The goal for the Riverhead Blue Waves is simple.
“We want to get out of the basement,” said second-year head coach Victor Guadagnino. “As soon as we can get out of the basement, things will get better.”
Success on the field has been mostly elusive for the Blue Waves and that continued with a 2-14 season a year ago. Last year was the start of a process for Guadagnino to turn the program around. With a young nucleus this year — only four starters return — the Blue Waves are looking to take the next step in that process, which is still a few years in the making.
“We’re practicing at a level now where the desire is there,” Guadagnino said during practice Tuesday. “That’s the first thing.”
The season gets under way this week with scrimmages, and Guadagnino is looking to see how far the team has progressed from the offseason. While his team may not be the most talented, Guadagnino’s goal is for the Blue Waves to be the hungriest team.
“It’s taken about a year to kind of build that mind-set,” he said. “We might not be the most skilled team out there but let’s do the little things. Let’s work harder than everybody else. If we can do that, it usually pays off.”
The Blue Waves will have another voice on the sidelines this year in Ralph Pepe, a veteran coach at the high school and college levels.
Pepe will take over the offense this year and Guadagnino — a former goalkeeper — will run the defense.
Guadagnino said Pepe’s presence has already benefitted the team.
“With a person like that, they just latch on to him,” he said.
For the Blue Waves to improve this year and finish ahead of their 22nd seeding, their focus is on playing better defense.
“If we can reduce those goals against and stay where we’re at with goals for, I think we’ll look a lot better than the 2-14 from last year.”
Anchoring the defense will be junior Alex Panagakos in the goal. He’ll be a captain along with junior midfielder Ryan Bitzer.
Guadagnino said Bitzer’s skills as a quarterback in football and point guard in basketball all translate onto the lacrosse field.
“His field vision is fantastic,” he said. “He’s not a big verbal guy, he’s a doer. He leads us by example and that’s what we’re counting on.”
The Blue Waves return two starters on attack, sophomores Ryan Hubbard and Mark Huysman.
On defense the Blue Waves got a transfer from Westhampton, junior Jack Moran.
“He’s been a real verbal defensive leader,” Guadagnino said. “He’s helped some of the younger guys develop their games a little quicker.”
On face-offs the Blue Waves will rely on sophomore Dan Czelatka and freshman R.J. Foster.
The Blue Waves scrimmage Rocky Point Thursday for their first competition. They open the regular season with a non-league game at home against East Hampton March 20. The Division I season begins March 27 at Bay Shore.