After an absence of 6 1/2 months, high school sports returned in Central New York. It began late last week with a series of boys golf matches, as those golf teams had tryouts and didn’t need the 10 full practices which the New York State Public High School Athletic Association required for the other “low risk” fall sports – boys soccer, girls soccer, field hockey, girls tennis and gymnastics. And even this wasn’t complete because, in the weeks leading up to the start of practice, both Syracuse City schools and Fulton opted out of the fall season and decided to go to “Fall Sports II”, the March-April alternative where football and boys and girls volleyball landed when NYSPHSAA moved them early in September.
Of all the fall sports that are going ahead, soccer is the highest-profile one with, among other things, a defending state champion in Class B in Skaneateles that was orignially primed to repeat in 2020 given that all but a couple of players returned from the 2019 squad. Then COVID-19 canceled the fall sports state and Section III championships, and then the virus affected the Skaneateles school district, too, forcing what was supposed to be October 3 openers against Marcellus back a couple of weeks. Instead, the boys soccer Lakers will commence its season October 8 against Mexico and, two days later, have a high-profile game against another recent state Class B champion, Westhill, all part of a 12-game slate.
But once we get to this weekend, there are some actual big soccer games taking place among the Class AA teams in the Salt City Athletic Conference that stayed out there. On Friday night, it’s boys and girls games between Baldwinsville and West Genesee, with the boys Bees coming off a dominant run to the 2019 sectional Class AA championship and the girls Wildcats trying to feed off the momentum of its own sectional finals run. A day later, Fayetteville-Manlius and Liverpool square off, with the girls Hornets having nearly gone all the way to the state Class AA title a season ago and the boys game a rematch of the Warriors’ stunning win over F-M in the sectional quarterfinals, a game that signaled Liverpool’s return to prominence.
Here is a good time to discuss the general structure of what these soccer seasons will look like. For the most part, teams will play 10 to 12 games, almost entirely within their own leagues, with some exceptions. Boys eams in the SCAC Metro division had the most jockeying to do because Henninger, Corcoran and Nottingham would have accounted for three to six games had city schools not decided to go to March. in the SCAC Empire division, no PSLA-Fowler and Fulton led to some more schedule altering. As for the Onondaga High School League, most of the teams are playing, with private schools like Bishop Grimes and Manlius-Pebble Hill getting more chances to face Class B schools than they’ve ever enjoyed before.
We also have an active season ahead for area field hockey teams. A season ago, Baldwinsville won the Class A sectional title, but the Bees don’t get underway until October 9, when it plays East Syracuse Minoa. Nearly a week earlier, rivals Cicero-North Syracuse and Liverpool open with each other as Holland Patent comes back from winning the Class B sectional title last fall and Camden is the reigning Class C sectional champions. In terms of their schedules, Camden gets 12 games, opening early next week against Clinton, while Onondaga High School League teams, led by Cazenovia and Weedsport, also have full schedules on tap, looking to take advantage of dry fields before the worst of the fall weather hits.
Now we get to cross country, where the entire season is different, though still taking place. Typically, there would be midweek meets between two or more teams in the same league, followed by those massive Saturday invitationals across the state and region, leading to sectional, state and Federation championships in November and the Nike Nationals in December. Now all of those big events are gone, replaced by a mixed schedule where some of the teams are still competing mid-week, but others, including the big schools in the SCAC Metro division, will have their head-to-head contests on Saturday mornings, trying in a small way to replicate the big events they would customarily visit during the fall.
What you will see for cross country runners is having to travel far away to find showcase events. Take Tully’s North Carolina State-bound senior, Brooke Rauber, who did it again early in September. Having broken the Section III mile record at another event in Arizona in July, Rauber this time ventured to Edison, New Jersey, where on September 19 she covered 5,000 meters in 16 minutes, 32.62 seconds, demolishing the old mark of 16:56 set by Auburn’s Denise Bushallow 34 years ago. In that same race that Rauber won, Cicero-North Syracuse’s Kate Putman finished fourth, South Lewis’ Hannah Ielfield gained ninth place and Putman’s younger sister, Gabby an eighth-grader, impressed with a 17th-place finish.
We also have girls tennis taking place this fall, amid a tight time window. Essentially, most teams will conduct all of their matches within the four weeks between October 3 and Halloween, hoping that the weather holds up long enough to get all the contests in outdoors. Up in the SCAC Metro division, Fayetteville-Manlius has long dominated the large-school scene, even though at times West Genesee and Baldwinsville have offered challenges. One top team in the Tri-Valley League, Oneida, is not having fall sports, opening it up for New Hartford and other challengers, while in the OHSL strong teams from CBA, Cazenovia and Skaneateles might make their way to the front of the standings.
While we still don’t know whether there will be a high school wrestling season in the winter, there is still news there. Sadly, the Section III Wrestling Hall of Fame dinner had to be canceled, yet another COVID-19 casualty. The event will now take place November 6, 2021 with the same Class of 2020 that includes Tim Green, a state wrestling champion at Liverpool before his career at SU, the NFL and as an author. Meanwhile, Dolgeville’s Jacob Null was named the country’s sixth-best wrestler at 170 pounds according to theopenmat.com after a 51-0 state championship run last winter, and Central Square’s Cole Mulhauser is the no. 20 wrestler in those same rankings in that same weight class.
Under Armour released its rosters for its national championship lacrosse tournament, with incoming juniors and seniors in the Highlight division and incoming freshmen and sophomores in the Command division. Needless to say, Section III is well-represented, to the tune of 23 boys and 20 girls players named to compete in this event that will take place October 17 and 18 in Virginia Beach. CBA had six boys chosen, which had to make coach Ric Beardsley proud, while three each from Jamesville-DeWitt and Fayetteville-Manlius. The eight girls in the Highlight division includes Auburn’s sister duo of Abbie and Kate Izzo, along with Maroons teammate Anna Montgomery, one of the area’s top defenders.