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Grieving Kenmore sisters learn N-O field hockey league is a family

What a great season it was for the Akron field hockey team. It learned a little about field hockey and a lot about compassion.

Last month, eight of its players put on their uniform tops and drove to a funeral home in Kenmore to attend the wake of the father of two Kenmore field hockey players. The Akron and Kenmore players had to be best friends, right? No. They didn’t even know each other, and Akron players certainly didn’t know the father of the Kenmore girls.

“We are a league as a whole, we need to stick together even if it isn’t our team,” said Akron captain Claudia Stone, who organized the road trip among her teammates. “Support from other players always helps, and we were there for them. I just told them to keep their heads up and to stay strong.”

Paul Mathias died Sept. 12 of liver disease at age 62. Losing a parent at any age is excruciating. Brianna and Kaeli, 17-year-old twins, experienced it in their senior year at Kenmore West.

“I thought that was a very nice thing for the Akron players to do because they don’t know us, and it really shows that people care. We have a very tight hockey community because they came to my dad’s wake and they don’t even know who we are,” said Bri. “People care about what happens to even people on other teams. It’s not even like we live close to Akron, and they had to go out of their way to come and be there for us.”

The Niagara-Orleans League reached out in other ways. When Kenmore played at Barker, the players gave them sugar cookies after the game. Roy-Hart offered a moment of silence.

Most teens typically turn to their peers for support. They want that sense of belonging. The twins had a built-in support system playing on the combined Kenmore field hockey team. Both are honor roll students.

“Our teammates have been there supporting us every step of the way whether or not we want to talk both on and off the field,” said Kaeli after last week’s game against Akron. “It’s been a tough season, but they are there. I never thought about not playing. My dad always wanted me in sports, and he always supported me whatever sport I was doing. I couldn’t think about turning my back on my teammates or on the dream my dad had for me.”

The girl’s father was a fixture at all their games; the twins are multiple-sport athletes. Finding the energy to play field hockey while grieving has been a delicate balance for the sisters.

“They just work like crazy, the work ethic Paul instilled in these girls is unreal,” said Kenmore coach Jeff Orlowski. “He never allowed them to think they were the best. He never allowed them to get big heads. They are level-headed girls. To fight through something like this, I can’t even imagine losing a parent as a senior.”

Orlowski said the twins are the two best athletes he’s coached in any sport, and he’s coached men’s and women’s ice hockey.

It was Stone who led the Niagara-Orleans League in scoring with 21 goals, but Kaeli was next with 19. Kenmore (10-1-1) had to settle for second place in the league behind Barker (11-1) after Akron played them to a tie last week.

Kenmore’s signature win this season was 1-0 over Barker on a goal by Kaeli. The loss was the first in the league for Barker in 114 games dating to 2005.

Kenmore is a Class A team playing in the N-O League with Class C teams so the competition quickly heats up when it moves up for sectionals. No. 4 seed Kenmore hosts No. 5 Lancaster today at 3 p.m. in the Class A quarterfinal at Kenmore East.

Here’s a class by class look at the Section VI tournament which continued on Wednsday.

Class A

Despite having graduated a large senior class, No. 1 seed Clarence put together an impressive 12-3 record. Tess Luzi netted 12 goals and Gigi Fasanello added 11.

“I’m brand new to field hockey and I have coached for over 20 years,” said coach Beth Braun. “I’ve never coached a team with such determination, drive and true friendship and compassion for one another. We’ve had our ups and downs with losses to Iroquois, Amherst and Pioneer. But all were reality checks that made us come back and work even harder.”

No. 2 seed Orchard Park showed measurable progress going from 7-9 a year ago to 10-6 this year. The Quakers’ offense was led by senior captain Emily Markarian, the high scorer with 18 goals and six assists, while the defense looked to Emily Ballesteri. Sharing duties in goal were seniors Janelle Gefaller and Stephanie Pickard.

No. 6 seed West Seneca West’s 3-11-2 record doesn’t reflect how competitive it was. Led by Cassie Farr in scoring, five of the team’s losses were decided by one goal. Goalie Abbie Mutton had three shutouts.

No. 3 seed Williamsville North has won this title the last six years.

Class B

When Amherst opened the season with a 4-3 win at Hamburg, the sectional champion in 2010 and 2011, it was encouraged. Other quality wins came against Iroquois, Williamsville South and Pioneer on the way to a 16-0 regular season.

“The first game of the season was an excellent one to build upon,” said coach Laurie LeGoff. “We started off strong, were challenged, then regrouped and secured the win. It showed a great deal of character and the strong bond the girls possess. This is one of the most unified teams we have ever had at Amherst.”

A solid group of seniors is on a mission to bring the No. 1 seeded Tigers their first sectional title since 2009.

Two-year captains and three-year starters Jane Edgington (All-WNY first team), Taylor Balser (All-WNY honorable mention), and Yanna Boggio (All ECIC) have been strong and consistent from the first game. Balser has six goals along with 23 assists. Edginton has 14 goals and six assists. Goalie Boggio has nine shutouts.

Amherst has a nice balance of upper and underclassmen and several players with a high field hockey acumen. Ten players have earned points. Missy Mallon has been a catalyst for the attack. Sophomore Mckenna Rushford is a finisher with 15 goals and 10 assists in 14 games. Megan Mallon and Lacey Woite are also in double figures for goals.

No. 2 seed and defending champion Iroquois finished the regular season 15-1, with its only loss coming to Amherst in game’s last five seconds. Senior Meghan Fonfara led Section VI in scoring for the second year in a row with 29 goals and had 12 assists. Sophomore Abby D’Amato added nine goals with six assists.

“Meghan represents the apex of a natural pure scorer,” said coach Pete Tonsoline. “She is blessed with great hands and remarkable vision when she is on the net ready to shoot.”

Fonfara broke the school’s single game scoring record with six against Sweet Home, and on Monday she had three goals against West Seneca East to become the Chiefs’ all-time leading scorer with 93.

Iroquois won 14 in row after its loss to Amherst, including 12 straight by shutout.

The defense returned just one player but it’s a good one in All-WNY first teamer Kirsten Audette. She’s a four-year player, a co-captain, and ranked among the top three in her class.

No. 4 seed Pioneer was led in scoring by a freshman, Brittany Baker, a natural talent who finished with 14 goals and four assists. Brought up as an eighth grader, she’s an exceptional ball handler who knows how to finish. Senior McKensey Horrigan added six goals from the right wing.

Despite starting three freshmen and three sophomores, the Panthers finished 11-4-1.

Senior goaltender Brianna Ronan recorded 10 shutouts thanks in part to a defense that allowed an average of only 4.0 shots per game.

No. 5 seed Williamsville East looks to surprise, having played good teams tough.

“When we showed up to play, we took some teams by surprise,” said coach Erin Rajczak, whose team went 9-6-1. “We finished the season with great momentum going into the playoffs.”

Jordan Roetzer netted 11 goals and Brooks Melnyk and Nadine Pizzuto can also finish.

Maddy Lockwood looks to add to her season total of 18 goals for No. 6 seed Hamburg. After a slow start, the Bulldogs finished 9-7, good for second place in ECIC II.

“The seniors have done a great job leading and pulling the team together and the younger kids have done an outstanding job working hard and have improved a ton,” said coach Kelly Owens.

Bianca Dolac has either scored or assisted on all but three goals this season for No. 10 seed West Seneca East.

Class C

Barker (13-1) extended one streak and looks to extend another. The Raiders won the Niagara-Orleans League for the eighth year in a row. A Section VI Class C title would be its sixth straight and its ninth in the last 11 years.

“The season has been very rewarding with only three seniors and injuries to several players. We have been a battered and tested group all season,” said second-year coach Jeff Costello. “Barker is a hard-working team that doesn’t rely on just one player. Each day is an opportunity for any player on our team to step up and be the one with the big goal, defensive play, save, or moment to build on.”

Junior Melissa Grosshans has 11 goals while senior Heather Mason has nine. Sophomore goalie Caitlyn Mason has been solid with a 0.26 goals against average and a .900 save percentage. Olivia Denny is a top playmaker and senior tri-captain Brooke Bodine is a leader on and off the field.

Barker has managed to win consistently even though it has played only four games in 2013 with its regular starting line-up.

Plagued by injuries since the beginning of the season, the Lady Raiders have managed to plug in new parts on a day-to-day basis and have gotten results with new players getting an opportunity to play and perform.

A much-improved Akron team played Barker to a 1-0 score in the regular season and will challenge them for the title. They are the only two teams in the eight-team bracket with winning records.

Holland, winner of five games this season, looks to the future with freshman Payton DiGangi.