Canandaigua's 2019 championship was thrilling, but Pal-Mac, Victor and Marcus Whitman have plenty of elite moments to offer as well

I remember seeing the game for the first time in junior high school. It was new, brand new, and it hooked me in immediately.

Without hesitation, I knew lacrosse was my game. Even after all these years, every season has the feeling of being something brand new and that genuine excitement reinforces lacrosse as my game of choice.

So speaking of new, or maybe new-ish is a better word, how about girls lacrosse? My introduction to girls lacrosse came at about the same time as many in this area, when Canandaigua Academy fielded its first varsity team in 1993.

So for the next installment of my top career moments as a sports writer, let’s talk some girls lacrosse.

In 1993, I met with Anne Marie Sherlock, the first girls lacrosse coach at Canandaigua to do a story for The Daily Messenger. It didn’t take long to understand that although this was lacrosse, it was a different lacrosse. And I loved the game even more.

By and large, most sports are the same when they span the genders. Soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, baseball and softball. Their are variations, of course, but they’re slight.

Girls lacrosse and boys lacrosse? Two different worlds.

When I first learned about the game at CA, teams were still using home, second home, cover point and wings among the player positions. There was no contact, no stick checks (except for the head) and crazy as it sounds, no out of bounds.

That’s not entirely true, but it certainly was unique and pretty cool to learn that some girls lacrosse games used the lay of the land to determine boundaries. Watching draws at center is still pretty cool and the sticks? You might handle a boys lacrosse stick well, but you don’t really know how to cradle the ball until you’ve learned to do it with a girls stick and that shallow pocket.

Considering girls lacrosse is a relatively new sport to this area, it took a while for teams to get up to speed in terms of winning Section V championships. But up to speed they are. Canandaigua, Palmyra-Macedon, Victor and Marcus Whitman have all been Section V champions at some point, and area programs continue to turn out elite individual talent.

Were time travel possible, I’d definitely head back to 2011 to see Marcus Whitman win the Section V Class C title. Claudia Coleates was the anchor in goal with runners in front of her like Emily Hoover, Megan Robson, Molly Gray and Nelli O’Donnell to pave the way and reap the rewards for a group of kids who gave the Wildcats a championship just nine years after lacrosse became a varsity sport in Rushville.

One of the odd things about the local programs is that even though CA was the first varsity team in Section V, it took nearly 20 years for the Braves to win their first title. The initial Section V tournaments were played in 1995 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the Braves won the first of their five championships.

But once the Braves got started, they were hard to stop. Titles came in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 with players like Taylor D’Amore, Abbey Friend, Kelly Condon, Bailey Knapton, Lauren D’Amore, Haley and Lindsay Marafioti and Kendall D’Amore leading the way.

Jordan Johnson, Janae Guy, Dakotah Savitcheff, Heather Groot and Rebecca Van Laeken are part of the core that powered the titles in ’12 and ’13 … and I missed a lot of it. I wish I could say these are some of my favorite girls lacrosse moments and while I did see games from this era, I can’t say I officially covered them as a reporter. Still, tons of fun to watch.

Since coming back to the Canandaigua paper in Feb. 2015, I can claim at least one championship team in each of the last five seasons. And sometimes, two.

In 2015, I watched Victor defeat Webster Thomas for the Section V Class B title and while it was the scoring of players like Bridget Flynn and Kaci Messier that stood out, I’ll never forget talking with goalie Ellen Newton after the game. Of course, all the Blue Devils were thrilled that evening, but there was something about Newton’s happiness that included a dose of humility, almost as if she realized how fortunate she was to simply play a game and experience that much happiness.

In 2016, the Blue Devils won their third straight title against a very good Spencerport team. But as we were starting to learn, any team with Emily Hawryschuk is a team that’s hard to stop. She scored six goals in that game and if the Rangers didn’t have their hands full with Hawryschuk, they also had to deal with Delaney Schottland, Lucy Haggerty, Flynn and Messier.

The 2017 postseason was a busy one as the Pal-Mac girls won their first Class D title in school history and they haven’t stopped. The Red Raiders have won the last three titles and as coach E.J. Burse told me after the 2018 championship, he likes to think he coaches a program, not just a team.

Considering the talent the Red Raiders have fielded over the last few years, it’s tough to argue that. Aldyn Savage helped lead the way early on and Sophia Leva was a wall in goal.

But then came a long and consistent line of Division I talent to keep the Red Raiders at the top of Class D with Cierra Scheik, Andra Savage and Emma Arnold. As I mentioned before, the girls game is different from the boys game in that when it’s played at a high level and the ball stays off the ground, there is a fluidity and rhythm to it that’s almost lyrical.

That’s what I see when I see Andra Savage play with the way she moves with and without the ball. The phrase poetry in motion comes to mind.

When it comes to grit and determination, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone more driven than Emma Arnold, who did a lot of everything for the Red Raiders. The motor for Arnold was never off when she was on the field and that’s a trait for which I have the ultimate respect.

The Canandaigua girls returned to the top of Class B with a title in 2017 and the play of Cassidy King in goal was spectacular. And while the Braves were unable to defend the title in 2018, the semifinal loss to Spencerport came with an example of the “lacrosse family.”

Alyssa Zacharias was in her second season as the CA coach and she didn’t know Spencerport coach Patricia Condon as just another coach. Both graduated CA in 2007 and Condon was in the wedding party for Zacharias in 2016. It’s pretty neat when the world of sports comes together like that.

Last spring, the Red Raiders of Pal-Mac added a third straight block to the trophy case and the CA girls added a fifth. But what a way for the Braves to get it.

Lexi Braniecki scored the overtime winner against Spencerport and of course, I wasn’t there to witness it. We had another reporter at the game and he did a great job to chronicle the moment as I was across town covering the Victor vs. Canandaigua boys championship game.

But I did get to see the team plenty during the season and no doubt, the CA girls of last spring had a complete team under first-year coach Ronnie Davis. Braniecki, Emma O’Neill, LaRen Blakesley and Kenzie Lupton were the leaders of a balanced offensive unit. But I’m a big fan of the grinders and to me, midfielder Clancy Rheude was the motor that made the Braves go. The former cross-country runner seemed to clear the field in five strides from the defensive end and that speed, along with her lacrosse IQ, created so many problems for opponents.

So what’s my favorite girls lacrosse moment as a sports writer? Last year’s championship win for the CA girls probably would be at the top of the list, but I can’t really claim it because I didn’t witness it. The 2017 title for CA was fun to see with the way King dominated in goal, but then I start thinking about how fun it was to see the Pal-Mac girls celebrating their championships.

And then when I think of interviews with Newton and the Victor girls, it becomes too difficult to pick just one girls lacrosse moment. Because like I said at the beginning, the arrival of each new lacrosse season is greeted with genuine excitement and really, I just love being at games.

Maybe that will change in the years to come. But for now, my favorite girls lacrosse moment has to be whatever game I’m at.

Chavez is sports editor at The Daily Messenger. Contact me at rchavez@gannett.com or follow me @MPN_bchavez