03/21/15 12:00pm
03/21/2015 12:00 PM
Shoreham-Wading River senior Ryan Bray returns as one of the Wildcats' top players this season. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk)

Shoreham-Wading River senior Ryan Bray returns as one of the Wildcats’ top players this season. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

As a longtime assistant coach at Dowling College, Mike Taylor experienced firsthand how tough competition can prepare a team for the postseason. Year in and year out, Dowling faced some of the top Division II programs over the course of the regular season — from Adelphi to C.W. Post to Molloy.

Now, as the first-year coach of Shoreham-Wading River’s boys lacrosse team, Taylor drew comparisons to the kind of competition the Wildcats will face from game to game in a restructured league system.

“Our league especially is so tight,” Taylor said. “There’s such talent in our League III. Everyone’s so close and on any day it could be anyone’s game. You’re going to have to really play some clean lacrosse.”

At Shoreham, Taylor takes over one of the most successful lacrosse programs in Suffolk County. With that come high expectations.

When the players gathered for the first official practice last week, several things stood out to Taylor. He saw a group that was hungry, had an edge to it and came in ready to play.

“I think they have very high expectations for themselves,” Taylor said. “They challenge each other each day and I’m very happy to see that. It doesn’t take very much to get them up and going. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

The poor weather kept the Wildcats indoors for the first week of practice. They finally got to stretch their legs Monday.

“You see the different athletes and different things that kids can and can’t do,” Taylor said. “It was a little eye-opening for me.”

The Wildcats are coming off a down year, by their standards. After a slow start to the year, the Wildcats won five straight games late in the year, including an impressive 7-1 win over Miller Place. In the first round of the playoffs, the Wildcats lost 9-6 to Sayville, bringing a quick end to their Long Island title defense.

The Wildcats return several key players from a year ago, highlighted by senior Ryan Bray. A Cornell-bound midfielder, Bray brings a wealth of experience and skill to the field.

“He’s been a pleasure to watch,” Taylor said.

Danny Hughes, who’s coming off outstanding seasons in football and basketball, will help anchor the midfield. Hughes’ size and athleticism will make for a tough matchup for any team.

“He’s just a man-child out there,” Taylor said.

The Wildcats have not one, but two Puckey boys who can play goalie. Bobby, a senior, and Jimmy, a junior, will bring a sibling rivalry between the pipes this season.

While their play is similar, Jimmy is left-handed and Bobby is right-handed.

“It’s fun to watch two brothers compete against each other,” Taylor said.

The most depth on the team might on the defensive side. Seniors Nick Gray and Vinny Bruno are the among the returnees. Taylor said some of the younger players are “chomping at the bit” as well.

Jon Constant returns on attack and sophomore Chris Gray is another player who could have a big year on offense. Gray has already committed to Boston University, Taylor said. Sophomore Danny Cassidy is another younger player for whom Taylor has big expectations.

The Wildcats will play in a league system for the first time this year after Section XI did away with the power rankings. That means a .500 record will get the team into the playoffs.

Taylor said it will take time for the team to fully develop its own identity. One key focus to start the season has been limiting turnovers.

“That’s going to really be the big difference when you get into those big games,” he said.

Riverhead senior Mark Andrejack will play in the midfield for the Blue Waves this season. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)

Riverhead senior Mark Andrejack will play in the midfield for the Blue Waves this season. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)


The top offensive players on each team Riverhead faces this year can expect a heavy dose of Blake Carrara. A lockdown defender, Carrara will anchor a young Blue Waves defense as one of the team’s top returning players.

“It’s almost like having a man on defense playing against children,” said Riverhead coach Vic Guadagnino.

Carrara verbally committed to the University of Maryland as a sophomore. Now a junior, Carrara’s speed and strength should make him one of the top defensive players in the division.

“It’s very difficult to get around him in any way, shape or form and beat him one on one,” Guadagnino said. “It’s next to impossible.”

The Blue Waves will field a mostly inexperienced group on defense around Carrara. Because of that, the Blue Waves could rely on more zone defense early in the season.

As the players get more acclimated to playing together, they’ll likely slide back into coverage where Carrara takes away the opposing team’s top player in man-to-man.

On offense, the Blue Waves will need to replace nearly two-thirds of their scoring from a year ago. They’ll rely on some young players to fill the void left after the graduation of Ryan Hubbard and Dan Czelatka.

“We’re really looking to possess a bit more and just spread it out and try to create a double team and move the ball and have anyone fill the net for us,” Guadagnino said. “When you watch us offensively, we’re very, very different from the Hubbard, Czelatka years.”

The Blue Waves will start a freshman on attack, Dalton Lucas. Junior Chris Flood and sophomore Kerry Thomas will both see time on attack. Senior Andres Juarez is a returnee with varsity experience.

The Blue Waves have experience in the midfield with key players like senior Mark Andrejack and junior Austin Fitzpatrick. Andrejack is headed to Adelphi next year and Fitzpatrick is entering his third year on varsity.

The Blue Waves have two returning goalies in John Roca and Jacob Coleman. Roca is headed to Dowling College and Coleman is committed to Hofstra, Guadagnino said.

After missing out on the playoffs a year ago, the Blue Waves are looking forward to the switch to a more conventional league system as opposed to the power rankings.

The team will still play a challenging schedule, but now every game counts the same.

“It might have mentally made life a little easier,” Guadagnino said. “In the power point system, we had five one-goal losses last year so it was kind of devastating. Every game is so huge.”

Riverhead opens the non-league schedule Monday at Sachem East. The league schedule begins March 25 against perennial powerhouse West Islip.


After an 0-14 season a year ago, the McGann-Mercy Monarchs will feature a new coach this season in Walter Flaherty. The Monarchs open the season March 26 at home against Hampton Bays. Flaherty could not be reached before deadline.

05/13/14 8:12pm
05/13/2014 8:12 PM
Riverhead senior Ryan Hubbard matched a career-high with seven goals against West Babylon Tuesday. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)

Riverhead senior Ryan Hubbard matched a career-high with seven goals against West Babylon Tuesday. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)


When Vic Guadagnino became the varsity lacrosse coach at Riverhead four years ago, he took over a relatively unknown program compared to the many powerhouses spread throughout Suffolk County. Slowly, he began to put his mark on the program, building from the bottom up.

That first season, a quartet of promising freshmen joined him on the varsity. As the years went by, and the win totals started to increase, the presence of those four players began to leave an indelible mark.  (more…)

04/22/14 8:54pm
04/22/2014 8:54 PM
Ryan Hubbard scored 4 goals with 2 assists in Riverhead's loss to Hills West Tuesday. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk)

Ryan Hubbard scored 4 goals with 2 assists in Riverhead’s loss to Hills West Tuesday. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)


The 2014 Riverhead boys lacrosse team may be the best team in the program’s history. By the season’s end, that may not be so easily quantified.

The Blue Waves may not win as many games as last year. And their postseason hopes are currently on thin ice.

Such is the effect of last year’s success — a higher seeding in the preseason resulting in a markedly more difficult schedule that pits the Blue Waves against the top teams in Division I.  (more…)

03/13/14 3:00pm
03/13/2014 3:00 PM

Ryan Hubbard returns as Riverhead’s all-time scoring leader. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

If you see Vic Guadagnino smiling and whistling a happy tune these days, he has good reason.

The Riverhead High School boys lacrosse coach is quite optimistic about this season. He has the core of the program’s first playoff team returning, including senior Ryan Hubbard, an All-County attackman who is the team’s all-time leading scorer.  (more…)

05/16/13 7:41pm
05/16/2013 7:41 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead's airborne Keith Jefferson firing a point-blank shot that is saved by Smithtown East's Brian Balkam.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead’s airborne Keith Jefferson firing a point-blank shot that is saved by Smithtown East’s Brian Balkam.


The Riverhead boys lacrosse team waited 11 years for this day, so when it finally arrived, the Blue Waves made sure that they were ready. But then again, so was Smithtown East.

On an historic day for Riverhead’s program, the Blue Waves turned in an effort worthy of the occasion, but the final result was predictable, nonetheless. The historical record will show that the first playoff game in Riverhead’s 11-year varsity history was a 12-5 defeat, but it was to a talented Smithtown East team, and there’s no shame in that.

Junior attackman Joe Saggese struck for three goals and five assists to lead fourth-seeded Smithtown East to the first-round win in the Suffolk County Class A Tournament on Thursday. Brian Willetts contributed three goals and one assist for Smithtown East (13-3), which will play No. 5 West Islip or No. 12 Lindenhurst in a county quarterfinal at home on Tuesday. Dan Rooney added two goals. Brian Balkam made 13 saves in goal for the Bulls.

And while the 13th-seeded Blue Waves (10-7) surely would have preferred another outcome, they could take pride in knowing that they were the first players in team history to reach the playoffs.

“Being the first team ever in Riverhead lacrosse history to be in the playoffs, just the atmosphere, it’s completely different,” said Riverhead senior attackman Ryan Bitzer, whose next game will be for Stony Brook University. “It brings it up to another level, just the intensity. I’m real proud of our team. We battled, we fought. We never gave up.”

Indeed, Riverhead did a lot of good things and did not play badly, but speed and stick skill was on Smithtown East’s side. The field turf at Nicholas Schroeder Field in St. James is built for the Bulls. It’s a fast field, and Smithtown East is a fast team. The Bulls have the ability to cleanly scoop up ground balls on the first attempt, and then they are off and running.

“It was one of our weaknesses last year, picking up ground balls,” Smithtown East coach Jason Lambert said. “I think we’ve really improved on that. Our transition game is really good. When we get going, going from defense to offense, and start picking up ground balls, we can be effective.”

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Ryan Hubbard scored on this shot for Riverhead 1 minute 47 seconds into the fourth quarter, cutting Smithtown East's lead to 9-4.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Ryan Hubbard scored on this shot for Riverhead 1 minute 47 seconds into the fourth quarter, cutting Smithtown East’s lead to 9-4.

Riverhead is the only Class A playoff team that doesn’t play its home games on field turf, according to Riverhead coach Vic Guadagnino. “It’s tough,” he said. “I’m not complaining. … It’s a faster game on this stuff, and you can see that they’re on it all the time.”

Riverhead’s first playoff game started at precisely 4:32 p.m. with the first of 14 face-offs won by Smithtown East (as compared to seven for Riverhead). The Bulls worked the ball around in Riverhead’s end for about two minutes. Then, on Riverhead’s first possession, it scored when Dan Czelatka put in the first of his two goals 2 minutes 25 seconds into the game.

It was an encouraging start for the Blue Waves.

Perhaps Smithtown East was dealing with some playoff butterflies in the early going. A pair of goals by Saggese gave the Bulls a 2-1 lead by the end of the first quarter. Those strikes proved to be the first of nine straight goals by Smithtown East.

Even so, Riverhead didn’t fold, responding with a three-goal surge by Czelatka, Bitzer and Ryan Hubbard to cut Smithtown East’s lead to 9-4 at 1:47 of the fourth quarter.

But Rooney’s two goals and a goal by Willetts (game-high 10 shots) closed out the scoring along with Roger Foster’s goal for Riverhead.

Smithtown East’s offense can be lethal, as it showed with a 43-29 shots advantage and the pressure it put on the Riverhead defense. The Bulls scored on four of seven man-up situations. Riverhead goalie Alex Panagakos was kept busy with 12 saves.

Panagakos, one of Riverhead’s nine seniors, said the team came out flat in its two previous games. That wasn’t the case on Thursday, though.

“This is a playoff game,” he said. “Our coaches prepared us for it, and they’re right, it’s a whole another level.”

Smithtown’s only county title came in 2003 when it was one school. Since then, it split into Smithtown East and Smithtown West, and neither has won a county crown. West Islip has won the last nine Suffolk Class A titles.

Lambert compares this year’s team to the 2007 Smithtown East squad that reached the county semifinals. “This is one of our better East teams we’ve had here,” he said. “This is definitely the best team I’ve had offensively.”

Considering who they were facing, the Blue Waves did not do badly.

“I thought that even though we lost, we stepped up big,” said Riverhead senior midfielder Paul Harron, who will play for Dowling College next year. “Oh, they were good. I give them respect. They look like they’re going to go far this year.”

Bitzer said that even after Riverhead fell behind, “We still played hard. We never quit. We played all the way until the end.”

Guadagnino said he remembers every game he has coached, so he undoubtedly will not forget this one, Riverhead’s first playoff game “and not the last.”


05/04/13 5:58pm
05/04/2013 5:58 PM

Like it or not, the Riverhead boys lacrosse team will have to wait more than a week before it learns whether it has clinched its first ever berth in the Suffolk County playoffs.

The Blue Waves certainly helped their cause with an 18-12 Division I victory over North Babylon at Mike McKillop Memorial Field on Saturday afternoon. Senior midfielder Ryan Bitzer led the way, tying the school record with a personal-best seven goals as the hosts improved their overall record to 10-5 and 8-5 in the division.

In many other high school sports, teams need to finish the regular season with a .500 record to reach the playoffs. In lacrosse, it is based on power ratings. Entering Saturday’s game, the Blue Waves were 12th among Division I teams with 111.870 points. The top 13 schools will reach the postseason.

Riverhead was followed by Half Hollow Hills West (107.32), Hauppauge (99.85), Walt Whitman (99.49) and East Islip (99.14).

“We’re still in the hunt in the playoffs,” Blue Waves coach Vic Guadagnino said. “If I can explain to you the power-rating system of Section XI, I would be a genius. I have no idea. We have a bye in our last game. We have a game on Tuesday and then we don’t play on Friday. So we’re not going to know until probably the following Monday if and when we’re definitely in. If this win definitely helped, I would be hard-pressed to say that we’re not in. But I will not commit and say we’re in until I see it officially on Section XI. Sorry, I wish I could say yes, but that’s not the case when you play with the power-rating system.”

The Blue Waves will play at West Islip in their regular-season finale on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the hosts enjoyed leads of 8-1 early in the second quarter and 12-3 early in the third period before North Babylon (4-10, 3-9) rallied with nine goals in the second half.

Dan Czelatka added two goals and six assists for Riverhead. Ryan Hubbard contributed three goals and three assists while Austin Fitzpatrick finished with three goals and one assist.

04/02/13 1:26pm
04/02/2013 1:26 PM

The little things count for Riverhead High School’s boys lacrosse coach, Vic Guadagnino.

After the Blue Waves registered a 13-7 non-division victory over host East Hampton/Bridgehampton/Pierson on Saturday, Guadagnino was most encouraged by his team’s ability to win face-offs, lots of them.

“This was the best face-off game we’ve had all season,” he said. “That helps with that quick start. We virtually won all of the face-offs in the first half. We had a lot of possessions. We took almost 49 shots in the game. Just to create [those] opportunities is pretty hard to do. That was nice. We rode hard and we picked up a lot of ground balls and that gave us a ton of possession.”

The Blue Waves had a 15-7 face-off record with Dan Czelatka (one goal, one assist) leading the way by winning 12 of 15 face-offs.

“Dan had his best face-off game in game in his career,” Guadagnino said.

That helped Riverhead (2-1, 1-0 Suffolk County Division I) keep possession and grab a 7-2 first-quarter lead over East Hampton/Bridgehampton/Pierson (0-3, 0-1 Division II). Still, Guadagnino felt the Blue Waves could have defended better the rest of the game.

“We started off real intense and we sort of lost it a little bit,” he said. “That was a little disheartening. I would have liked to have seen us play that strong throughout the game.

“We’re on a pace there to be on a 19-2 game. It didn’t end that way because we kind of let down a little bit. Especially our goal play wasn’t great by both of our goalies. It was kind of mediocre. It was kind of disappointing to see them let down a little bit and give up some easy goals.”

Ryan Hubbard led the way with five goals and four assists and Ryan Bitzer added three goals.

Guadagnino said Hubbard has been “pretty consistent for us. He gets a lot of shots. Hopefully, he continues to finish them. Unfortunately, he got shut out by Ward Melville. He’s a good scorer, gets a lot of opportunities and makes the most of it.”

Bitzer, a Newsday player to watch, will attend Stony Brook University next year to play lacrosse.

“He’s a Division I  lacrosse player,” Guadagnino said. “He can flat out play. He’s our best player. He has points in every game. So, yeah, he’s our key factor.”

The Blue Waves were on the other side of the coin last Wednesday as they could not overcome a 7-0 first-quarter deficit in a 17-3 home defeat to highly regarded Ward Melville. They learned some valuable lessons on how much they need to improve in the speed of play, stick skills and picking up ground balls.

“The number one thing is the speed of play,” Guadagnino said. “The top teams play at such a fast pace, physically and mentally, that if you want to compete, we call it beating the whistle. They pass it, make snap judgments, quick decisions in play. We’re still developing that. That’s not something that’s natural to us yet.”

Riverhead will host Copiague on Wednesday and East Islip on Saturday in two Division I encounters.

“Both in the preseason were ranked below us,” Guadagnino said. “We need to win these games. When you’re playing a Ward Melville, which is ranked in the top 10 in America, you know you have a big challenge on your hands. When you have two teams this week that are ranked significantly behind us, we need to have another quick start and pick up the wins that we need to get.”