20-16: Top 25 Stories of 2011

Don't be disappointed if you've never heard of some of our Top 25 Stories of 2011. This is not a list of stories with the most hits, or most views, or most comments. Many times a death, an award, a project in progress or recently completed can affect many, many lives without much fanfare in the press. Many of these stories bring fond memories, give us hope for the future, or inspire greatness, many times with a smile or a tear.

#25 - #21 | #20 - #16 | #15 - #11 | #10 - #6 | #5 - #1

In May the National Junior College Athletic Association Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association inducted five new members to their Hall of Fame. Proudly, four are Upstate natives, and one an adopted son of the Upstate lacrosse family.

Eric Ungleich, a graduate of Cicero-North Syracuse High School, was All-County for three years, has an Empire Games Gold Medal, was a two-time All-American at Herkimer and then again a two-time All-American at Salisbury. He won two National Championships at Herkimer.

Regy Thorpe was captain and All-County at Jordan-Elbridge before moving on to Herkimer CC where he was Defenseman of the Year. He was a member of the Syracuse University National Championship team of 1993 where he was Captain and an All-American. Regy is currently the head coach of the Hamilton Nationals of the MLL and assistant coach of the SU Women's lacrosse team.

Grag Tarbell, an All-American at LaFayette in 1978, went on to star on the SUNY Cobelskill Championship teams of 1979 and 1980. He transferred to Syracuse and set the team record of nine goals in a game, since tied by Gary Gait and Casey Powell.

Rick Sowell, a native of Horseheads, also played at SUNY Cobleskill where he helped them to two Regional Titles. After transferring to Washington College, Sowell was a two-time All-American and the D-III Midfielder of the Year in 1985. Sowell had a long professional career as a player, and has coached many years at the college level. In June he was named the head coach at the Navel Academy.

Bob Buhmann, a Long Island native, transferred to Cornell from Nassau Community College, and helped the Big Red to the National Championship in 1971. He was an assistant coach at Cortland when they won National Championships in '73 and '75.

You can get more career details of all these great men from the Induction Press Release.

After a one year hiatus, the Empire State Games made a valiant comeback in 2010 as the Buffalo community banded together and put on a great edition. Things went so well that it looked like a formula had been found that would allow a resumption of the annual spectacular.

Later that year, however, the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation cut off all funding for the Games, and the full-time staff either resigned or were re-assigned. For several months it looked as if this great, ground-breaking event had come to an end for good.

But if the Empire State Sports Foundation of Rochester has anything to say about it, the tradition may return. In November they announced the first step in an attempt to have the ESG's back up and running, albeit without State financing, in 2013. This would be held in Rochester, with the hope to again have the Games moved throughout the state in following years. You can read more on their plans at the Prep Talk blog in the Buffalo News.

Two Upstate women's programs had truly remarkable seasons with outstanding performances and top notch coaching. The
Le Moyne Dolphins were playing their first season at the Division II level after having to move from Division I after many years. Joining their counterparts on the men's side in the Northeast-10 Conference, the ladies lost to only one team in 2011 . . . the eventual National Champion Adelphi Panthers. Unfortunately, they had to play them three times, with losses in the NE-10 regular season and conference tournament, along with a National Semi-final loss accounting for their three defeats in 2011. That semi-final was a Division II battle of the #1 and #2 teams in the nation.

Seniors Rebekah Elmer (West Genesee) and Katlin Walker (Penn Yan Academy) and junior Brittany Brigandi (Christian Brothers Academy-Syracuse/UMass) were named IWLCA First Team All-Americans. Those same three were also NE-10 All-Confernce First Team, while senior midfielder Mia Valletta (Niskayuna) was named to the second team, and freshman midfielder Victoria Nies (Jamesville-DeWitt) landed on the All-Rookie Team. Brigandi also broke the Le Moyne record for most goals in a season.

In the classroom, the Lady Dolphins excelled as well. The team received the NE-10 Women's Lacrosse Team Academic Excellence Award with a team grade point average (GPA) of 3.35.

Much is expected of the Dolphins in 2012 as well, as they were just recently named Lacrosse Magazine's Pre-season #1.

The women of SUNY Albany also had an outstanding season as they remained undefeated throughout the regular season and the America East Tournament, only to lose in the NCAA Tournament to eventual Nation Champion Northwestern. Heading into the Tournament, Albany was the only remaining undefeated Division I school.

Many players acheived personal bests throughout the season, and with the team earning both the AE regular season crown and the Tournament Championship, the were many post-season awards as well:

Nikki Branchini (Guilderland): America East Conference Co-Player of the Year; first UAlbany player to earn first-team All-America East recognition four times; All-Conference First Team; Synapse Sports Division I Women's Lacrosse All-America Team; 2011 IWLCA All-America 2nd Team; UAlbany Female Athlete of the Year; AE Conference Lacrosse and Overall Female Athlete of the Year; AE Woman of the Year.

Taylor Frink (Baldwinsville): One of 24 Nominees for Tewaaraton Award; set Albany single-season records for points and assists; All-Conference First Team; WomensLax.com Division I All-America; Synapse Sports Division I Women's Lacrosse All-America Team; 2011 IWLCA All-America 2nd Team.

Ariana Parker (Kingston): IWLCA All-Northeast Region first team; All-America East first team; Conference All-Rookie Team; Synapse Sports National All-Rookie team.

Jodi Battaglia (Amherst): All-Conference First Team.

Michelle Primomo (Bethlehem Central): All-Conference First Team; Conference All-Rookie Team.

John Battaglino: America East Coach of the Year; WomensLax.com Division I Coach of the Year; Synapse Sports National Coach of the Year.

Several rule variations were tried during fall ball this year after many fans, coaches, and players voiced their opinions that the 'fastest game on two feet' has become, at times, slow and plodding. While walking the tunnels to the locker rooms or standing in line at the concessions, you might even hear the word 'boring' tossed around.

Purists think up and down, fast and furious is the way the game is supposed to be played. But what worries most people is that the current expansion of the sport of lacrosse towards the mainstream of American and global fandom will reach an abrupt halt if even those who love the game find it tedious to watch.

There have been many suggestions as to what the cure might be, and several of these were tried during the 2011 Fall Ball season. Limiting on-the-fly substitutions, reverting to the old count rules, quicker restarts, and what is perhaps the most controversial subject, shot clocks all got a look-see this autumn. The results of the trials? I think 'generally favorable' might be the most accurate response. The shot clocks didn't seem to affect the game to a great degree, but the cost to colleges, and trickling down, high schools, could be a problem. Teams found a way around the limited substitutions with wide shots to get a horn.

There are still other ways to speed up play without changing the field rules. Reducing or eliminating long sticks could entice the offense to take more chances. Further tweaking of head size, offset and pocket size should create more loose balls, and thus more exciting play (as discussed Sunday in Dave Rahme's Orange Lacrosse Blog.

This subject will no doubt make next year's Top 25. Let's hope there is a concensus that will save the sport we all love, and allow many more people to love it as well.