OSWEGO — The Oswego High School varsity boys lacrosse team recently capped off a challenging league season with something to celebrate.
The Buccaneers reclaimed possession of the Pathfinder Crosse trophy after beating the Fulton Red Raiders, 16-3, on June 4 at the G. Ray Bodley High School field in the annual matchup of area rivals.
Oswego gained the coveted prize — a large trophy featuring a traditional wooden lacrosse stick named to represent the history of the Oswego River Valley — for the first time since 2018.
Longtime Oswego coach, Bob ‘Doc,’ Nelson, viewed the victory as a fitting reward after a lost 2020 campaign followed by a trying season played at a rapid pace under COVID-19 protocols. He witnessed a handful of his players grasping the significance of the victory despite none having previously played for the trophy.
“I think in a season that’s been tough, it is nice to accomplish something,” Nelson said. “It was different from the years when we had the trophy and had it in the locker room, every day guys would walk by it and realize what it was. That was missing this year, and we just didn’t have the opportunities to sit and talk after practice that we normally would.”
Oswego junior Zach Chamberlain scored five goals to go with four assists to lead the way while Lukas Cady, Ryan Bakos, Parker Koproski, and Logan Crannell each added two goals apiece. Sophomore goalie Haji Haji was credited with four saves in the win.
The Buccaneers led just 2-1 after the first quarter but pulled away by scoring 13 unanswered goals in the second and the third quarters combined to sweep the season series over the Red Raiders.
Fulton played with just three seniors surrounded by sophomores and freshmen and only had one returning varsity player from the most recent season held in 2019. Oswego, meanwhile, had no returners listed on its team roster from the 2019 campaign.
Nelson and Fulton coach Aaron Koproski each took time to explain the significance of the Pathfinder Crosse and the long-standing rivalry between neighboring districts.
The trophy is named after James Fenimore Cooper’s 1840 novel “The Pathfinder,” which takes place along the Oswego River and is an homage to the Native, French, and British history of the area.
Oswego took a 5-4 edge all-time in Pathfinder Crosse games. The series began in 2015 and they initially clashed for the trophy each time they played each other but opted to designate their last matchup of the season for the trophy beginning in the 2018 season.
“They have never seen the trophy, they have never heard the stories, they were all either on modified or JV the last time we played that game,” Nelson said. “When I asked about it, that kind of caught my attention at practice, I had to stop for about 15 minutes to explain what it was all about.”
The coaches also spoke to the young players about the unique connection between the two programs since Oswego launched boys lacrosse in 1984.
The two squads often come together for area summer leagues or link up on various offseason travel teams yet maintain a fierce competitiveness when representing their respective schools in season.
“There are a lot of guys talking to one another from either team, a lot of these guys hang out together outside of lacrosse or play hockey together, so there is a lot to play for besides that trophy,” Koproski said. “There is a lot of pride that goes along with it, bantering that goes on, and some of these seniors can remember it for the rest of their lives.”
Nelson said that the rival programs have often mirrored each other and that remained the case this year as each struggled to overcome a lack of varsity experience from their respective roster turnovers from the 2019 season — a year in which each garnered a top four seed in the Section 3 playoffs.
Oswego dropped a nonleague game to Watertown on June 5 to finish the season with a 3-12 overall record while Fulton ended its season at 0-13.
Both teams saw positives in the development gained and lessons learned throughout points of frustration in a season that lacked the ideal recovery time between games and ended among a stretch of record-hot days.
Nelson pointed to strides made by first-year players new to the sport, noting junior defensemen Brennan Tynan and sophomore goalie Haji Haji, who quickly worked their way into starting roles.
“It was cool to see guys like that, who just wanted to help their classmates and stepped up and took a chance on that,” Nelson said. “That’s a pretty high-risk thing for anybody to do and we threw some kids into the fire, and they all responded very well.”
Nelson added: “I’m just glad these seniors were able to get their names in the stat book, get some goals and assists, get something they can look back on 20 years from now and say this is what I did in that one crazy year I played, because if we hadn’t had a season, that whole class would have lost their entire varsity career.”