECIC first-teamers Ashley Yantomasi (senior goalie), Shannon Brown (senior defense) and Jodi Battaglia (sophomore midfielder). Junior attack Maggie Jaus had picked up where she left off after leading the JV in scoring last year. She already had 21 goals.
While Amherst and Hamburg -- led by All-WNY returner Katy Ryan -- are also favorites in Class B, East Aurora can plan for the regional playoffs right now since it is the only Class C school in Section VI.
Nichols lost several national level players as well as longtime coach Beth Stone, who stepped down and has been replaced by Bruce Sanborn. . . . Section VI Division I could boil down to Clarence, last year's Class A runner-up, and longtime power Lancaster. . . . The Monsignor Martin Association enters its second year of league play.