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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 13, 2010

Branchini and Best conquer college level

By Jordan J. Michael

GUILDERLAND –– Nikki Branchini and Kayla Best didn’t travel far to go to college, but their athletic abilities carried them farther than most.

Best and Branchini, former teammates on the Guilderland girls’ lacrosse team, have been playing lacrosse together at the University of Albany for the past three years. Best, a midfielder, will be graduating as a senior, and Branchini, a defensive midfielder, will be entering her senior year in the fall.

Albany’s breakthrough 13-3 season came to a close last Thursday with an 11-to-9 loss to the University of Maryland Baltimore County, but Branchini and Best ended the year with personal accolades.

Branchini was the first Albany lacrosse player to receive a major award. She was chosen the America East Player of the Year for her outstanding efforts on defense. Branchini was among the national leaders in ball controls (5.1 pg), ground balls (3.4 pg), and caused turnovers (2.1 pg). She also added 10 goals and three assists.

“It was a really big honor and I was a little bit surprised,” said Branchini, mentioning that defensive players usually don’t get an award like that. “It was nice to be recognized because I bring a lot of energy to the team and create hustle plays.”

Best was named to the All-America East first team for the third season in a row. She had 35 goals and five assists in 2010 and finished her Great Dane career as second all-time with 187 points.

“I’m fast with my feet and fast with the stick,” Best said. “I get better as I go.”

Both Guilderland natives have younger sisters who played for the Lady Dutch. Amanda Best had a successful season of lacrosse for Fairfield University as a freshman, and Amy Branchini is also a freshman in college.

Kayla Best played one year with her sister at Guilderland when she was a senior and Amanda was a freshman. “She learned a lot from me back then and we’ve always practiced with each other over the years,” Kayla Best said. “I saw her play a couple of times this season and she’s done a great job. I’m sure she’ll turn out better than me.”

Lady Dutch Head Coach Gary Chatnik runs Albany Elite Lacrosse and Best and Branchini work under Chatnik over the summer as coaches for some current Guilderland players. Best and Branchini have been following Guilderland’s success closely; Branchini was a senior when the team won its first sectional title in 2007.

Best wasn’t there for any titles, but she helped turn the tide.

“Guilderland has a lot of great athletes,” said Branchini. “They keep recycling players.”

“The team started getting better when I was a sophomore,” Best said of her time with the Dutch. “They realize that lacrosse can be fun and challenging at the same time.”

Branchini told The Enterprise that Chatnik deserves plenty of credit for her and other players’ successes. “He’s invested in his players and really gets their names out there,” she said. “He gives you a lot of confidence.”

Best is a sociology major with a minor in education and plans to be a teacher. She started playing lacrosse in middle school after a friend dragged her to a game and forced a stick into her hands.

“I played soccer already, but lacrosse eventually took over,” Best said. “I saw all these older girls going to college for the sport and I wanted to do the same.”

Branchini picked up a stick in elementary school after watching her older sister play for the Albany Capitals. “I saw all these fun experiences and started to realize my path,” she said.

Branchini is a history major and plans to go to law school after she graduates from Albany. Getting honored as Player of the Year has left her with no limits.

“I hope younger girls look up to me and want to play lacrosse,” said Branchini. “I think it sets a good example.”

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