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MSG Varsity takes a look at Yorktown, which is coming off a Section 1 Class B title in 2011. The Huskers, who suffered a hard-fought game to Long Island's Garden City in the state semis, will look to atone for it in 2012.
Now, here's a look at the key players and storylines to watch as the upcoming season rapidly approaches.
Key players: Frankie Fusco (senior), Conor Gately (senior), Nick Mariano (junior)
This much is certain: Yorktown's attack unit is bound to give Section 1 defenses insomnia this year.
The trio is already being compared to the Huskers' famed 2001 line, which was composed of Brian Crockett (Syracuse), Mike McCall (University of North Carolina) and Ryan Culligan (Brown). That star-studded group put up a combined 276 points (158 goals, 118 assists) in the '01 season.
Yorktown's 2012 version will feature Frankie Fusco (Drexel), Conor Gately (Marquette) and Nick Mariano (UMass). The three returning starters combined for 198 points (110 goals, 88 assists) in 2011.
With that volume of firepower, well, it's kind of tough to be modest.
“Our attack is one of the best around,” said Gately, who notched a team-high 58 assists last year and was named a first-team MSG Varsity WE/HV All-Star.
And the unit put it all on display in Saturday's scrimmage against Long Island's Hauppauge. There was the crafty and quick Gately embodying lacrosse's version of Steve Nash as he delivered assist after assist. There was Fusco threatening to rip nets as he unleashed Section 1's most wicked shot. And, lastly, there was Mariano tracking down ground ball after ground ball with a tireless tenacity.
Combined, it was simply too much for Hauppauge to handle.
“We have been together since we were little so we have that chemistry,” said Fusco, who tied Mariano for second on the team in goals last season with 44. “We know where everyone is going to be and we give each other space to do what we're best at.”
So, what does each one do best?
Senior defenseman Eric Cooley, who goes against the unit everyday in practice, provided the answer: “Frankie's a shooter with great stick skills. Mariano is a very unorthodox player and he's a great scorer. Gately's one of the quickest players around.”
Rest-assured, Cooley's thrilled that the trio will be on his side come game time.
Key players: Joey Raniolo (senior), Brian Quigley (senior), Joey Sialiano (senior), Fitim Lajqi (senior), Hunter Palancia (senior), Vincent McLiverty (senior), Brian Prestreau (junior), Danny Manning (junior), Connor Vercruysse (sophomore), Luke Palmadesso (sophomore), Nicky Bonitatibus (sophomore)
Unlike the attack, Yorktown's midfield has some question marks. Just don't tell that to senior captain Joey Raniolo.
“Yeah, I think we are pretty underrated,” said Raniolo, a three-year varsity player who totaled eight goals and six assists in 2011. “Everyone is looking at the attack, but we are just as good. We all have (college) commitments and we can all score, just like the attack can.”
Still, the loss of All-Americans Ty Schuldt and Justin Mabus stings. The superstar duo combined for 121 points (78G, 43A) last year, leaving a pretty big void in the scoring department.
“We did lose two All-Americans in Justin Mabus and Ty Schuldt, but we got some guys stepping up in Brian Quigley and Brian Prestreau,” said Raniolo, who will play his college ball at Springfield College. “They are both very fast. And we have Connor Vercruysse, a big kid. We can all dodge, go to the goal and shoot.”
Quigley, who bagged 13 goals last year, looks like the top option. The SUNY Cortland-bound senior has speed to spare and put on some size in the offseason. Raniolo, a captain, is an all-around threat and glue guy. Also look for contributions from Joey Sialiano, who posted three goals and one assist last year as a junior.
The wildcard in the midfield could be Vercruysse, an imposing 6-3 sophomore who just happened to be the odd-man out on attack. He rotated in at times in 2011 and posted a stellar 18 points on 15 goals and three assists. In 2012, Vercruysse will see more time inverted at midfield.
“(Vercruysse) is a huge kid and has a cannon of a shot,” Gately said. “We are trying to get him in as much as we can. He runs at middie sometimes to get him above the goal line, but he's a player.”
If Vercruysse needs any inspiration, well, he can just take a look at current Hopkins star and former Yorktown All-American John Ranagan, who followed a similar arc in his development. Ranagan came up to the varsity as more of an attackman, moved to midfield and, as they say, the rest is history.
Against Hauppauge, Vercruysse showed flashes of a younger Ranagan, bulling over defenders from the top of the box with sheer power and then ripping shots into the back of the cage. This will be an intriguing player to watch develop.
In terms of faceoffs, the Huskers have a slew of capable options in Danny Manning, Luke Palmadesso, Fitim Lajqi and Hunter Palancia. Unlike years past, Yorktown has the potential to really control possession by dominating at the dot.
Key players: Eric Cooley (senior), Gzim Lajqi (senior), Andrew Rohle (senior), Trevor Koelsch (junior), Zach Reilly (junior), Austin Fusco (sophomore), Austin Graham (sophomore),
Defensively, Yorktown didn't lose too much to graduation. All-section close defenseman Tyler Fahey (Albany) stands as the biggest piece to replace.
On the plus side, the Huskers return their top defenseman in Hopkins-bound Trevor Koelsch, who came into his own last season as a sophomore. A heady player with sharp stick-skills and stellar technique, Koelsch grew into Yorktown's top lockdown defender in 2011. Now, he will look to take it a step further and incorporate more of a takeaway aspect into his game.
“I feel I was able to work hard in the offseason, so hopefully I'll be able to continue to play the top man successfully,” said Koelsch, who was the only underclassmen to be named a captain. “Last year, I was kind of trying to stop them from getting to the goal. This year I'm going to try and be more aggressive.”
Fellow returning starter Eric Cooley — arguably Section 1's most imposing and bruising player — provides the muscle. The Rutgers-bound talent has worked hard to improve his feet, which doesn't bode well for opposing attackmen. The image of a sliding Cooley will make one think twice before dodging into the heart of Yorktown's defense.
Mercy-bound senior Gzim Lajqi figures to have an expanded role this year. He's got athleticism to spare and could be a breakout candidate under defensive assistant Adam Lodewick. Two other players to watch are St. Leo-bound senior Andrew Rohle and 6-3, 180-pound junior Jack Phelan.
The return of long-stick midfielder Austin Fusco, a Syracuse-bound sophomore who missed last year's stretch run due to injury, will be huge for the Huskers. He has started to grow into his lanky 6-foot frame and looks much stronger and comfortable on the field. Against Hauppauge, Fusco showed his game-breaking ability with a coast-to-coast man-down goal. It involved an impressive combination of speed, instincts and stick-skills rarely seen in underclassmen.
Collectively, Yorktown has the size and speed to be a solid unit.
“This year we have a real athletic defense with good size but people can move,” Koelsch said. “We are looking to be good one-on-one.”
“We are all big guys,” Cooley added. “Most of our defense is over 6-foot and we are all pretty athletic, so we are looking to get on peoples hands and pressure out this year to cause some turnovers.”
The one question mark is in the cage, where the Huskers will have a first-year starter. Right now, sophomore Austin Graham and junior Zach Reilly are battling for the spot.
“It's a day by day thing and no one knows who is going to start day one,” Cooley said. “They might be splitting time the whole season, but we don't know.”
Koelsch said both have played well in the preseason.
“They have come into their own this year,” he said. “Zach's getting a lot more confident and he's been looking good. Austin's been doing good on some clearing passes.”
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass