Being tagged as the top-seeded high school boys lacrosse team in Suffolk County Division II is a sign of respect, but it can also be discomforting.
“It’s a compliment, but it keeps me up at night,” said Shoreham-Wading River coach Mike Taylor, chuckling.
Taylor knows that No. 1 seeds don’t slide in under the radar and catch opponents by surprise.
“We always feel like we always get everyone’s best game so there’s no relief,” he said. “Everyone circles our game, I think.”
That would be for good reason. Shoreham lost, 7-6, to Yorktown in a New York State Class B semifinal last year, the finale to an 18-3 season. It was Shoreham’s third loss in a state semifinal. Shoreham has won three state Class C titles — in 2002, 2007 and 2012. The Wildcats have never won a state Class B crown.
“I think last year was great because we have that playoff experience,” Taylor said. “The kids that are returning [have] been there, did that.”
Shoreham has been reclassified and is once again a Class C team, but hopes to receive an “A” grade for its play this year. The team is still loaded with talent, not to mention seniors — 11 of them.
Heading the cast is Chris Gray, an All-American senior attack who led the county in goals (79) and points (101) last season, according to Newsday.
“He’s a dynamic athlete,” Taylor said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but athletically and pound for pound, he’s the biggest guy on the field. He also has the skill. He plays lefty-righty. He shoots the ball hard. He sees the field well. He’s the complete package.”
Two All-County seniors, faceoff man Joe Miller and Kevin Cutinella, fortify the midfield. On defense, Shoreham has Suffolk’s co-rookies of the year from 2016, freshmen Xavier Arline and Jack Schirtzer as well as senior Danny Cassidy.
All of the above players have college lacrosse in their future: Gray (Boston University), Miller (Navy), Cutinella (Massachusetts), Arline (North Carolina), Schirtzer (Ohio State) and Cassidy (Stony Brook).
Expanded roles are envisioned this year for junior midfielder Kyle Boden, senior midfielder Colin Flannery and senior attack Sean Halpin.
Who will be manning the goal is an open question. A three-way competition is underway with freshman Liam Daly and seniors Andrew DePalma and Nick Cusano.
What is Taylor’s biggest concern at this point?
“I don’t want them to become where they feel like it’s just going to happen,” he said. “We worked hard to get where we were. We have to continue to get better. I don’t want them to be satisfied with where we were.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River will charge into the new season as the top-seeded team in Suffolk County Division II. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)
The playing field (turf) has been levelled for Riverhead (7-9). For the first time, the Blue Waves’ will play their home games on field turf, as do many of their opponents. That means Riverhead was able to hold some outdoor practices this winter instead of being cooped up in a gym.
“That has been a world of difference,” said Vic Guadagnino, who is in his seventh year as Riverhead’s coach. “We were out once a week and we’re just ready to go.”
Not only that, but Riverhead takes some other pluses into the coming season. Among them are senior goalie Jacob Coleman, an All-County honorable mention selection who is headed for Hofstra University, and senior faceoff midfielder John Ehlers, who has committed to Stony Brook University. Coleman made 228 saves last season. Ehlers (11 goals, three assists, 14 ground balls) won 67 percent (146 of 217) of his faceoffs.
“We have arguably the best goalie in the county,” Guadagnino said. “We have one of the best faceoff kids in the county. We have the attack returning. So, if we can play solid defensively, we should have a pretty good year.”
Riverhead lost its leading scorer, Austin Fitzpatrick (Aidan’s older brother), to graduation. He had a team-leading 32 goals to go with 16 assists and 46 ground balls last season. Regardless, Riverhead still brings back a lot of scoring. That returning attack consists of juniors Connor Grauer (27 goals, seven assists, 28 ground balls) and Dalton Lucas (20 goals, 33 ground balls) and senior Chris Flood (19 goals, 16 assists, 35 ground balls).
Brian Moulton, a senior, will be the cornerstone of the defensive corps. The midfield has returners in sophomore Connor Kalmus (verbally committed to Delaware), senior Jake Zuhoski and junior Matt Greaves.
Among the new blood expected to get a good deal of playing time are sophomore midfielder Shane Coleman (Jacob’s brother), sophomore defenseman Aiden Fitzpatrick and junior defenseman Paul Tocci.
Riverhead, seeded 14th out of 22 teams in Division I, should see schedule relief as it bids for its second playoff berth in three years.
As Guadagnino sees it, things are looking good for the Blue Waves. He said, “We were competitive last year with everybody and we didn’t lose a lot of scoring.”