Defending its Section II Class A title has gotten harder for the Shenendehowa boys lacrosse team.
Besides the usual list of suspects including Shaker and Guilderland, the Plainsmen will also have to deal with defending Class B champion Niskayuna. The Silver Warriors are back in Class A where they won four straight titles from 2005 to 2008 after spending two years at the Class B level.
"Niskayuna is still the powerhouse of Section II," said Shen coach Chuck Holohan. "And even though we are the defending champions, we feel we have to beat them and everyone else."
Beating Niskayuna hasn't been easy for Shen in recent years. The Plainsmen own one victory over the Silver Warriors over the last eight years.
"We hold them with a lot of regard," said Holohan.
For its part, Niskayuna isn't overlooking a Shen team that returns most of its players from last year.
"They're the defending Class A champions, and that's something we don't have," said Niskayuna coach Mike Vorgang. "It's something that we want."
Shen will have the top goaltender in the Suburban Council with senior Bob Wardwell. Now entering his fifth varsity season, Wardwell has established a reputation as one of the toughest goalies to score on, as he let in less than eight goals per game in 2010.
"I think Bob knows what we're going to run, and he's the general on defense," said Holohan. "He runs around and lets the defenders know what he wants them to do."
Wardwell still needs the support of the offense, which returns several key players from last year including Tim Cole, Mike Jenkins and Brian Powell.
"We hope we're more efficient than last year," said Holohan. "We left a lot of shots off cage last year, and that's why some of our scores were low. Hopefully with a year of experience, we'll put a lot more shots on cage."
Meanwhile, Niskayuna has to reload after graduating 16 seniors from last year's team including the explosive offensive duo of Mark Panneton and Justin McKinney.
"We need to replace some guys, but the seven seniors on the team are going to contribute for us," said Vorgang.
Shen begins its season next Tuesday when it travels to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. The Plainsmen's first shot at beating Niskayuna doesn't come until April 26.""