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Gabriel wants to lead Lancaster to an amazing finish

Grace is an amazing offensive talent, but Grace Gabriel does more than just score for the Lancaster girls lacrosse team.

The senior three-time All-Western New York first team selection defends well. She is a great teammate, a winner and a player who will clearly be missed once she takes her talents to Division I Marquette after the season is finished.

“She does whatever we have to do to get the win,” said Lancaster coach Julie Buccieri of the fifth-year player. “She’s just super hard working, wherever she is. She tries to make everybody better. Girls have to focus on her so it gives other girls a chance to stand out, but Grace has done a good job playing consistent, doing the best she can.”

What Gabriel ultimately strives to do is what’s best for the team. If that requires her rattling cages by zipping shots past helpless goalies, then so be it. Gabriel has 183 goals in her career, scoring a team-high 63 last season. She is 40 goals shy of matching former teammate Allie Stewart, who graduated last season, for the most in Lancaster history.

Gabriel is coming off a season in which she led her team in ground balls (104) and draw controls (89). She has 16 goals and 11 assists for Lancaster, which is off to a 4-1 start, 3-0 in Class A league play.

“She is one of the strongest if not strongest players in the section,” Buccieri said.

“Whatever I can do to help the team win I’m more than willing to do,” said Gabriel. “My main goal is to help the team out and get the sectional championship.”

That’s something Lancaster has done well historically. It has won nine of the last 10 Section VI titles, with Gabriel serving as a key member of teams that have won three straight Class A crowns.

Of course, she’s driven by the four-peat, but she and her teammates want more than that. She wants to help Lancaster get past the Far West Regionals for just the second time in its history. The last time Lancaster did that was in 2008.

“We work toward it every day,” Gabriel said. “It’s something I’m really passionate about. I know we’re more than capable of doing it. We have a lot of potential. Everybody wants it as bad as I do.”

That includes returning All-WNY first team defender MacKenzie Neary, who often marks the other team’s top offensive threat. Riley Lucarelli (verbal commit to Canisius) and Anna Donnelly also patrol the defensive back. Goalie Larissa Kate Robinson also has improved and has a save percentage near 55 percent.

On offense, Anna Orlando earned All-WNY Second Team after a 40-goal campaign last year.

Hamburg steps up again

For the second year in a row, Hamburg – the reigning Section VI Class B champion – is playing up in the Class A league during the season. It returns to Class B for the playoffs.

With a 5-2 overall mark, including 3-1 in league play, the Bulldogs look like an early favorite to extend their championship run to four years in a row. But as coach Katy Ryan notes, there still is good competition in the Class B and C leagues.

Case and point, the Bulldogs beat Williamsville North, 14-11, in last year’s sectional final, a game in which North led 9-8 at one point.

Hamburg has six returnees who are determined to get back to Far West Regionals led by All-Western New York selection Claire Hermann, who is coming off a 45-goal season. The junior is averaging six goals per game and has a nine-goal game (against Williamsville East) and a seven-goal game (against Orchard Park) on her resume. She has given her verbal commitment to Division II LeMoyne.

Canisius-commit Carolyn Connors, a senior midfielder, wins draw controls, scoops up ground balls and is pretty much the Bulldogs’ high-energy player.

Classmate Hanna Fredriksen, who will run cross-country and play lacrosse at Baldwin-Wallace, is one of the top two-way players in Western New York. Junior Rebecca Izzo scored six goals in a 14-13 win over Frontier and added seven goals in a triumph over Niagara Falls.

“We’re pretty young but we’re athletic,” Ryan said. “It’s really exciting having kids who are young and coachable.”

Dufrense leads Frontier

Frontier looks to make it five sectional finals in a row and get the Class A title after four straight runner-up finishes. Three-year starter Jackie Dufrense, who will take her talents to Mercyhurst next season, has scored 19 goals in just five games.

Fourth-year Falcon Julia Hackford is a solid all-round player, while second-year starter, junior Alexis Rockey, has 11 goals in three games. Goalies Tabytha Smith and Sophie Jones each have stopped 50 percent of the shots she has faced.

“Offense should be the best it has been in years,” said Frontier coach Tim Myslinski, whose club is averaging 14 goals through its first five games. “Our young defense is going to have to step up play if we want to be successful.”

The contenders

• Lake Shore, which snapped Amherst’s seven-year reign as Class C champions, returns eight players from last year – including fourth-year starting midfielder Shayla Scanlan. Third-year starters include goalie Jenna Haring, attacker Symone Maracle and midfielder Jalyn Jimerson.

• Amherst, which looks to win a sectional title for the 10th time in 11 seasons, has 16 returnees looking to make amends for last year’s results, including seniors Kathryn Yoder and Angelina Simon. Yoder, who will play at St. Bonaventure, is a returning All-WNY first team pick at midfield. Simon is coming off a 52-goal season. Goalie Brittany Perdziak will attend Division II Charleston.

• In Class B, Williamsville North has a new face patrolling the sideline in first-year coach Andrea Maslowski. She has some experience back from last year’s sectional runner-up team in seniors Katie Rupp, Chrissy Alonge and Anne Principe and junior Clare Ahern.

• Williamsville East, which lost in the semifinals to rival North, also looks to foil Hamburg’s four-peat quest. Top scorer Kara Marzo is among 13 returnees for the Flames, who went 14-4 last season.

• In Class A, Orchard Park is coming off a 9-9 season in which it lost in the semifinals to Lancaster. Key returnees including attacker Syd Potenza, a first-team all-league selection, and defender Grace Ruh.

• East Aurora has 11 returnees from a 7-8 squad which lost to Lake Shore in the postseason. Key returnees include senior captains Maddy Kelchlin and Julia Prychodko and junior captain and midfielder Sam Youngman.

Around the cages

• Sacred Heart is the two-time defending Monsignor Martin playoff champion but is off to a 0-2 start. Mount St. Mary, which won the first eight Monsignor Martin titles, is 2-0, while Mount Mercy, which stunned Sacred Heart, is also 2-0. Mount St. Mary goalie Alyssa Abendschein has stopped an astounding 80 percent of the shots she’s faced.

• West Seneca West earned its first ever win over Williamsville North recently, 10-9, behind junior captain Casey Villagomez’s six goals. She has 17 goals on the season.

• Grand Island, which went 6-9 last year, is off to a 3-2 start. The Vikings have 16 returnees, including eight starters led by attacker Jordan VeRost, who already has 18 goals.

• Niagara-Wheatfield has nine returning seniors, three returning juniors and two returning sophomores from last season’s 12-2 outfit. Senior Emma Falter is a three-year starter who will play at Division I Albany next season. Newcomer Marissa Markott ranks second in scoring for the Falcons. Other key players include Milain Williamson, Megan Farnham, Christine Thomas and Jess Philips.

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com