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GCC builds a contender

Two years ago, J.D. Skura was skeptical. The sales pitch sounded too good to be true.

New team, new facilities, new direction. The Clarence senior decided to continue to his lacrosse career at Genesee Community College. But still, this was a program in its infancy. Skura was leery. Those losing records stood out.

"They were a relatively new team," he said. "So I thought that maybe by my sophomore season we'd have a decent team."

His first year, the Cougars reeled together a nine-game win streak. And this season, GCC has taken the next step as a national power. Merely five years after the sport's inception at the Batavia school, the Cougars are hoping to make NJCAA postseason noise.

Currently 12-2 overall, the Cougars rank fourth nationally. They'll be the third seed at next week's Region III playoffs.

"The direction all along was to build a program that would compete for a Region III title and hopefully go far in the National Junior College Athletic Association," head coach Dave Hoover said.

There hasn't been some secret, Coca-Cola recipe to GCC's rapid rise. Just year-round recruiting.

Hoover and his son, associate coach Derek, are tireless. The search doesn't begin and end in Buffalo. Father and son have filled the current roster with players from Buffalo, Rochester, Canada and even Ohio, Colorado and New Jersey. Each year, they talk to 100 recruits.

This year's leading scorer, Connor Latimer (90 points, 56 goals) is from Whitby, Ontario. Last year's leading scorer? Mike Nelson from Utah. The Hoovers found Nelson on a recruiting website, talked to him twice a week and eventually sealed the deal.

In a half-decade, GCC became a destination.

"Being a two-year school, you don't get guys long," said Derek, who played at Cortland State. "We need to talk to as many recruits as possible."

Helping their cause are the new amenities. GCC now has lights, making night games possible. And with a new turf, the Cougars have been able to play more games earlier in the season. Instead of jamming four games a week into March and April, GCC has been able to play a more conventional schedule.

All well and good but the Cougars still needed to produce on the field. A year after boasting a staunch defense and mediocre offense, GCC is dangerous at both ends. GCC ranks second in the region in goals even with Nelson returning to Utah to be with his ill mother. Six times, the Cougars have scored at least 20 goals. In one eight-day stretch, they knocked off four teams they never had beaten before.

Skura, the team's All-Region defenseman, is looking at the next level now. Next season, he may play for the back-to-back Division II champs, C.W. Post on Long Island.

First, he hopes to keep GCC's momentum rolling. The JUCO standard remains Onondaga Community College, a lacrosse factory that harvests and sends some of the nation's best players to Syracuse. Skura says his team is totally different than the one that lost to OCC, 24-7, back on March 4.

Skura may be finished at GCC after this season but a potential rematch in the regional final is looming. Slaying the dragon would take the Cougars to a whole new level.

"We were still young, still trying to find ourselves," he said of the March loss. "We're coming together. We can do great things."


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