It's a first for athletics at LHS

JOHN D'ONOFRIO/STAFFThe new sports complex behind Lockport High School will host its first Niagara Frontier League contest — a boys soccer game between Lockport and rival Niagara-Wheatfield — at 4:45 p.m. Monday. Head coach Jeff Hulshoff's soccer Lions are pictured at practice earlier this week..

Here's your chance to be among the first local residents to check out the new, multi-million-dollar sports complex behind Lockport High School, when the soccer Lions host the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons at 4:45 p.m. Monday in the Niagara Frontier League boys soccer opener for both schools.

Approved by district voters in December of 2016, the long-awaited project began this year and is nearing completion. The smooth, artificial-turf field, grandstands and fencing are firmly in place and outer, mostly aesthetic work, remains. District athletics director Todd Sukdolak said the outer-area work will be completed very shortly, and then an announcement regarding an official grand-opening ceremony will follow.

Lockport School Superintendent Michelle Bradley was all smiles on Wednesday when she made an unannounced, brief stop at the work site.

“There's so much excitement. We're so grateful to the community for supporting our Capital Improvement Projects. The students are just thrilled and can't wait to play on the new field. They're filled with enthusiasm and, of course, Lions' pride,” she said.

Besides boys and girls varsity and junior varsity soccer in the fall, the complex will be used for boys and girls varsity and junior varsity lacrosse beginning next spring and by gym and other classes at times throughout the school year.

Lions boys varsity soccer coach Jeff Hulshoff said he's looking forward to Monday's rival game as much as his players.

“(I'm) extremely excited. It's just a great facility and we're ready,” Hulshoff said. “We've got Niagara-Wheatfield, which won our division last year and just lost barely in the championship game. That's our first test and obviously, will set the tone for the entire season.”

LHS four-sport athlete senior Anthony Haak said having watched neighboring districts put up similar types of new sports facilities over the last several years, he's glad Lockport's time has finally arrived. 

“It feels amazing. When you see all the other programs — Grand Island and Niagara Falls — get all their fields, it just feels like we've finally earned it.” Haak said. “After playing on some terrible facilities since seventh grade, it's uplifting to know that in my senior year, I get to actually play on something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Haak said Wednesday morning's rain would have made his afternoon practice session this week an extremely ugly one a year ago.

“Last year, it would have been brutal. My mother wouldn't have liked getting the mud stains out of my white shirt, let me tell you,” Haak said, adding, “Especially with sprints and workouts, it's pretty brutal on a muddy field.”

Lockport senior Ramsey Ross said he didn't like the injuries he witnessed every year on the old field.

“(The new field is) definitely great. There were a lot of holes (on the old field) and my teammates got injured,” Ross said. “Even though I get it for only one year, my senior year, you have to make the best of it and have a great season. We're really young. A lot of guys came up from JV. If we work hard, we can have a great season.”

Lions' promising junior Reilly Boyer is among those looking forward to showcasing his goal-scoring skills on the new field.

“It's a really nice complex. I'm really happy that we don't have to play on our —  you can say — bad field,” Boyer said.

“I'm really excited because there's a lot of new players on varsity. I think we have a lot of potential on this team. I'm excited to see how the season goes.”

Follow veteran US&J sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrio at @JohnD'Onofrio7.

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