Road Trip Dad -
Saratoga Springs Lacrosse Shootout
Dan Witmer | July 9, 2013
I was asked by 3dLacrosse to follow the eight-team Boys HS Division I at the first annual Saratoga Springs Lacrosse Shootout this past weekend. The tournament featured approximately 77 teams in 9 different divisions – not bad for a first-year event! Games were played at the Saratoga Springs Polo Grounds, where there were ten fields, concessions, parking, vendors, and a “fun zone” that I never really got a chance to see, but seemed busy and popular every time I went anywhere near it.

The SSLS was sponsored by Rhino Lacrosse, and all three Syracuse University All-American Powell brothers were in attendance. Helping Ryan organize the entire weekend was George Leveille, who runs the Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse Tournament, and George’s organizational skills and experience were evident as I looked at the tournament booklet, schedules, pool play, and playoff formats.

Assisting Ryan and George were other Lake Placid veterans – George’s son Kevin, Gary DiNola, and Rick Nelson. With so much experience involved in the planning and execution of the tournament, the only possible outcome was success!

After I checked in to my hotel in Clifton Park Friday around 6 PM, I drove up the Northway with thousands of Phish fans – they got off at Exit 13N to go to SPAC, while I stayed on I-87 till Exit 15 to get to the polo grounds. Turns out the tournament site was just west of the Skidmore College campus, well off the beaten path, but just minutes from downtown Saratoga Springs.

Thunder rumbled as I got out of my car, as the distant sky was getting dark. I walked no more than 30 feet before I met George and Gary, and seconds later I ran into Kevin – the key people I work with at the Lake Placid Tournament. They were making the rounds, making sure everything was ready for Saturday morning’s 9 AM games. Many teams had arrived early and were scattered across the fields, going through drills or just throwing the ball around. A light rain started and unfortunately, as thunder and lightning threatened, the scheduled “Powell Hour” was postponed. I picked up a master schedule, checked the slate of Boys HS Division I games planned for Saturday, and saw that – very conveniently – seven of the eight Division I games were scheduled for the same field; all I had to do was set up my chair and watch as the teams came to me! I got back in the car and headed south. It was about 8 or 8:30, and the Northway was now deserted.

It was hot on Saturday, and I guess polo grounds don’t generally include a lot of shade options. I had bought a wide-brimmed golf hat for the occasion, and I’m glad I did. Actually, I was pretty pleased with my overall preparation – I had sunscreen, paper and pens, a bag of hard pretzels, and a cooler with Powerades and iced teas. I was ready.

The Boys HS Division I flight was divided into two pools of four teams. In Pool A, the four teams were Cold Brook, the Collar City Cadets, Guilderland, and Ontario Red and White; in Pool B there were Sayville, Lionheart, Orange Crush, and the Section V Snipers. On Saturday, each team played two games against teams in their Pool; on Sunday each team would play the third team, and then all four teams would receive seeds one through four, and for their fourth and final game, each team would play the corresponding seed from the opposite Pool.

My job was to profile the top players in the division, so I started taking notes as the first game started at 9 AM and I didn’t stop until the eighth game ended around 5:30 PM. Making things a little less than optimal, I didn’t have rosters, so I just jotted down jersey numbers, taking note of goals, assists, big plays, saves, and face-offs – really the same things I looked for when I scouted opponents for all those years when I was coaching or recruiting. I emailed all the coaches and asked for rosters – hopefully I’ll have them all in a day or two.

At 5:30 I got off the hot fields as quickly as I could, and took refuge in the McDonalds just east of Exit 15. I got an iced tea (surprise!) and sat in the air-conditioned eating area, and looked over my notes of the day. I identified about 23 kids who I thought had stood out over the course of the day. I also noticed that two or three of the weaker teams didn’t have any representation on my “top prospects” list, and I promised myself to take another look at those teams on Sunday morning to see if I had missed something or someone.

At the end of Day One, Ontario Red and White was 2-0 in Pool A, while both Sayville and Orange Crush were 2-0 in Pool B. Sunday morning’s Game 3 would settle that issue…

As the schedule went, Sayville and Orange Crush played one another at 8:30 AM, the first game of the day. Because Field 9, where all of Saturday’s games were played, was already a bit chewed up, and because there was some rain early Sunday morning, Fields 9 and 10 were moved to an alternate site, with fields already lined in case such a need arose (see what I mean about veterans’ experience?).

The contest between Sayville and Orange Crush was the best game I had seen so far, with lead changes and big plays going both ways. In the end, Sayville scored in the final minute, and the Orange Crush team was unable to tie it up in the final seconds. Unfortunately, tempers flared at the end of the game and a few players on each team temporarily lost their minds, but the skirmish was quickly controlled and the teams ended up shaking hands like usual. Sayville locked up the #1 seed, while Orange Crush, at 2-1, would be the #2 seed.

For some reason, the Guilderland team didn’t show up for their third game (I mean, not one player!), so Cold Brook benefited from the resulting 7-0 forfeit score and improved to 2-1 for the #2 seed in their Pool.

In the next game, the 0-2 Lionheart team beat the 0-2 Section V Snipers, so Lionheart would be the #3 and the Snipers would be #4. In the final game of Pool Play, the 2-0 Ontario team downed the 1-1 Collar City squad, so Ontario came out 3-0 while Collar City was #3.

Guilderland was still nowhere to be found, so the #4 Section V Snipers took seventh place by forfeit. In the battle for fifth and sixth place, the Lionheart club downed Collar City by a 16-5 score. In the showdown for third and fourth place, Orange Crush beat Cold Brook 12-4.

In the championship game, the Ontario Red and White team rallied to defeat the Sayville squad by a 9-7 score. This game was also back and forth, and gave the earlier game a run for the money as “best game of the tournament.”

With a clipboard full of notes, and the sky threatening once again (such perfect timing!), I jumped back in the Sentra and started for home. It was just after 6 PM, and as I drove home, I saw a great light show of dark skies and crazy lightning all along the southern horizon – I’m talking from Johnstown all the way to East Syracuse! It rained lightly every once in a while, but never hard enough to turn the wipers on full-time. As I headed north up Route 481, the skies were orange, blue, and purple, and I’m sure there was another great sunset on the Oswego shores of Lake Ontario, but the last I saw those colors was when I crossed the Oswego River in Minetto; it was getting dark as I pulled into my driveway at 9:15. Hot and sticky, I jumped into the backyard pool and listened to Oswego’s annual fireworks as I recuperated and cooled off.

Another satisfying road trip completed!

Another enjoyable part of a trip like this is seeing people I haven’t seen in a while. Some of the following people joked about getting a nod in my next RTD article; others made no mention of it. Nonetheless, here are some of the highlights of the weekend:

I bumped into Ben Gaebel minutes after arriving Friday evening. The former Carthage HS/Cortland State goalie and 2006 national champion is now the head women’s coach at Clarkson University, and he’s been coaching at Potsdam, Clarkson, and numerous camps for the past seven years. Ben tells me he’s a faithful reader, so I figured I’d throw his name in here…

Also met up with former Laker Rich Wagner ’89, a midfielder from ES-M who now has a family in the J-E school district. His oldest son, Zach, was playing for the Lionheart team, and I had several occasions over the weekend to catch up with Rich. With three sons playing basketball and lacrosse, and his oldest son going into 11th grade in the fall, he had lots of questions about the college decision timeline, recruiting, etc.

As I walked through the parking lot, an “Oswego Dad” window sticker caught my eye, and I chuckled about the coincidence. Then I noticed the SUNY Delhi parking stickers on another window, and I knew this had to be Bob Leary’s car. Bob is the men’s lacrosse coach and women’s soccer coach at Delhi, and I’ve known him and worked camps with him for years (and his daughter was a freshman this past year at SUNY Oswego). I stuck my new”Road Trip Dad” business card in his windshield wiper and got back to Field 9, just to let him know I was in the area. I finally met up with him on Sunday and spent a lot of time catching up with him, as he was there to coach a U-19 team from the Section IX area.

I spoke briefly with Roberts Wesleyan coach Rocky Delfino as he was in town to watch his 10th grade son “playing up” with the U-19 “Green Machine” squad. The team also included three Oswego HS grads who will be playing at Roberts Wesleyan in the fall. I made a point to tell Rocky that my son Brian had helped coach the Spencerport JV boys’ team this past spring with one of our mutual alums – Dan Cleveland ’07, a former defenseman from Rush-Henrietta HS; Dan transferred to Oswego after playing for Rocky for two years at MCC.

Finally, at the championship game on Sunday, some Sayville guy came and stood on the sideline near me, blocking my view of the game. I was just about ready to ask him (politely!) to step back, when I realized the guy was a former teammate of mine from our Oswego State days – Don Fleming ’80 – who lives in Sayville and coaches in the school’s lacrosse program. I surprised him and said hello, and we ended up watching the title match together, catching up on our teaching careers, the latest from Oswego, and Lake Placid plans. One of his sons was playing with a Sayville team in a younger age group, so that’s why I hadn’t seen him before that game.

Other old friends I saw included Joe Bennett (now coaching at the LaSalle Institute in Troy), Don Shea (assistant coach at U-Albany), Dan Sheehan (former Carthage HS/RPI defenseman and teammate when I played in the UOLL, and former Lakers Jeff Serge and Britt Leone ’12.

I’ll write up my player profile report for by the end of the week (assuming I get the missing rosters from a few of the teams), and then this coming weekend I’ll be covering the two younger divisions at the Nike Upstate Rising tournament at Henninger HS on Saturday. While that’s my lacrosse schedule for the week, son Brian called me Sunday to say that he had just played four days of lacrosse at the Vail Tournament, and son Eric is helping coach the Oswego JV team in the Upstate Lacrosse Association (practices on Sundays and Tuesdays; games on Mondays), as well as working and playing at Maxwell Park in the Upstate Outdoor Lacrosse League (UOLL) on Thursdays and Sundays.

Lacrosse isn’t quite 24/7 – but it’s close (I’m also working at the Oswego Dryland Hockey Camp this week and coaching Hannibal soccer two nights a week).

Life is good. Enjoy, and do drive carefully!

- Dan Witmer