SKANEATELES — The Lakers boast plenty of big game experience.
One player has been on the team that advanced to the state final four each of the last four seasons, four won the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C championship in 2014, and almost all have played in the finals at least once.
Skaneateles, the Section III champion, looks to use its experience against Section V's Palmyra-Macedon in the Class D state semifinals 2 p.m. Friday at SUNY Cortland, with the winner advancing to play either Section XI's Mattituck-Southold or Section I's Bronxville on Saturday.
"After we won our regional game, in our huddle I said 'Alright, we're going to the Banquet of Champions,'" Lakers head coach Bridget Marquardt said of the dinner event the evening before the semifinals. "They all just screamed and they were so excited."
Over the past four seasons, Skaneateles has one state title, fell in the finals twice and lost in the semifinals once. All three losses came to the hands of Mount Sinai, who remained in Class C when the state shifted to a four-class tournament.
Bronxville has lost in the semifinals each of the last three years, including an overtime loss against the Lakers last season on Olivia Navaroli's winner. Palmyra-Macedon and Mattituck-Southhold qualified for the state tournament for the first time this season.
"Everyone that has been there knows the feeling and the pressure," Lakers goalie Emily Baldwin said of her team. "Coming back again this year it will be easier, so we can go in more confident and come out strong."
Kyla Sears, Skaneateles' leading scorer, knows the goal isn't just to make it to the semifinals. It's to pick up a pair of wins and a trophy.
"We want two games this weekend. We don't want one," Sears said. "We're really set on that."
PEAKING IN THE POSTSEASON
After a grueling regular season, the Lakers have breezed through the playoffs.
Skaneateles beat almost every opponent this postseason by double-digits, with the lone exception being South Jefferson, 16-7, in the Section III, Class D championship game at SUNY Cortland on May 30.
"We're keeping the intensity up," Sears said. "We may not have had very intense games, but we try to keep it together mentally and tell ourselves we're preparing for the next game that could be within one or two or where we're losing. We have to get ready for those scenarios, because they're no doubt going to come this season."
The Lakers hope their tough schedule, which included matchups against bigger schools like Cicero-North Syracuse, West Genesee and Fayetteville-Manlius, as well as top-ranked teams like Marcellus, has helped prepare them for the postseason.
"On our schedule throughout the season, we've played hard teams and been in close situations, so know how to handle ourselves if that does come down to that," senior Sophie Kush said. "We know we want to avoid that at all costs, since it can be stressful. Our strategy is to go out there and score quick, so then we can settle down and control the game."
Over five postseason contests, the Lakers have outscored their opponents 88-26. Skaneateles hasn't allowed a team to reach double digits since a 14-13 overtime win over Fayetteville-Manlius on April 29.
With 13 straight wins, Marquardt believes her team is peaking at the right time.
"The team has grown and improved every game, and as a coach, you hope that you're going to peak, get better as a team and learn," said Marquardt, who has guided the Lakers to the final four 10 times in the last 16 years. "We've continued to do that."
Last year, Sears was forced to watch from the sidelines.
Having to miss her entire junior season due to a knee injury, the Lakers' top offensive threat stood by as Skaneateles rallied past Bronxville in overtime during the semifinals and fell to Mount Sinai in the championship game.
"Obviously, it was painful watching from the sidelines and for us to make it but not win the state championship," Sears said. "I think we're all just driving to get there and get over the hump this year and win it."
After months of rehab, Sears returned in time for her senior season but suffered more bad luck. She re-injured her knee and missed another month to start the season.
"Those six games of her sitting there and going through it all over again was tormenting for me to watch," Marquardt said. "I'm so happy and thankful that she's healthy and she's on the field. She's a captain and a huge part of the team. She's one of the best players in the country, so she's certainly going to help our team."
Despite missing six games, Sears still leads the Lakers with 55 goals and 35 assists for 90 points this season. The Princeton commit will likely draw a lot of attention from opposing defenders this weekend.
"We certainly have a great team around her, and they feed off her," Marquardt said. "If they try to shut her down, we have other people that can answer."
A SECOND CHAMPIONSHIP
Four of the Lakers are looking for their second state championship this year.
Sophie Kush, Grace Kush, Abby Kuhns and Alison Weiss were all a part of the Skaneateles girls hockey team's run to a second state championship. The Lakers went undefeated and never trailed during any of their games.
"There's a level of success or a standard that our girls sports here ... are very successful, as well as our boys programs," Sophie Kush said. "Meeting that standard for success is always in the back of your head. You're nervous about it, but it also makes it more exciting. You have something to work for."
For Marquardt, a lot of both teams' success comes down to their work ethic.
"I think it's huge for female athletes in Skaneateles, and it says a lot about our athletics program here. ... My kids play hockey, and we're very into the hockey program, and I think the community has rallied around both programs and there's a lot of crossover," Marquardt said, noting one of her assistants, Katie Rozak, is married to hockey coach Andy Rozak. "It's kind of cliche, but success breeds success. Those girls just won a state title, and they don't want to leave here without winning another one. They want it, and they know what it's like, and that helps."
Kuhns won both state titles in 2014. Now she looks to do it again with Weiss and the Kush sisters.
"Winning two state titles (in one year) would be amazing," Sophie Kush said. "All these girls, we all want to win whether it's our first or second or third, whatever it is."