This is the first-ever Empire State Cup Lacrosse Tournament, but the event already has a rich history… how is that possible, you ask? Great question. So here is quick history lesson:
The Empire State Games were an annual Summer event where sports teams from each of the six regions in New York State came together to compete in various sporting events. The lacrosse tournament portion of the Empire State Games was a huge attraction. The tryouts alone were an integral part of college recruiting in the area.
For more on the Empire Cup uniforms, check out LacrosseWear’s Team Spotlight page!
It was a way to settle which region had the right to call themselves the best in New York. However, in recent years, due to budget cuts, The Empire State Games were canceled and for a few years we feared we had lost the premier New York Lacrosse Tournament forever… Until… The Empire State Cup rose from the ashes of the ESG, and once again we have a multi-regional lacrosse tournament to follow!
Traditionally, there are six regions that partake in the tournament: Adirondack, Central, Hudson Valley, Long Island, New York City, and Western. When I was growing up, both Long Island and Central were two power house teams that would usually take home Gold and Silver. So let’s see how THIS year is shaping up!
I attended the first few games of the tournament for a chance to see each team play, and to be able to give you guys a solid preview of the tournament. Games are played Thursday through Sunday, and the first two days serve as round robin play.
Saturday, the teams are seeded 1-6 with the top two teams receiving a first round bye. The rest goes as follows: #3 vs. #6 and #4 vs. #5. #1 plays winner of 4/5 and #2 plays winner of 3/6. Sunday is the final day where the winner shall be crowned best lacrosse region in New York. Let’s get to my breakdown of each region starting West moving East.
The Western squad looked solid from one of the field to the other. Led by the legendary coach Gene Tundo, this team will be a strong contender for the cup. The team has a lot of Orchard Park players on it and you can tell that they play very well together. The attack are a smart group of players with a very high lacrosse IQ and excellent sticks.
The attack created number of opportunities generated off of transition. John Januszkiewicz is a well rounded attack man who netted 3 goals in the first quarter alone. The offense was generated by a lot of North-South dodging by the Western midfielders. The middies would draw slides handle the double VERY well move the ball to the open player for a shot.
It is a very old school run-and-gun offense, and a lot of fun to watch. Daniel LaCrosse is a great middie who runs and dodges well. He has a good lacrosse background and almost stuck a behind the back, and with a name like that you have to be good. The defense stood out to me as well. They are a bunch of big, tall, strong defenders who slide hard and fast.
The quick doubles created turnovers that were turned into transition opportunities. I couldn’t find many weaknesses on this squad, even the goalies looked good. They have a good chance to win it all, if they continue to play smart. Their own downfall will be shot selection, mark my words.
Being from the Central region, I had high hopes for the team but after one game my confidence is shaken. Typically the Central team brings home the Gold but I’m not sure if they have what it takes this year. BJ O’Hara is at the helm, and I thought that was the ace in the hole… apparently I was wrong.
Central looked real sloppy – something that I never expected. They looked sloppy in warm ups all the way to half time. The offense worked out of an invert – mainly a big little. They may have to rethink their strategy if they want to start winning games. With that being said, the Attack was the strength of this team.
Gale Thorpe, son of the legendary Regy Thorpe, finished with 2 goals and 1 assist. He is a slick lefty attackman who can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. He is complimented with righty attack man Kevin Lux – he had 3 goals in the first game against Hudson Valley. Those two players were responsible for 5 out of the 6 goals that the team scored. These two players must to continue to play well throughout the tournament.
Adirondack is usually a team who struggles in this tournament. Not to take anything away for this region, but they just aren’t at the level yet of the other regions. However, there were some bright spots on the Adirondack team. Both goalies, Zach Anderson and Brenden Deady played exceptionally well.
Kyle Fragnoli is a defense man who stood out to me – an excellent player with a lot of potential. A trouble spot for Adirondack was their physical size. Most other teams were big, athletic physical teams – Adirondack just doesn’t have the size of the other squads. The coach staff lack the experience of the other coaches. Josh Procell and Kyle Hartzell are great players, but they are young and don’t have the experience of the others. This team could be a spoiler in the tournament, all they have to do is get on a run in elimination play.
These guys knocked my socks off – very surprised by the talent of this team. They have size, speed, quickness and strength. Hudson Valley plays fast, dodge hard, and spin the ball to the weak side – real simple lacrosse but it works. In their first game, they scored on their first three consecutive possessions. Daniel Manning was a beast on face offs - he probably won nearly 75%.
Brian Prestreau out of Yorktown Heights and Chris Santangelo were two very dominate midfielders that controlled the game – finishing with 2 and 3 goals each respectively. The offense was well coached, disciplined, they were patient with the ball and made good decisions. At the end of the game they killed nearly 1:20 off the clock while Central was doubling. Hudson Valley’s defense was equally as impressive. They slide hard, fast and doubled well – their slide and replace defense was the best I saw all day.
The defense had excellent communication skills. I don’t think there was a defender on the team that was below 6 foot – they are all tall and physically imposing defense. Teams that have a good defense tend to well in tournaments like these. As long as Hudson Valley continues to play they way they are – it is very likely that they will bring home the gold.
New York City:
This is another team that shocked me today. NYC played Long Island in their first game today – a game that Long Island would easily have won. However, NYC took control early and never looked back. Let’s start at the back – NYC’s goalies both played well totaling 6 saves in the game. 6 saves isn’t much, but it’s because Long Island couldn’t get to the net because NYC had good defenders.
Nader Sharif-Emami was an absolute beast down low. He lead the defense with fundamental 1v1 play and throw perfect takeaways at the right opportunities. The other two defenders were not as strong as Emami, but they all worked well together and this was another group of defense men they were big, strong, physical defenders.
The weakness of the NYC team was the midfield – I’m not saying they were bad, but they weren’t as strong as the attack and defense. The NYC attack were the best group in the tournament. They are all slick players with great sticks and could find each other and finish in tight – a real treat to watch. They were led by John Uppgren out of Wantagh. This kid is a special talent – he is a threat all over the field.
Uppgren would set people up, and could finish. Uppgren was great in the ride and because of his hustle got 2 goals out of it. Look for him to be the go-to-guy in the clutch. Uppgren finished with 3 goals but the offense had at least 6 different scorers – a well balanced offense is the hardest to stop. NYC can make a run for the gold as well.
Once again, one of the traditional powerhouses that disappointed me. Right away, I noticed that they did not have the size or strength of the other teams. This lead to some problems for them. While most other teams used their size to dodge down hill, Long Island struggled with that – they only scored 4 goals in their first game against the city.
Christian Trasolini, from New Hyde Park scored two goals and was the center piece for the offense. He ran both attack and midfield in the game. Long Island spent a lot of time on defense and couldn’t get their offense in a rhythm. All of the goalies for Long Island looked about 5’6 – normally this isn’t an issue but some of these teams can bring the high heat and I’m not sure if they will be able to keep up with it.
However, both of the goalies that played against NYC came away with 5 saves apiece. A very respectable showing for getting shelled all game. If Long Island wants to succeed they need to find an answer on offense.
After watching the first day, my originally picks have changed drastically. I would usually pick Long Island and Central to be in the finals but I don’t think either team will make it this year. This year, if Hudson Valley doesn’t make it to the Gold Medal game they have failed – Their squad is good enough to get it done.
Hudson Valley is my pick to win it all. I also think Western has a good shot to get to the Gold Medal game, but I doubt they can take down HV. Central needs to play an excellent tournament and only then can they make it to the Bronze medal game. I have them pitted against New York City – NYC attack will carry them through this tournament. NYC will take home the hardware and Central will come up short. It should be a interesting tournament with a lot of young talent.
I will be live Tweeting the scores throughout the tournament so stay tuned to me on Twitter @connors36!