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Amid changes in Clarence, Orchard Park, lacrosse lives on

Western New York experienced something of a preseason earthquake in boys lacrosse this spring.

Gene Tundo started the program at Orchard Park, and had an amazing run of success there. Mike Silverstein spent many years chasing the Quakers as the coach at Clarence, and once in a while the Red Devils caught them.

Both Tundo and Silverstein stepped down from their positions before the regular season started, and Larry Catalano and Charlie Warkenthien have replaced them.

Catalano, at OP, might be in the tougher position. He’s replacing a legend and that’s never easy.

“It’s a huge act to follow,” he said. “I’m only the second coach ever here. Gene had more than 500 wins, 23 sectional titles, and three appearances in the state final in the last few years.

“I don’t pretend to think that I will replace that. I’d have to coach until I was 90 to catch him in wins. I’ll have to work hard.”

Tundo wanted to cut back on his duties for personal reasons, and he stayed right in character when the move was made.

“I first met him when I was a student at Clarence, and he was a coach,” Catalano said. “He was just as intense then as he is now. He just said (at the time of the change) to me, ‘Coach, you got it.’ I said, ‘OK, thanks.’”

Catalano has been involved in the program for 19 seasons, but it was still a surprise.

“Coach has been telling me for a long time that the end was near,” he said. “He’s been working for so long, I didn’t expect it. I thought he’d be there until he retired.”

With so little preparation time before the opener, Catalano couldn’t change much. Then again, Orchard Park doesn’t need many adjustments.

“It’s a little different,” he said about being a head coach. “When I was working for Gene, I concentrated on defense. My assistant coach Lucien Forcucci was head coach for the JV team for 15 years. Lucien is a great offensive mind. We said, ‘Let’s not break what’s been working.’

“Lucien runs the exchange box during the game. I used to do that, and early in the year I’d be stepping on toes. It took us a game or two to work that out.”

If there are difficulties, Tundo is still around for advice in his new job as the coach of the modified program.

“It’s great,” Catalano said. “If you could pick one guy to run the youngest age group of the program, he’d be it.”

Meanwhile in Clarence, Warkenthien had more notice when Silverstein decided to take a step back to youth lacrosse. That doesn’t mean the job will be any easier.

The Red Devils were hit hard by graduation losses, and they’ll need time for the replacements to gain experience.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge this year,” said Warkenthien, who played high school lacrosse at Elmont on Long Island. “I remember something that Matt Danowski, the coach at Duke, said once. When his son was playing, he won the national title. The next year they struggled early, and he made a great statement. He said, ‘I’ve got to coach again.’”

The changing personnel and maturity levels are a constant in high school sports.

The supply of talent can vary from year to year. Warkenthien has five sophomores on his varsity roster.

“High school sports go in cycles,” he said. “We had a good run through 2012 and 2013 in most of our sports. We’re in that little lull; we’re a little flat. But we’ll get better.”

The first-year coach saw the challenge ahead in his first game on the job. Penfield, a Section V team, handed the Red Devils a 13-1 defeat on April 1.

“To be honest, what we’re trying to do is play more of a possession game,” Warkenthien said. “When we had a lot of firepower last year, we’d take those runs and then they’d come back at it. Now if we get possession, we want to move it around - don’t force it. Reverse the field. Against Penfield, in 48 minutes, they spent 30 in our zone. You don’t win that way.

“But that’s youth and inexperience. … We’ve been teaching the game, teaching lacrosse IQ. They don’t have that lacrosse IQ.”

It takes time to develop those qualities, and Warkenthien hasn’t had much time to practice because of wet spring weather. Clarence will be getting a turf field next year (“That makes me smile,” he said).

Warkenthien figures to take a few lumps, learning a few lessons about coaching while teaching a few lessons about playing. He hopes that it will lead to a better team sooner than anyone expects. Catalano no doubt has the same goal for his first year on the job: improvement.

“As I always tell the kids, it’s not how you’re playing on April 1, but how you’re playing on May 10,” Warkenthien said.