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Lancaster girls lacrosse is unstoppable force

Talking to Julie Buccieri is like taking a course on the history of girls lacrosse at Lancaster High School.

She was around almost at the beginning of the program as a player, and for more than a decade she’s had a glorious run of success as a coach.

“I played from 1996 to 1999,” said Buccieri, who just missed the program’s initial season in 1995. “At that time it was so brand new. Kathy Majeski, who started the program, was a very good field hockey coach. Her teams went to states a lot. She got all the field hockey girls to play. It was like, ‘Guys, come on, try this.’ That’s how we got started.”

It didn’t take long for the team, now called the Legends, to become a regional power. They’ve stayed on top, year after year, with numbing consistency. Buccieri played women’s lacrosse at Niagara, and then coached a year at Niagara-Wheatfield before coming to her alma mater.

“We’ve won 10 out of 11 sectional championships,” said Buccieri, who is in her 12th season as head coach. “We lost to Frontier in 2011 - bad day. The best thing to happen to this program was in 2008 when we beat Rush-Henrietta to get to the state finals. It was the one time that happened to us.”

Teams that are high school winners these days usually follow similar formulas. For example, there’s no substitute for starting the kids off early.

“We started the Lady Monsters in 2008,” Buccieri said about the program designed to increase participation outside of school. “The school district said we could send flyers to the kids. We did. We thought we’d get 50 kids at first, and we ended up with 220 girls.

“We said, ‘What are we doing? This is crazy.’ We were very lucky it took off very quickly.”

That means the senior class of today was in fourth grade when the Lady Monsters came along. That effort is bearing fruit now.

“I started in fourth grade,” Anna Donnelly said. “Anna Orlando and I grew up together. Coach Buccieri got us into the Lady Monsters when we were young, and we fell in love with it. We just kept going.”

Orlando added, “When I was young, my role models were Caitlin Formato and Lindsey Morgan,” who graduated in 2009. “I looked up to them. They introduced me to lacrosse and I fell in love.”

Riley Lucarelli, a senior defender now, needed no time to decide that lacrosse would be her sport of choice.

“I liked everything about lacrosse,” she said. “The biggest thing that appealed to me was the speed of the game. I liked the intensity.”

The Lancaster Monsters’ web site lists 30 players who have gone on to play at college. Allie Stewart, who first made the varsity in seventh grade, is a sophomore at Canisius College. Grace Gabriel, who followed Stewart’s example by winning the Borrelli Award as the area’s best senior last year, is now playing at Marquette. Rachel Heidenreich is at Albany.

The former players may be gone, but they don’t forget their roots.

“A lot of graduates come back, especially at playoff time when they are done with school,” Buccieri said. “But what helps is social media. They are always writing ‘Great job.’ That makes it so much easier to make the connection. We can watch their games on line. Some come back for the summers. We’re really thankful to have that support.”

Once the assembly line got in place, and Lancaster produced good players and championship teams, it became cool to be a girls’ lacrosse player at the school.

“That was an awesome plus,” Lucarelli said about the run of wins. “When I first started playing lacrosse, I had no clue about how great the Lancaster lacrosse tradition was. Then I got on varsity in ninth grade and learned how big it was at Lancaster High School, and how great it was to be a part of it.”

Many of the girls play lacrosse year-round, although Buccieri doesn’t mind if they play other sports during the fall and winter seasons.

This year, the Legends did some extra work before the season began. It helped the team get off to a good start, especially against Western New York competition.

“We went to Disney for spring training for the first time,” Buccieri said. “The girls had fund-raised since August. We played some scrimmages down there, and we did clinics and practices. After we came back, we had a lull so we’re grateful to be playing now.”

So far, Lancaster has been great this season against Section VI competition, including an overtime decision last week against Frontier.

“Anna Orlando had a great season last year; she had 50 goals. She’s going to West Point to play next year,” Buccieri said. “Riley Lucarelli is going to Canisius. She’s a great defender. Olivia Potts is going to Edinboro. Anna Donnelly is going to Niagara; she’s been here since eighth grade. Hannah Nagowski is going to St. Bonaventure. She had seven goals in a game this year. Jenna Hagen is going to Mercyhurst. We’re thankful for what they’ve done.”

The Legends’ two losses have been to Section V teams. The Rochester-area schools are still in Lancaster’s way, and the coach likes to schedule those teams in an attempt to help her team get better.

“My big theory is that they have more young programs,” Buccieri said about Section V’s dominance of Section VI. “We have them, but every town has one there. They can go to a tournament any weekend in the summer and any weekend in the fall, even as kindergarteners. We don’t have that.

“I think we’re the only one that starts at pre-K; my four-year-old plays. Other schools start a little later. But we don’t have the opportunity to go to tournaments like they do there. When every town has a youth league, then we’ll be able to compete with them down the road.”

Perhaps this will be the year when Lancaster or another Section VI team breaks through against a Section V opponent again in the postseason. In the meantime, the Legends know they have to avoid looking too far down the road, and instead worry about what’s right in front of them.

“Every game we take seriously, even if we beat the team last year,” Orlando said. “It’s still a competition. Any team can win a game. We can’t take winning for granted. We work really hard all season long to keep that winning record.”

“We know we have a bull’s-eye on our backs,” Buccieri added. “I’d rather be on this side of it than the other side. It’s going to be tough. Every game we need to focus and take care of business.”