The question some may be wondering these days in Riverhead is this: Can lightning strike twice?
Or, at least, can the Riverhead High School boys lacrosse team follow up its first ever playoff victory last season with another one or more?
Riverhead is 1-5 in its playoff history, that sole win taking two days to post in Bay Shore last year in a game suspended because of lightning. The Blue Waves were trailing, 6-2, at the time of the interruption, but following what was essentially a 23-hour timeout, they triumphed, 11-9. That sent Riverhead into a Suffolk County Class A quarterfinal, which it lost to Smithtown West, 10-7.
It was a heck of a season, though, and the Blue Waves (9-9 last year) are hoping for — maybe even expecting — more.
“I’d be incredibly disappointed if this didn’t happen,” said Vic Guadagnino.
The team will enter its 17th season with the most experience Guadagnino has ever had to work with in his nine years coaching the team. Most of the starters are back, including virtually the entire offense, two-thirds of the defense and the starting goalie.
“As much as we have a veteran group, we’re not a team of superstars,” Guadagnino said. “We’re a team of talented, veteran players. I might not have an All-American, but boy, I have a pretty nice team altogether.”
Riverhead, seeded 10th in Suffolk Division I for a second straight year, has talent. Among them is All-County senior Danny Mastropaolo, one of the best faceoff players around. Mastropaolo won 68 percent of his faceoffs last year and claimed 92 ground balls. “He just gets us so many extra possessions that it just changes the games,” said Guadagnino.
And then there’s senior attackman Kamryn Gill, another All-County choice who racked up 47 goals, 31 assists and 25 ground balls. Gill is back with starting attackmen Caleb Zuhoski (30 goals, 18 assists, 16 ground balls) and Connor Batjer (17 goals, 12 assists, 10 ground balls). The other returning starters are: midfielders Connor Kalmus (24 goals, 49 assists, 26 ground balls), Shane Coleman (11 goals, seven assists, 15 ground balls) and C.J. Dorr, long-stick midfielder Travis Hayon, defensemen Aiden Fitzpatrick, Alex Jacobs and David Squires, and goalie Anthony Caputo (46 saves).
Altogether, Riverhead has 13 seniors, nine of whom have committed to playing for colleges: goalie Ryan Ott (SUNY/Farmingdale), Jacobs (SUNY/Brockport), Kalmus (St. John’s), Hayon (LIU Post), Mastropaolo (Albany), Gill (Salisbury University), Fitzpatrick (New York Tech), Coleman (Pace) and Batjer (Keane University).
“This senior class, they’re not bad,” said Guadagnino.
What does Guadagnino like best about this group?
“I think it’s our experience and what’s expected of them already going into the season,” he said. “Honestly, we don’t really need to explain a lot of things to them of what they need to do. It’s just a matter of getting ready for the next game, the next opponent.”
High school boys lacrosse could be considered a part-winter sport, given the weather conditions teams have to deal with in the first half of the season or so. So, it was an eye-opener to see Shoreham-Wading River practicing on outdoor basketball and tennis courts in the brutal cold when preseason practice started last week while its field was covered with ice.
A little thing like ice-cold temperatures isn’t going to stop the Wildcats from doing what they feel they need to do.
“We have big expectations and a good bunch of kids and we’re trying to do our due diligence,” said coach Michael Taylor.
SWR feels a need for redemption after an earlier ending to last season than it would have liked. The Wildcats, bidding for a third straight county championship, were upset by Sayville, 15-14, in a Suffolk Class C outbracket game, finishing the year with a 9-8 record.
“I think all of us were a little disappointed in our season last year,” Taylor said. “I think we didn’t play up to our ability. I think we probably didn’t peak at the right time and we didn’t reach what we should have reached.”
SWR, a junior-dominated team, is still loaded with skill with eight returning starters, not to mention a phenomenal talent in Xavier Arline. The Wildcats are seeded second to Mount Sinai in Suffolk Division II.
Arline, a junior attackman, was an honorable mention All-American.
“No one trains as hard as he does,” Taylor said. “He does everything a coach would want [him] to do. He’s constantly doing speed and agility [work].”
Arline, a magician with the stick who has dazzling footwork, turns in more than his share of “wow moments” with acrobatic shots and no-look passes. Taylor said: “Maybe for us I take it for granted because we see it every day. I’ve never seen him look stronger. It’s not like he hasn’t progressed.”
Arline has verbally committed to the University of North Carolina. But he isn’t the only SWR player who has college lacrosse in his future. Trevor Kessel, an All-County junior defenseman, has committed to Michigan while junior midfielder Gavin Gregorek (Navy), junior goalie Liam Daly (Stony Brook), senior midfielder Anthony Cimino (Tampa), senior attackman Dominic Visintin (Muhlenberg) and senior defenseman Jake Meeker (Pace) have made their college picks.
Twins John Schwarz, a midfielder, and Tyler Schwarz, a defenseman, started last year, as did sophomore defenseman Jake Wilson.
“We’re very lucky to have these guys back,” said Taylor.
Junior midfielder Jack Erb could play a big role. Eighth-grade attackman Alec Gregorek (Gavin’s brother) and freshman midfielder Francisco Cortez have shown their ability. Sophomore Rob Troyano gives SWR two strong goalies.
“There’s no double that we have the talent,” Taylor said. “Our expectation is that there is no bar. We’re going to see how good we can get.”
Taylor said the team has the three Cs he looks for: character, commitment and chemistry.
Under Taylor, SWR has gone 42-15, won two county titles and a Long Island championship.
“We have such history here and we have such talent, I think our expectation here each year is to do as best as we can,” Taylor said. “Our goal is to get off the island.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s All-County senior, Danny Mastropaolo, left, won 68 percent of his faceoffs last year and claimed 92 ground balls, including this one in the playoffs against Bay Shore. (Credit: Bob Liepa, file)