The road to the New York State championship this year ended in Rochester, a roughly seven-hour drive from the campus of Shoreham-Wading River High School. In June 2020, the state championship game returns much closer to home, at a site of so many memorable games in the program’s history: Hofstra University.
Every season is unique, and the obstacles teams encounter can never be predicted, but if there was a team primed to make another run at a state championship, it would appear to be these Wildcats.
Consider the team’s roster this past season featured just five seniors. Coaches often talk about how experience is vital for a team to reach the pinnacle.
For this team, the talent and depth, along with the leadership of those handful of seniors, overcame any lack of experience as the Wildcats won the fourth state title in program history June 8.
It would have been easy to look at the Wildcats’ roster and assume they were one year away from holding the state championship trophy. But for the players and coaches, their only focus was on getting better game by game. The wins, they knew, would eventually fall into place.
“The kids really bought into it,” said coach Mike Taylor. “In each playoff game we played, we constantly said, ‘OK we need to get better by doing this.’ I really think the kids not only peaked at the same time, but our growth kept going all the way right up until that last minute of play.”
The Wildcats’ arrived home in the overnight hours June 9 and last Tuesday several players were honored at the Suffolk County awards dinner. Juniors Xavier Arline, Trevor Kessel, Gavin Gregorek and Liam Daly earned all-county honors along with sophomores Johnny and Tyler Schwarz. Arline also earned All-American honors.
All of those players will be back next year. Watch out New York.
“We will stay very hungry, but at the same time our identity will be to be humble,” Taylor said. “I know what the competition is like in Suffolk County and on the Island and upstate. I know now how difficult it is to get the opportunity to win the states.”
For all the success in Shoreham’s history, there has never been back-to-back lacrosse state titles in the boys program. (The girls won four consecutive from 2007-2010). With the dedication these current players have to lacrosse — many will be busy this summer on numerous high-level travel teams — there’s no ceiling too high for next year’s team. Of course, playing with those expectations presents an entirely new perspective for a team. And that’s why repeating is often so challenging.
Looking back at this year’s team, it’s remarkable to think how many different players stepped up in big moments. Sure, Arline often delivered the highlight plays and was the team’s leading scorer. But one player can only do so much. And the Wildcats needed every one of their other players. It was Anthony Ciminio scoring the overtime winner in the county final against Mount Sinai. It was eighth-grader Alec Gregorek’s huge game in the Long Island final against Cold Spring Harbor. It was Gregorek with a huge game in the state semifinals. And so many other players along the way.
When the dust settled, Taylor acknowledged several players had been hurting late in the season. Senior Dominic Visintin hurt his hip, forcing him to slide from midfield to attack, where he continued to excel. Ciminio suffered a hamstring injury in the semifinals and the team wasn’t sure he could play in the state finals. Junior Jack Erb suffered a broken hand before the playoffs and fought on in each playoff game.
“No matter who we asked to step up to the plate, we believed they could do it and they did the job,” Taylor said. “I think that’s so important in a championship run.”
As a longtime special education teacher, Taylor said he always preaches that hard work pays off. His team this year exemplified that. “To have this result is a great lesson for young kids and it’s very fulfilling as a teacher to see something like that come to fruition,” he said. “They know now if they work hard at things, it pays off.”