APPLETON (WFRV) – The best combinations are often the most unusual.

A group of athletes from rival schools, a 25-year-old strength coach, and a core of multi-sport upperclassmen make up the Appleton United lacrosse team – and so far, it’s working at the highest level.

The Lightning are 9-1 on the season, sitting atop the Bay Valley East conference about two-thirds of the way through the regular season slate. The roster includes players from seven Fox Valley-area schools: all three Appleton public high schools, as well as Xavier, Hortonville, Waupaca, and Ripon.

However, even with a building program and a strong group of seniors, Appleton United was unranked coming into the season. The Lightning bowed out of last year’s state tournament in the Round of 16, dropping a close battle to Sauk Prairie.

This season, however, a jolt of energy from the sideline might just carry the Lightning all the way to gold.

Danny Rafalski, a former Clemson lacrosse player and the strength coach for the Green Bay Gamblers hockey program, is in his first year coaching lacrosse with Appleton United. The Waupaca native is new to the sidelines, but his energy and savvy approach to competition has injected life into a high-potential group.

(His father, Brian Rafalski, played 11 seasons in the NHL and won three Stanley Cup titles.)

But this year’s Lightning squad has more on its mind than just maximizing the group’s potential. With the WIAA sponsoring high school lacrosse beginning in 2024, this is the final season at the club level.

Even for the seniors, who won’t get to experience playing in a WIAA state lacrosse championship, going out with one last club trophy is the carrot dangling in front of this year’s team.

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