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Sports Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 28, 2007
Not just a lax athlete
By Tim Matteson
GUILDERLAND Pure athleticism, desire, and hustle are the best words used to describe Nikki Branchini.
The recent Guilderland High School graduate has been seen on fields and courts all over Section II the past four years. Yet the sport she played the least, is the one that will be her future and earned her the highest accolade.
Branchini has been named a US Lacrosse All-American for her exploits on the field for the Lady Dutch. She also has been named an Academic All-American by US Lacrosse.
US Lacrosse is the governing organization of the sport.
"I was surprised," Branchini said in a recent interview. "The girls on the team have played their whole lives. I took two years off. I didn’t expect it."
"Woman of many sports"
Branchini did not play lacrosse in the ninth and 10th grades. She had played up to eighth grade but then chose basketball.
"I played AAU basketball," she said of her previous spring sport. "Junior year, I played both; this year I decided to drop basketball."
She didnt need to play in the Amateur Athletic Union to hone her basketball skills. Her one season of varsity high-school lacrosse netted her a spot on the University at Albany team.
"I love basketball," Branchini said. "But lacrosse has more opportunities for me. I would not have what I have now if I didn’t play lacrosse."
Branchini was convinced to return to the lacrosse field.
"Coach Gary Chatnik encouraged me to pick up the sport again," Branchini said. "I never stopped playing the sport. I played with my sisters. They all play lacrosse."
Branchini, who was a four-year varsity player in field hockey, and three-year member of the varsity basketball team, used her athleticism to make an easy transition back to lacrosse. She had begun playing lacrosse in grade school.
"I worked on my skills," she said. "It was a lot of hard work. I jumped right into it. My stick skills weren’t as good for an attack player, but I mainly play defense. It’s like riding a bike."
"Nikki is an excellent player," Chatnik said. "She helped her team grow up quickly. She led by example. She worked really hard on defense and everyone fed off that. She didn’t want us to lose and the younger players looked up to her. She had to guard the best player on the other team and Nikki shut her down. Guilderand has never had a defensive player like that."
Branchini has parlayed her athletic talent and her passion and dedication to success on the hardwood and the field. She helped the basketball team to two sectional championship game appearances in the three years she was on varsity.
Branchini also helped the field hockey team have a break through season last fall. For the first time the Lady Dutch advanced past the quarterfinals into the semifinals.
The Guilderland girls lacrosse team played in the sectional finals in 2005 when Branchini was not on the team. They lost in the semifinals in 2006 before winning the title this past spring.
"That was frustating, we had a good team last year," Branchini said. "We were a loaded team and we didn’t go as far as I thought. This year, we had a pretty good team, too."
Winning the sectionals 9-7 over Shaker was the culmination of a lot of work by Branchini and her teammates.
"That was our biggest goal this year," she said. "In field hockey, we made the semifinals and lost, and in basketball we made the finals and lost. I was not losing in a final again. I was not losing. We really built up for the end of the year. We picked it up at the end of the year and that is when we should."
"She finally won her championship," Chatnik said.
Branchini will take her accolades to the collegiate level as she will play for the University at Albany.
"I really liked their program," she said of her choice in school. "The program has got some good athletes. It’s on the rise and the school was the best fit for me. I looked at UMass and schools in California. But this is where I want to be.
"The coaches are great and they know the game," Branchini added. "I want to help them get better."
"We are going to miss her a lot," Chatnik said. "She brought a lot to our program"She really put her heart into it. She is going to star at UAlbany."
Branchini will also see some familiar faces on the Albany team. Former teammate and All-American Kayla Best had an outstanding freshman campaign for the Great Danes.
Rival and friend, Tee Ladacouer of Bethlehem, will also be a member of the team.
"There is another girl from Bethlehem going there," Branchini said. "There will be people there I know, so it will help make it less stressful."
Branchini, who was also named an Academic All-American last year, realizes the significance of what she has accomplished, especially adding the regular All-American recognition.
‘These are great accomplishments," she said. "My parents are definitely proud of me.
Branchini said she was most proud of the regular All-American designation. "It’s based on skill. It’s nice to see that someone else thinks that I can play."
Though she is the one recognized, Branchini knows that she had a lot of help on the way to earning her accolades.
"All my coaches have been big influences on my life," she said. "It’s going to be weird not picking up a field hockey stick or a basketball. But I’ll definitely come back and visit.
"I’ll miss the change of sports," she added. "The good thing, was once field hockey was done, I started something else. But I’m doing what I love so it doesn’t matter."
And why lacrosse"
"I feel like it’s different than every other sport," Branchini said. "Even though we can’t hit like the guys can, sometimes you can push people. There’s a fun atmosphere about it, and the people I’ve met are great."
Even though Branchini took those years off from the sport, what did she learn"
"If you work hard enough, anything is possible. She added, "I definitely want to thank my parents for their support and everyone around me who helped me get to where I am now."
Awards given to Lady Dutch laxers
By Tim Matteson
GUILDERLAND The Guilderland girls lacrosse team concluded its season by honoring the 2007 Section II Championship varsity team and the junior varsity team at the year-end banquet.
The varsity team finished with a 17-3 record. Each varsity member received a Section II 2007 championship plaque.
Meera Chappidi received the Sportsmanship Award as well as the game ball for her goal in overtime in the five-overtime victory over Shaker in April.
Jen Madsen was given the Coaches Award. Lauren Cagino was named the most improved player; Courtney Davis received the Captains Award; and Bridget Daley received the Top Defensive Player Award.
Chelsey Newman and Amanda Best received the Top Midfielder Award; Danielle Tetreault and Abbey Fashouer received the Top Offensive Player Award.
Nikki Branchini, Jen Kaye, Lynn Tran, and Julie Malkowski received the Most Valuable Player Award.
The varsity team was also recognized as the number-two girls lacrosse team in the state academically with a 97.2 grade-point average.
Branchini was selected as a 2007 US Lacrosse All-American. Malkowski, Tran, Kaye, Branchini, Cagino, and Fashouer were named 2007 US Lacrosse Academic All-Americans.
Branchini, Malkowski, Kaye, and Tran were selected as first-team Suburban Council All-Stars. Fashouer, Cagino, Best, and Tetreault were selected as second-team league all-stars. Daley, Newman, and Davis were chosen as honorable mention all-stars.
Fahouer and Cagino were selected as captains by the team for 2008.
The junior varsity team named Casey Gerety as the Most Valuable Player. Marissa Page was the Most Improved Player and Hannah Scott was given the Sportsmanship Award.
"It was quite a year," said Guilderland varsity Coach Gary Chatnik. "A year which we thought we could do it and did. The year began with four seniors who provided the leadership and set the tone for the underclassmen to develop. Once our team gained confidence, they began to show their talent and we went on the 12-game winning streak and won sectionals. It was great to be part of.
"Then the championship game at the University of Albany had such a great atmosphere with so many people," Chatnik added, "including our alumni who had put so much time in getting our program to this level. Alumni like Nicole Tetreault, Lauren Chatnik, Kathryn Marcantonio, Kayla Best, Molly Daley, Val Feldman, Kaitlyn Vennard, and Laura Driessen all were there, and they all are part of this season."
Just four seniors graduate Branchini, Tran, Malkowski, and Kaye.
"Guilderland will always be grateful for what they accomplished and meant to us," Chatnik said. "They will have these memories forever and will know that they made the commitment and it paid off."
The Lady Dutch will have 16 players returning next spring. The entire offense returns intact.
"The girls know how to win and that should give us early confidence," Chatnik said. "They are all playing this summer and most have already played in at least a tournament to date. There are several girls on the junior-varsity team who will help out and we are looking forward to 2008. For a while, we are still going to enjoy the 2007 championship."
An All-American kid who loves lacrosse
By Tim Matteson
GUILDERLAND Lacrosse is Scott Raffenspergers life.
He has put a lot of work into the sport and it has gotten him to the highest pinnacle a high-school athlete can reach. Hes been named an All-American.
Raffensperger was honored by US Lacrosse, the governing organization of the sport, for his play with the Guilderland lacrosse team. He was also chosen to play in the Under Armour All-American Lacrosse Classic a senior all-star game put on by the apparel company but did not play because it conflicted with his graduation ceremony.
Raffensperger will also take his talents to one of the top college programs in the country at the University at Albany.
"I was pretty pumped up about it," Raffensperger said of the awards. "It’s one of those things you hope for at the end of the season. It’s very exciting."
The honors are the culmination of the work Raffensperger put in when he fell in love with of the sport in the sixth grade.
"My social studies teacher, Mr. Woolsey, got me into it," Raffensperger said. "I started doing it in a Friday-night league at the middle school. After the first night, it was go time. I wanted to play every day and be around it all the time."
Raffensperger then played in the town league run by local coaches and then played on the modified team for the first time in seventh grade.
"I played middie and it was fun," Raffensperger said. "I was switched to long pole by Coach [Sean] McConaghy. Sophomore year was the first time I started trying it halfway through the season. It’s something that stuck. It was natural. I didn’t care about scoring; I wanted to stop people from scoring goals."
Raffensperger played mainly as a long-stick midfielder for the Dutchmen his sophomore year, but dropped back to play close defense the next two years. On faceoffs, he continued to play on the wings at the midfielder slot.
He credited his coaches McConaghy as well as Kris Bremer and Dan Depersis for helping him along the way.
Raffenspergers family moved from Philadelphia when he was a young kid and knew nothing of the sport that he would come to love.
"I got up here, and I never knew what it was," he said of lacrosse. "I had never heard of it. Guilderland was a hotbed of lacrosse"I was always into sports and I had never heard of it at all."
The successful teams Guilderland had when Raffensperger was growing up inspired him.
"They had a run of good teams," he said. "The 1998 team won the section title and I remember watching that game. It gave me a lot of motivation and pushed me to want to accomplish what we did the past couple of years."
Raffensperger didnt win a sectional title like that 1998 Dutchmen team. But he was close.
He played in three sectional championship games but the Dutchmen couldnt overcome a tough Niskayuna team. This past spring, Guilderland came the closest, losing, 11-9.
"We went 0-3 and a lot of people talk about how that doesn’t look good," Raffensperger said. "The thing is, those three times, we accomplished a lot. We did lose three times to Niskayuna, and that kills me."
Raffensperger is proud of the fact that the Dutch beat Niskayuna for the first time in his tenure during the regular season and were co-champions of the Suburban Council.
"I’ll definitely miss it," Raffensperger said. "I’m moving on to bigger and better things, but it was a fun ride. I’ll always remember Guilderland and I’ll come back and help out in the future."
Those bigger and better things include the opportunity to play for the University at Albany, which this year was one of the top teams in the country, with a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals.
"Since Coach [Scott] Marr took over five years ago, the program has done an absolute U-turn," Raffensperger said. "They’ve won four America East titles. When I went to visit they were the first college I went to I knew that was where I wanted to go.
"Their attitude towards playing was about building a family. They are family-oriented and that makes it fun and enjoyable," he added. "I also like Coach Marr’s and Coach [John] Svec’s coaching style. At Empires, he was very helpful and he is a defensive guy. That is what drew me there."
Raffensperger played at the Empire State Games last summer in Rochester.
"No other coach I talked to had as much attitude and drive and was as intense about the game," Raffensperger said. "They had, if not more, the same intensity as me."
Raffensperger also received letters from Siena College as well as powerful teams like Syracuse, LeMoyne, Loyola College in Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins.
But he chose Albany early and is looking forward to the challenge that major college lacrosse presents.
"I’m going from the top dog in high school to the bottom of the pool in college," Raffensperger said. "That’s part of the game. I’ll probably get the crap beat out of me. In high school, you’re a better player than most everyone, but everyone is good at this level," he said of college play. "There are no slouches, or they wouldn’t be there. It’s definitely a challenge and we’ll see how it goes."
Raffensperger will play defense for the Great Danes and could see some time at the defensive midfield spot in the future.
"I’ll play anywhere they need me," Raffensperger said. "I’ll play goalie if they need me to."
Raffensperger is also looking forward to playing close to home.
"A lot of old teammates and younger kids can see me play," he said. "They can say, ‘He coached me or I played with him.’
"I definitely want to win a championship during my stay at Albany," Raffensperger added. "This is one of their best recruiting classes ever. I’ll make a few new buddies, have a good time, and hopefully win a championship."
He is also looking forward to playing against former Guilderland teammate Mike Camardo, who was a high school All-American last year. Camardo now plays for Albanys America East rival, University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
"The best of the best"
Raffensperger wanted to make his mark in the sport of lacrosse.
"I wanted to accomplish it," Raffensperger said of being an All-American. "When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was play at the top of the game and be the best of the best. My junior year, I thought it was a possibility. But people don’t care if you have a really good junior year and not do anything your senior year. Then I wouldn’t get it. I had to work my butt off."
As for the Under Armour game, Raffensperger said that accomplishment is just as big, and he was disappointed that he couldnt play in the game.
"But I put the letter on my wall," he said.
Raffensperger would still play lacrosse, even if the awards and accolades did not come his way.
"It’s hard to get away from it," he said. "It’s so addictive. When I’m playing lacrosse, I don’t want to think of anything else. I love working with younger kids and playing on a team. You get so close to them; you feel like they’re your brothers. They got your back and you got theirs."
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