When it comes to numbers in high school lacrosse, the top website is laxpower.com. It has every team’s schedule and results. It has standings. It has regional, state and national. It even has statistical information on which teams score the most goals, give up the least, and which team is best in scoring margin.
A glance at those statistics will tell you that the second-highest scoring boys lacrosse team in the entire country resides in Western New York.
Orchard Park? Bishop Timon-St. Jude? Silver Creek? Hamburg?
Yes, the Tigers are in the midst of their most successful regular season, and following Monday’s action their 19.36 goals per game trails only the IMG Academy of Bradenton, Fla., (19.50).
Far more impressive, and far more important, is another figure: 11-0.
Akron remains undefeated with five regular season games to play. With nearly every player back from the team that went 14-4 last season and made the school’s first appearance in a sectional lacrosse final, the Tigers have put together another excellent campaign thanks to a high-powered offense – along with the realization that goals will only get you so far.
“In Class C there are so many goals scored,” said fifth-year coach Bryan Bellis. “When we were able to keep Lake Shore [19-7 victory April 22] and Amherst [23-13 victory April 16] from scoring, to lock them down on defense, was an indication that we were going to be pretty good.”
Bellis’ statement about Class C scoring is quantifiable as well. Four-time defending Class C champion Silver Creek has led the nation two of the last three seasons — last year and 2010 — and was third in 2011 as the state’s all-time leading scorer, Virginia-bound Zed Williams, has led the way. This year, Silver Creek is 38th in the country at 15.36 while Salamanca joins Akron in the top 10 at No. 8 (18.27). Akron beat Salamanca, 16-15, in its season opener. Last year, Silver Creek beat Akron twice – including in the Class C final – in goalfests that had identical scores of 29-15.
“It was a neat thing about our goal average,” said Bellis. “But once the players found out we had to kind of call them off – some of them were saying, ‘we can do better.’ It’s one thing to have it [the high average], but it’s another thing to go for it.”
Bellis credits senior goalie Gowah Abrams and the defensive play of senior Connor Meier and juniors Garrett Shultz and Joe Sarow for providing the Bulldogs with balance this year.
Sophomore attackman Larson Sundown and junior midfielder Sturgis Sundown – sons of assistant and former head coach Gary Sundown – are a big part of Akron’s tremendous offense. In the midfield, senior Clayton Ferry has been a four-year contributor, senior Stephan Poodry has become a scoring threat in his second season after transferring in last year, while junior Wyn Blueye has become a big contributor. A.J. Lauricella, a football standout and newcomer to the team this season, has made an impact as a longstick midfielder.
Joining Larson Sundown on attack are two juniors Geoffrey Besser and Hayden George. That trio is part of the first class of the 6-year-old Tonawanda Braves youth program to reach the varsity, and the stick skills they developed from a young age have paid off.
“The Tonawanda Braves program has served as a feeder program,” said Bellis. “This group right now has had a full range of lacrosse. It’s the first ‘graduating’ class of that program. [Prior to that program], kids on the reservation were going elsewhere. They grew up in that program.”
The Native American community from the Tonawanda Reservation that is part of the school district was a main reason that the program was started 12 years ago. Prior to that, the community had its appetite for high school lacrosse aided as programs like Gowanda and Medina would play on Akron’s football field.
The program began with a JV squad in 2001 and a varsity team in 2002, and as recently as 2005 it had a winless season (0-19). The Tigers went 10-9 in 2007 but hung just under the .500 mark until last year’s breakthrough campaign.
Akron’s offensive acuity, not unlike Silver Creek or Salamanca’s, is rooted in the indoor box lacrosse that so many natives participate in. The smaller space yields quick stickwork and quick possessions and a lot of scoring.
Bellis and the Tigers search for a balance between what can be an explosive attack and the possession game that is so crucial in field lacrosse: the other team can’t score if they don’t have the ball.
“You can hear us on the sideline, my coaches and myself, saying ‘Slow it down,’” said Bellis. “We realize that that’s our strength, that we have kids that can really shoot, and you don’t want to hold them back. … In the early wins over Salamanca and Amherst, those were more or less back-and-forth. It’s something we’re getting better at. Middies are getting on the attack, and we want to keep it in that end. We’re learning as a team. We don’t need to push – we can hold for an opportunity and look for good shots, not just shots. Some of the leaders realize that, and it’s a matter of instilling it to the younger guys.”
While Akron’s record is quite clean right now, it faces several tough tests in the last two weeks of the season.
The Tigers start that stretch this afternoon with two showdowns that should yield large home crowds. They host Silver Creek today at 5 and at 7 p.m. on Wednesday they host an East Aurora team that just beat Silver Creek. Next Monday, it has scheduled a top-notch large school opponent when it plays at Clarence, which has played Orchard Park in the last three Section VI Class A finals.
“Hopefully, we’re going to peak at the right time,” Bellis said. “We have got to make the most of games we have left.”