Reclassification gives lacrosse new playing field

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake is one of the schools reclassified for lacrosse.GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake is one of the schools reclassified for lacrosse.

BY MICHAEL KELLY
Gazette Sportswriter

When the cutoff numbers for the new four-classification system came out this past summer for high school lacrosse, Shenendehowa boys’ head coach Jason Gifford didn’t spend much time looking at them.

“We weren’t too worried,” said a laughing Gifford, whose program represents Section II’s largest school. “We kind of figured where we were going to be.”

For most schools, though, there was a level of intrigue to how the state’s move from three classifications to four would affect the now-underway 2017 season. Besides the addition of a new classification — Class D — allowing the area to crown an extra champion than in past years, the change also affected which postseason tournament several top area programs will play in at the end of this season. On the boys’ side, the most noteworthy change is Niskayuna dropping from Class A to Class B, while the girls’ postseason saw a significant shift, with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake moving from Class B to Class C.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” Burnt Hills girls’ head coach Jake McHerron said. “It’s going to be different.”

After competing regularly in recent years with Niskayuna and Queensbury for Class B sectional championships, McHerron’s Spartans now find themselves in a six-team Class C alignment along with Albany Academy, Averill Park, Emma Willard,

Scotia-Glenville and South Glens Falls. The Burnt Hills girls’ already play Averill Park during the Suburban Council regular season, and the Spartans added Albany Academy and Emma Willard to their non-league schedule in order to get a chance to see some of their new potential postseason foes.

“And moving forward,” McHerron said, “I think you just hope to develop those rivalries against new teams in your bracket.”

For years, one of the top rivalries in area lacrosse was between the Burnt Hills and Niskayuna girls’ teams.

Besides combining to produce several memorable postseason matchups, the teams’ meetings during the Suburban Council regular season carried extra drama because the winner gained the inside track to the top seed for their postseason tournament. Niskayuna girls’ head coach Jason Bach said the two teams going their separate ways for the postseason at the end of this season will likely affect the intensity of that game.

“I can’t see how it can’t,” Bach said. “It’s going to take some of the edge off of it because there’s less pressure and weight on that one game. But, big picture, the two programs over the course of time have built a rivalry and there’s still gonna be intensity and competitiveness.”

When the girls’ postseason tournaments come around this season, championship rematches are possible in Class A with Guilderland and Shaker, and Class B with Niskayuna and Queensbury, but not in Class C. Scotia, last year’s Class C champion, remained in the classification this season, while runner-up Schuylerville is a part of the new Class D.

On the boys’ side, reigning champion Shenendehowa stayed in Class A and its runner-up Niskayuna moved to Class B, where that classification’s reigning champion and runner-up stayed put in Burnt Hills and Ballston Spa, respectively. Defending Class C champion Greenwich is now a Class D competitor, while last year’s Class C runner-up Glens Falls remained in its same grouping.

“The biggest thing for the area is that this gives us four sectional championships to win,” Gifford said. “That’s an opportunity to get another team a sectional championship and a great experience for their kids.”

And, after all, the switch to a four-classification system this year came about because there are more high school athletes playing lacrosse than in the past. More than 300 schools are now competing in lacrosse, which made possible the addition of a new classification under NYSPHSAA rules. The boys’ sport first grew to three classifications in 2000, while the girls’ moved to three in 2005.

At present in Section II, there are 29 schools competing in boys’ lacrosse and 27 in girls’ lacrosse. With the addition of an extra classification allowing more schools the opportunity to compete in postseason tournaments against more similar-sized schools, the hope is lacrosse in Section II will continue to grow.

“Ultimately, what I think it will do is spark some growth in some smaller schools’ programs,” Gifford said, “and maybe we can get even more schools playing lacrosse.”

BOYS
CLASS A

Shenendehowa
Schenectady
Albany
Saratoga Springs
Shaker
Bethlehem
Colonie
CBA
Guilderland
CLASS B
Niskayuna
Troy
Ballston Spa
Columbia
Amsterdam
Queensbury
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake
La Salle Institute
CLASS C
South Glens Falls
Averill Park
Scotia-Glenville
Lansingburgh
Glens Falls
Johnstown
CLASS D
Schuylerville
Voorheesville
Hoosick Falls
Greenwich
Cambridge
Maple Hill

GIRLS
CLASS A

Albany
Bethlehem
Colonie
Guilderland
Saratoga Springs
Schenectady
Shaker
Shenendehowa
CLASS B
Amsterdam
Ballston Spa
Columbia
Niskayuna
Queensbury
CLASS C
Albany Academy
Averill Park
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake
Emma Willard
Scotia-Glenville
South Glens Falls
CLASS D
Catholic Central
Cohoes
Glens Falls
Greenwich
Holy Names
Hoosick Falls
Johnstown
Schuylerville