ITHACA, NY -- Given Frank Welch led the Ithaca High boy's lacrosse team for over 40 years, fans of the program are accustomed to having an “insider” at the helm. After Welch left, Patrick Hovey took over for three years, and now the torch has been passed to Clayton Fickenscher. While that name may not be a familiar one to those on the outside looking in, the players know who he is, and many of them have called him “coach” since they were in the eighth grade.
Fickenscher brings a solid Central New York pedigree to the Little Red. He played high school lacrosse at Cortland, then took his game to the powerhouse program that is Onondaga Community College, a perennial feeder system for Division I programs. After being a part of two national championships and a 35-0 record over two years, Clayton then transferred to DI Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, graduating in 2015.
Fickenscher was a volunteer assistant at TC3 for a season, and for the next three seasons — starting in 2019 — he was the head coach of the Little Red junior varsity, and he told me, “I talked to Frank Welch a lot, and I worked under Fred Rothman (Welch's assistant) and Patrick Hovey. I am well aware of the tradition.” The rookie head coach expressed his gratitude that “Patrick is still around to offer advice and offer a helpful ear. This is a good step up for me.”
Clayton said, “This is the fourth year I have coached my 11th graders, and I am very fortunate that we have such solid leadership,” pointing out that seniors Chase Sposito, Derek Jordan and Jack Switzer — along with junior Zach Cartmill — were elected team captains prior to the season.
The Little Red are 2-3 after five games, but more importantly, 2-1 in league play. Their lone league loss came at the hands of perennial power Corning, and that was a close enough game to give Ithaca plenty of confidence while preparing to meet the Hawks again.
I asked Fickenscher to describe some of the expected and unexpected scenarios unfolding in his first year at the helm, and he said, “We expected to get back to a sense of normalcy, to play a full 16-game schedule and to have the New York State tournament take place,” Clayton said, “and we are seeing those things come together.”
As for the unexpected developments, Fickenscher said, “We have been bitten by the injury bug,” and he expressed his frustration that Aiden Cornell — “who was to play a big role” — went down with an injury prior to the season. Well aware that injuries are a part of the game, the coach added, “We're excited to see some of the newer players have an opportunity to step up and contribute.”
While Fickenscher makes no promises that he plans to challenge Frank Welch's incredible run of longevity, he did sound convincing when he said, “I am bringing a long-term vision to this job.” Good luck, Coach.
History was made at Newman Arena over the weekend as sophomore Sydney Beers became the first-ever Big Red gymnast to win the USAG all-around national title. Beers finished the meet — hosted by Cornell — as a four-time All American, as she was also a first-team All-American on vault and floor and earned second team honors on beam.
Sydney was sixth on vault after scoring a 9.775 and finished eighth on floor with a score of 9.775. The historic performance was a great way for first-year coach Melanie Hall to launch her head coaching career, and another special moment took place when special recognition was given to Paul Beckwith, Hall's college coach and predecessor at Cornell, who recently retired after 27 seasons as the head coach.