Women’s Lacrosse: A small college quickly emerges as lax power

Aneisha Scott, a former Riverhead lacrosse player, played on the conference championship winning St. Joseph's College lacrosse team this spring. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)
Aneisha Scott, a former Riverhead lacrosse player, played on the conference championship winning St. Joseph’s College lacrosse team this spring. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)

There’s the attackman who tore her ACL as a senior in high school. There’s the girl from Rocky Point who had never played lacrosse. There’s the goalkeeper who got peppered with goals in high school, losing nearly every game.

The bios of the women who make up the St. Joseph’s College lacrosse team read unlike most championship-caliber squads. They are not the high school All-Americans, the women whose pictures constantly appeared in newspapers, the prolific goal scorers.

They are the diamonds in the rough. 

“We’re not getting the lacrosse junkie,” said St. Joseph’s head coach Bob Vlahakis, who took over the inaugural women’s lacrosse program after leaving Shoreham-Wading River in 2010. “We’re not getting the kid who’s going to college for lacrosse.”

After all the Division I and II schools scoop up the bevy of talented lacrosse players across Long Island, Vlahakis goes to work. Now in just the fourth year of the program’s history, St. Joseph’s has already climbed to one of the top Division III schools in the country. The Golden Eagles defeated Farmingdale May 2, clinching the Skyline Conference Tournament title and earning a spot in the NCAA Division III tournament. On Saturday, the Golden Eagles defeated Keene St., 13-9, in the first round of the tournament. Their season came to an end the next day against Trinity, the top-ranked team in the country.

Vlahakis joined the Patchogue college in February 2011. A longtime coach at Shoreham, he led the Wildcats to four consecutive state championships from 2007-10 before retiring and pursuing a new coaching career. Without any recruits, he pulled together a squad in 2012 that featured mostly solid athletes who played other sports in high school, such as the 6-foot-1 field hockey player who became a backup goalie. The team went 9-9.

“It was probably the funnest coaching year ever in my life,” Vlahakis said.

The Golden Eagles continued to improve each season, culminating in this year’s trip to the NCAA tournament.

“The neat thing with this team is nobody on the current squad has ever won a lacrosse championship,” Vlahakis said.

To build a team, Vlahakis mostly looks past the typical lacrosse powerhouses like Garden City and Shoreham. Even on weaker teams, he sometimes finds a player who saw limited action in high school.

One example is in Riverhead.

Blue Waves coach Ashley King played defense at Shoreham under Vlahakis during the program’s rise to prominence. King played on the first Long Island Championship team at Shoreham. Vlahakis went to see a Riverhead game and saw Aneisha Scott, a 5-foot-2 defenseman who was mostly a reserve for the Blue Waves. Scott ended up attending St. Joseph’s and got to be a part of this year’s championship team as a backup defensive player.

Vlahakis said Scott has potential for the future as a nice fit in the team’s backer defense.

“She’s really quick,” he said. “Her stick skills have improved.”

While Scott didn’t see a ton of time this year, Vlahakis said he envisions her taking on a bigger role next year.

Some players may have had the ability to star in high school, but were simply stuck behind other players. For example, Heather Ferchland of Middle Country took a back seat in high school to the standout duo of Nikki and Jamie Ortega. The two high school stars are bound for big Division I programs, Notre Dame for Nikki, a senior, and North Carolina for Jamie, a sophomore.

Ferchland was a modest goal scorer in high school who burst into becoming a 69-point scorer in her freshman season two years ago. She led the team in points each of the past two seasons.

Ferchland doubles as a volleyball player at St. Joseph’s as well, playing middle hitter.

The challenges remain for Vlahakis when it comes to recruiting, especially as he gets more removed from his high school coaching days, he said. Many of the high school coaches are connected to club teams, whose main goal is to funnel kids into Division I programs.

As a Division III school, St. Joseph’s does not offer athletic scholarships. So Vlahakis pitches another reason: academics.

“It’s a true opportunity for local kids,” he said.

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