This fall, two female golfers will compete for Lewiston-Porter, the fifth straight year the Lancers will have at least one girl on their varsity golf team.
It's possible neither would be there if not for Madeline Catalano.
Catalano played her way into the program as a freshman in the fall of 2015, becoming the first female to join Lew-Port's golf team. Five years later, she's a freshman once again, moving this week to Maryland's Towson University, where she earned a scholarship to play NCAA Division I women's golf.
Catalano may have been specially-equipped to break into the Lew-Port program. She was almost literally raised on the course, growing up in a house just off the ninth fairway at Niagara Falls Country Club.
An athlete all her life, Catalano decided to give up her other sports — soccer, swimming and mixed martial arts — once she neared high school.
"I was like, 'I really love golf,' so I quit all my other sports and chose to focus solely on playing golf in college," she said.
That meant Catalano would have to prove herself as a student-athlete. The problem was Lew-Port, like most public schools in Section VI, did not have a girls golf team. Girls had played on the boys teams at other schools, but never at Lew-Port. Most Niagara County girls, like fellow Lewiston natives Maren Cipolla (Nichols) and Victoria Parker (Sacred Heart), ended up at private schools.
Catalano didn't want to leave the friends she'd grown up with since kindergarten. So, before entering eighth grade in 2014, Catalano and her parents showed up at the Lew-Port golf program's preseason meeting. There were a few awkward looks.
"Everyone was very confused as to why I was there," Catalano said.
The head coach at the time, Jason Lesh, allowed her to try out. Though she didn't make the cut, she went back out ahead of her freshman year and finally cracked the team.
It was awkward at times, Catalano admits, more socially than athletically. Lesh treated her the same as any player, rotating her in and out of the team's starting six based on performance.
Her teammates didn't always do the same.
"It wasn't difficult, just different," Catalano said. "It wasn't what I was anticipating."
Catalano made the team, but she didn't feel like she fit in. She said only three of the other players really talked to her, and they were all older seniors she'd known outside the team.
"They're high school boys" Catalano said. "I don't blame any of them. And once they realized that I wasn't really going anywhere by my sophomore year, it was really a different experience."
That year, one of Catalano's close friends, Hannah Cassidy, became the second girl to make the Lew-Port team. Scott Townsend, the Lew-Port athletic director when Catalano first tried out for the team, stepped down from that position and took over as head coach of the golf team.
"It was so nice to have another girl there," Catalano said. "It made it so much easier for me to kind of mesh in. They knew me, and they got to know Hannah as well."
As Catalano grew more comfortable, she began to move up the Lew-Port golf ladder. She became a regular in the starting lineup, and by her senior season, she was the Lancers' top player. She competed regularly against the best players from opposing teams and became the first girl ever to earn first team All-Niagara Frontier League honors.
A third girl, Brianna Stefik, even made the Lew-Port team.
Townsend, who had never coached a girl in his 25 years across various sports, named Catalano team captain for her senior year.
"She made it extremely easy," Townsend said. "She knew the game very well, fit in well with the boys. They respected her, she respected them."
Still, there was one big thing missing. Because she played for a boys team, Catalano had never been able to compete for a Section VI or New York State Public High School Athletic Association girls title. Only girls who played in girls-only programs could compete against their peers.
Townsend lobbied Section VI to allow girls from boys and coed teams to compete in the individual girls tournament, which would allow them to compete for a spot on the state team. The change was made ahead of Catalano's senior season.
Catalano, Cassidy and Stefik all qualified for the sectional tournament, and Catalano finished fifth, earning a trip to states. There, Catalano placed 45th with a two-day 187.
She went on to earn a Marilynn Smith Scholarship from the LPGA and play in her first Women's Porter Cup this summer, right in her backyard at NFCC.
"It was amazing," Catalano said, even after finishing last in the field of 74. "I really struggled that week going through a really big swing change because I wanted to make sure I was ready when I got to (Towson)."
Now, Catalano is off to college, having moved in at her new home, just outside of Baltimore, on Wednesday. At Towson, she'll study sports psychology in the honors college while competing in Division I women's golf.
And for the first time, she'll see what it's like to be on an all-female team.
"I'm really excited," Catalano said. "... The people I was closest with when I was playing in high school were always the other girls on the team. It will be very nice to have that camaraderie and closeness."