From an outsider’s perspective, last season had all the makings of a rebuilding year at Shoreham-Wading River. The Wildcats introduced a new coach, Mike Taylor, their third in three years. They returned a mostly young squad with limited varsity experience outside their big-name players like Ryan Bray and Danny Hughes.
But then again, this is Shoreham, where lacrosse reigns supreme. And the Wildcats compiled a superb regular season to finish 15-1 and atop the League III standings.
Even with all that momentum going into the playoffs, the Wildcats’ season came to an abrupt end in the semifinals with an overtime loss to Sayville at home.
“I think the biggest difficulty we faced the whole year especially showed up in that playoff game: our lack of varsity experience,” Taylor said. “I thought they played very tight in the playoff game. I think it had a huge impact. But at the same time, that game last year is probably going to be the best thing that ever happened to us this year.”
There’s an added hunger coming into this season, Taylor said, for a squad that will return a large portion of last year’s team. The Wildcats lost only twice a year ago, both games by one goal.
The expectations are high once again. The Wildcats are seeded No. 1 in Division II (the schedule format is back to power rankings after last year’s three-league system).
“We’re raring to go,” Taylor said.
Losing Bray — an All-American midfielder — will undoubtedly leave a large void this year, but the Wildcats return some veterans along with a group of younger players ready to pick up the slack.
The Wildcats return their starting attack and defense. Seniors Jon Constant and Jason Curran will carry a lot of the scoring load along with junior Chris Gray, whom Taylor described as a “walking highlight reel.”
Curran, who’s about 6-foot-3, recently committed to Brown University. Both he and Constant are coming off standout football seasons in helping the Wildcats to an undefeated season.
Junior Danny Cassidy, who’s committed to Stony Brook, returns on defense after playing big minutes last year as a 10th-grader. Senior Jack Quinn and junior Ethan Wiederkehr both return on defense as well.
Senior Jimmy Puckey saw time in goal last year and will be vying for the starting spot this year along with last year’s JV goalkeeper, Andrew DePalma.
Junior Kevin Cutinella, who played on the midfield line last year with Hughes and Bray, will see a larger role this season. Cutinella underwent surgery at the end of football season following an ankle injury. Taylor said Cutinella is back healthy.
Senior Dalton Baron and junior Joe Miller will both see expanded roles in the midfield this year.
The Wildcats will still have plenty to figure out over the next few weeks. The team has seven scrimmages lined up before a non-league opener at home against St. John the Baptist March 28 on the newly renovated Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.
Photo Caption: Shoreham-Wading River junior Joe Miller will see an even larger role this season after playing on varsity last year as a sophomore. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)
The key to success for Riverhead this year comes down to a simple formula: win face-offs, possess the ball and excel on clears.
It’s not the flashiest stuff, the kind of plays that make the highlight films, but as Riverhead coach Vic Guadagnino noted: “You don’t get to play offense if you don’t have the ball.”
The Blue Waves have spent a large portion of practice during the first two weeks of preseason focusing on all those little things. Guadagnino said he’s confident the team has the skill players who can put the ball in the net.
“We have some young guys on offense who can play,” he said. “But if our younger guys and our defense cannot hold up in the clearing game, that would be our Achilles heel.”
The Blue Waves have reached the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, and as the No. 12 seed in Division II, they’re predicted to be right in the mix again this year.
The Wildcats return a pair of four-year varsity starters in defenseman Blake Carrara and midfielder Austin Fitzpatrick. Carrara is bound for the University of Maryland and Fitzpatrick is headed to NYIT.
Carrara is a lock-down defender who has become well-known across the county over the past few years. Fitzpatrick can contribute across the field, is a strong dodger and can shoot on the run, Guadagnino said.
The Blue Waves return Jacob Coleman between the pipes. A junior, Coleman is committed to Hofstra. John Ehlers returns in the ever-critical face-offs.
Sophomore Connor Grauer steps up as an attackman after playing on JV last year. Dalton Lucas, who started on attack as a freshman, returns with another year of experience.
“They’re looking to do a lot for us,” Guadagnino said.
A plus for the Blue Waves so far this year has been the nice weather, which will allow the team to get in some scrimmages before the season begins.
“We didn’t even get to scrimmages until two days before our first game, I think last year,” Guadagnino said.
Riverhead will play a non-league game at Eastport-South Manor Tuesday and then at Miller Place March 26. The league opener is March 29 at home against Copiague.
Wins have been hard to come by in the last three years since Bishop McGann-Mercy brought back a boys lacrosse team. In the last three years, the Monarchs have just one win, and most of the losses have been by double digits.
For the fourth straight year, the Monarchs will turn to a new coach. McGann-Mercy athletic director Melissa Edwards said the coach this year is Travis Baskin, a former lacrosse player at Riverhead who went on to play at Mercy College.