North/South Xtra: Canon-McMillan, Mars face tough test


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Canon-McMillan has employed a sound strategy of offensive firepower to earn a berth in the WPIAL Division 2 boys lacrosse quarterfinals with an overall record of 13-3.

Mars has relied on a schedule that has matched up the Fighting Planets against four Division 1 teams en route to an overall record of 10-5.

Which strategy is more sound will be revealed at 7 p.m. today when the Big Macs visit Mars. The winner of this game meets the winner of a game today involving top seed Quaker Valley and Chartiers Valley.

"Our team is based around our offense," said fifth-year Canon-McMillan coach Craig Schleifstein. "We have the No. 1 offense in Western Pennsylvania, and that's because we have three outstanding attackmen."

They are junior Ben Ward, who has scored 60 goals and dished out 28 assists; junior Nick Carr with 48 goals and 30 assists; and senior attack Conner Niemeyer, who has 33 goals and 51 assists.

And, just in case any of those three get shut down, junior attack/midfielder Reece Ruscello, who had 43 goals and seven assists, can pick up the slack.

Second-year Mars coach Justin Karam is certainly aware that his team is facing an offensive threat.

"We don't know a lot about them, but they do score a lot of goals," he said. "Most of their games, they've scored in double-digits."

Ward likes the prolific offense generated by his team.

"Having that balance helps a lot," he said. "We have the offense to get a win, and I believe we can beat any team as long as we play to our potential."

But Karam believes that his team is well prepared for the postseason, as two of his team's five losses have come against Division 1 playoff participants Fox Chapel, 9-5, and Pine-Richland, 7-6. Hampton was the other Division 1 team to beat the Planets by a 9-4 margin. And their other two losses came against Division 2's top two seeds -- Moon Area, 4-3, and Quaker Valley, 18-7.

Karam said the Big Macs sound a lot like Pine-Richland.

"Those guys have a lot of weapons, and so did Pine-Richland," he said. "We were able to hold them in check. I don't know if Pine-Richland is a good comparison, but they sound a lot like them."

Karam's team defeated one Division 1 team, Butler, 11-8.

"Those guys are playing solid competition all the time," he said of Division 1 squads. "Those guys are playing teams from New York, Ohio and some prep schools. We were fortunate to play four games against Division 1 schools."

Two sophomore attacks lead the Planets offense. Zac Sicher has scored 34 goals and dished out four assists. Blake Thompson has 32 goals and 10 assists. The team's playmaker is another sophomore, Owen Vasbinder, who has 12 goals and 17 assists.

"Owen moves very well," Karam said. "He's fast and quick and he never throws a telegraphed or slow pass. His passes are right where they need to be, and our guys are able to make a play off them."

A player who could be an X-factor is Canon-McMillan's Alex Paulina. The 6-4, 280-pound junior plays crease defense, and he already has committed to play football for Pitt.

"We have a guy that big playing defense for us," Schleifstein said. "Him being there keeps a lot of people out of the middle of the field in front of our net."


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