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Butler lacrosse in first season as Division I program

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Upper St. Clair's Andrew Bartusiak pressures Butler's Tanner Kotch during their lacrosse match Monday, April 29, 2013, at Upper St. Clair.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Butler's Cory Hilliard celebrates his goal against Upper St. Clair during a lacrosse match Monday, April 29, 2013, at Upper St. Clair.

When Brandon Hoskinson was hired as the head coach of the then-defending WPIAL Division II champion Butler boys lacrosse team three years ago, he immediately set his sights on winning another WPIAL championship.

This time, though, in Division I.

After years as a powerhouse program at the Division II level, Butler is in its first season as a Division I program for boys lacrosse. Though the level of competition is consistently much better, the standards haven't changed for the Golden Tornado.

“Getting to that championship level and getting to the state tournament and trying to play for a state championship,” Hoskinson said of the goals for the program. “You need the right pieces falling into place and the right process to do so.

“But the long-term goal is year in and year out, we think we can be a powerhouse in Western Pennsylvania. You always hear about (Mt. Lebanon), Sewickley Academy, North Allegheny, but we want people to think ‘Butler,' too. We feel like we're growing at the right pace and making strides, but we're not yet satisfied by any means.”

The Golden Tornado has hovered around .500 for most of this season. For boys lacrosse and others in the PIAA, before a certain threshold for a number of schools that sponsor the sport is reached, the PIAA does not divide teams by enrollment size but rather by voluntary division.

There are no PIAA playoffs in Division II. Butler, one of the largest schools in western Pennsylvania, chose to “play down” while it built its program in what is an emerging sport in the area. The Golden Tornado made the WPIAL semifinals three of its final four seasons in Division II.

Hoskinson, an alum of the powerful North Allegheny program, wanted to make the jump to Division I immediately upon being hired prior to the 2011 season. But by then it was too late, and the PIAA runs in two-year cycles, meaning the Golden Tornado had to wait.

The time has come.

“With our success at the Division II level and the size of our school, we felt it was time to make the jump into Division I where we would be challenged on a nightly basis,” Butler athletic director Bill Mylan said.

“I am definitely pleased with how we are competing at the Division I level. ... I believe as our feeder programs grow and our varsity team gets itself established at this level that we will hopefully be a playoff contender for years to come.”

Butler scheduled as many Division I nonsection opponents as possible in recent seasons, so it is accustomed to the level of competition. The Golden Tornado, though, just hadn't been used to facing it night after night.

“The teams are a lot faster and have more depth,” senior defenseman Seth Horwat said. “But we've been hanging in with every team we've played. We're not as far away from the good teams as you'd might think.”

Horwat will continue his lacrosse career next year at the University of Detroit Mercy, a Division I program. Horwat is part of a defense corps that also includes senior Ian Bergbigler — who is being recruited by Division I colleges — and junior Trevor Monteleone.

“We firmly believe we have three of the best athletes in back end of things throughout Western PA,” Hoskinson said.

Horwat and Bergbigler share the team's captaincy with Tanner Kotch, a senior whom Hoskinson calls the team's offensive MVP.

Most of the rest of the team is comprised of underclassmen. That provides even more hope that Butler's ascension as a Division I program will be a rapid one.

“We have a lot of young talent on the team,” Horwat said. “The underclassmen are getting time, and (Hoskinson) is such a great coach who knows how to push us. Butler will be good for a long time.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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