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Rauch the present & future of Buff Sem Lax

Photo By Shawn Turri

Samantha Burlow didn’t know quite what to expect when she began her first full year as Buffalo Seminary’s head lacrosse coach in 2021. But Scott Militello, the director of the Empress elite developmental program, told Sam she was going to be thrilled with a freshman named Lilli Rauch.

“Awesome,” Burlow thought to herself at the time. Then, when it came time for Rauch’s first practice for Buff Sem, she was truly in awe at the sight.

“I was like, ‘This is different’,” Burlow recalled. “I can’t teach half of the things I’m seeing right now. SHE was teaching everyone, too. Lilli was a leader the day she started.”

Rauch’s skill and acumen for lacrosse were immediately evident. She quickly established herself as one of the best players in school history. She has 71 goals, this season, leading Monsignor Martin in goals per game (6.4) and recently went over the 100-goal mark for her career, virtually unheard of for a sophomore.

Photo by Shawn Turri

On Saturday morning at 11, the Red-Tailed Hawks (5-6) will play at unbeaten Nichols, needing to win in their final regular-season match to earn a spot in the Monsignor Martin playoffs next Monday. Whatever the outcome, Rauch has lifted the Buff Sem program and elevated its prospects for the years ahead.

“I came in last year and kind of raised the level of play a little bit,” Rauch said Friday at the private girls school on Bidwell Park in Buffalo. “If I rise up to a level, everyone follows me and they can achieve a higher level.

“It’s like balancing everything out,” she said. “Our defense this year has been amazing. At practice, we’re scrimmaging and have a really strong offensive line. They have to play us and that prepares them for Nichols and Nardin. It’s super cool to see. I think they’ve made the most growth throughout the year.”

Burlow, who was a multi-sport star at Sem and led the Buffalo State lacrosse team in goals as a senior in 2021, said Rauch is remarkably unselfish for such a prodigious scorer. Teams try to face-guard her and put three or four defenders around her, but she’ll somehow find a way to get the ball to a teammate.

“It’s not a ball-hog moment,” Burlow said, “where someone is good at ballhandling and keeps the ball the whole time. With her, it’s so fluid and she gets looks; she gets assists right after four people collapse on her every time.”

“I don’t realize how many goals I have in a game,” said Rauch, who had eight each in back-to-back wins (over Mount St. Mary and St. Mary’s of Lancaster) last week. “I know when the team needs it, I can step up and score a goal and get us going. After that, I’m trying to look for opportunities for my teammates.”

Rauch has been playing lacrosse since fifth grade in Orchard Park. She knows the game and isn’t shy about sharing her knowledge. Burlow said Lilli could have been a captain from day one. Her lacrosse IQ is that high. But a freshman captain? She waited until this season to bestow the honor of Rauch.

“I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” Rauch said. “There was a group of like five seniors who had been there since freshman year. They knew how everything runs. I let the seniors do their thing, and that’s where my leadership showed, more in the underclassmen and teaching people how to play lacrosse.”

She learned young, and from one of the best. Rauch’s uncle, Andy Ross, was an all-American at the Naval Academy and played on the U.S. national team in 2002. Her cousin, Andrew Ross, is currently on the lacrosse squad at Navy.

“My cousins, who live in New Jersey, were all into lacrosse,” Rauch said. “My oldest cousin (Andrew) would bring lacrosse sticks to the beach. I thought, ‘Oh, that would be cool’. My mom signed me up for a league in Orchard Park.

“It was kind of fun. I took a year off. I went back to it in fifth grade and I just loved it, and I kept going from there.”

Lilli, the youngest of four children, has a vivid memory of her mother (Krissie) and brother (James) taking her to get her first lacrosse stick. James had one of his uncle’s old sticks and spent hours with her in the backyard in Orchard Park, playing catch.

“I was OK. I picked it up easy,” she said. “I’d practice with my brother over and over again. He would set up little cans in a net for me to hit. He never really played lacrosse, but he’d go out and play with me. I was fortunate for that.”

Photo by Shawn Turri

James rowed for St. Lawrence University in Canton. He’s now a youth ski racing coach in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Hannah, the eldest sibling, swam for Bentley. Grace, the second-youngest, is on the swim team at St. Lawrence. Mom Krissie also swam for St. Lawrence, where dad Brad was a ski racer.

So clearly, Lilli came from a fiercely competitive family. Typically, the youngest strives to keep up and winds up the most competitive of all.

“Exactly!” Rauch said. “We all played sports. Because I have three older siblings, we grew up being competitive with each other. And I’m not just competitive in sports. Hannah was the star school child. So I need to get better grades than her. I feel like it’s in my blood.

“I like to be the best and I do everything I can to be the best,” she said, “and when I’m not the best, it’s not a big deal. I just work hard to become better.”

Her coach will attest to that. Burlow said the team did planks in conditioning early in the season. The final exercise was to hold a plank as long as possible. She said Lilli made sure everyone else was down before she collapsed.

“She has that competitive brain,” Burlow said. “To be the best, you have to beat the best, and that’s her mentality going into every game, every practice, every workout we do. Every drill we do is a competition. I tell the girls, pretend it’s your worst enemy out there. She takes it literally. She wants to beat everyone.

“One of the biggest things is that she’s also just a great person. She’s going to grow up to be a great woman. Also, she’s super-smart. She has all As. What she does on the field, she also brings to a classroom, which is important.”

Where Rauch will bring it in 2025 is another thing. She wants to play lacrosse in college. There’s that St. Lawrence family tradition. She has spent a lot of time there and is being recruited. But St. Lawrence isn’t Division I, and Rauch projects as a D-I player, maybe at an elite program if she continues to progress.

“(St. Lawrence) has a good program, but maybe I want to play Division I,” Rauch said. “Sept. 1 is when the (D-I coaches) can contact me. I play on a travel team, Empress, and we travel everywhere. We go to Baltimore, Boston, Pennsylvania, Florida, so hopefully I can get some good looks there.”

She says a highly ranked program would be “a dream come true.” But she’ll want a balance between academics and lacrosse. Buffalo Sem isn’t known for its sports, but she thought it would offer the best education, with smaller class sizes and a chance to be more active in discussions.

“That’s a big thing with college,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out the balance.”

It came down to Buff Sem or Nichols for high school. She knew Nichols had better teams, but she preferred that balance at Sem, and a chance to lift a program. The Hawks are an improving team. They might not be ready to knock off Nichols, but the record suggests they’re getting closer.

Friday was the final day of class for the Sem seniors. It was possibly the final lacrosse practice of the season, too. Rauch said it would be emotional, seeing the seniors leave. But the future is bright on Bidwell Parkway, with a transformational talent coming back for two more seasons.

“Oh, a hundred percent,” Burlow said. “It scares me to think, ‘Oh my God, two more years of this!’ I can’t wait to see the growth from now to senior year. She already has over 100 goals her sophomore year, when most people can’t do that the whole four years of varsity.”

“She’ll probably make it to 200, and no one’s done that. Absolutely nobody.”

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