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Grand Island to receive boost in race for Niagara Frontier League boys soccer title

Grand Island has been the top boys soccer team in Western New York the past two seasons. The Vikings are the two-time defending Section VI Class A champs. They opened last season with 22 straight wins, only to lose, 2-1, in double overtime of the state championship game.

Yet the Vikings didn't receive a spot in the first coaches large schools poll of the 2017 season, while two other teams in the Niagara Frontier League did.

After two years of domination by Grand island, the race for the NFL title appears as open as its been since Niagara Wheatfield finished in the top spot in 2014.

“I really can’t say we’re the favorite this year,” Vikings coach Frank Butcher said. “And I can’t say who could be because year-to-year you just never know.”

No. 4-ranked large school Kenmore East (4-0-1, 2-0-1) and No. 9 large school North Tonawanda (5-0-1, 3-0-1) are both unbeaten heading into Tuesday night's showdown at Adams Field at 7 p.m. Lew-Port (3-2, 2-1) made a statement on Saturday that its not to be taken lightly with a 1-0 double OT win over the Vikings.

Those are the top four contenders, but Kenmore West, Lockport and Niagara Wheatfield are also capable of keeping up with any team on any given day, as evidenced by Wheatfield's 2-2 tie against the Lumberjacks in late August.

For Grand Island, which is 1-2-3 overall and 1-1-1 in the league, Butcher is just looking to get the team's lineup back to full strength. He has treated the past two seasons as a maintenance program of sorts, just trying to keep his guys healthy and sharp.

This season, the Vikings have already been without seven starters at times.

“I think the last couple years we’ve been so healthy that it allowed us to put everybody where we wanted them to be,” Butcher said. “The guys have been doing great keeping everything close, but at that point we’re just trying to fill in.”

Senior goalie Steve Pufpaff has been the glue that has held the team together through the early part of the season.

“We’ll be in any game that he’s healthy,” Butcher said. “I’d be hard-pressed to find a better goalie in Western New York.”

The Vikings will receive a boost on Tuesday against Wheatfield with the return of All-WNY large schools forward John Griffin, who scored 30 goals last year. The senior tore his meniscus during the summer but received full clearance from doctors over the weekend.

“He really only had to sit out of practice the first week and a half, so he’s been with us every day,” Butcher said. “It’s his first action, so it should be interesting to see how many minutes he can handle. Just in practice today you could see the change in confidence in the whole team with him in the lineup.”

A look at the Niagara Frontier League schedule the rest of the week:

Tuesday, Sept 12

  • Lockport at CSAT, 4:45 p.m.
  • Niagara Wheatfield at Grand Island, 7 p.m.
  • Kenmore West at Lew-Port, 7 p.m.
  • North Tonawanda at Kenmore East, 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 15

  • Grand Island at Lockport, 4:45 p.m.
  • CSAT at Kenmore West, 4:45 p.m.
  • Kenmore East at Niagara Falls, 4:45 p.m.
  • Lew-Port at North Tonawanda, 7 p.m.

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