Before she could even huddle with her team for the final time, Shoreham-Wading River girls lacrosse coach Alex Fehmel was already talking to those around her on the sideline about how proud she was of her team.
That the Wildcats would earn a spot in Wednesday’s Class C county championship was far from a given back when the season started, or even when the playoffs began less than two weeks ago. The Wildcats had missed the playoffs last year and were starting anew with Fehmel as a first-year varsity coach. And even after a tremendous regular season that saw the Wildcats finish fourth out of 27 Division II teams, they needed to get a past a talented Sayville team in the semifinals.
“I’m super proud of them for making it here,” Fehmel said. “They know that this team hasn’t made it here in a while. I think that I just needed to boost their confidence and show them that they have so much talent on this team. I don’t know if they really realize it.”
The Wildcats embraced the underdog role — a position that may seem unfamiliar for a program that had once been at the pinnacle of Long Island lacrosse — as they took on top-seeded Bayport-Blue Point.
The Phantoms were the top seed in Division II this year, losing only once in league play to Class B runner-up Comsewogue, and they showed just why they earned that top seeding. Behind a stout zone defense that left few easy openings and a quick-scoring offense, the Phantoms held off Shoreham 10-6 at Newfield High School to claim its third consecutive county title.
The Phantoms (16-2) have remained on top of Class C since winning in 2019 and with a team that features only a handful of seniors, they likely will be a strong contender to defend their title again next season. It’s the fourth county title for the program since 2014.
For the Wildcats (12-5), it was the first time back in a county final since 2013 when Fehmel was a senior at Shoreham. The Wildcats lost that year 7-3 to Mount Sinai, ending what had been a magnificent stretch where the program won five state titles, the last in 2012 when Fehmel was the most valuable player of the state tournament as a junior.
“It really is an amazing opportunity to get them back here and fire them up and show them they can do it,” she said. “It was a really fun year. An unforgettable year.”
To knock off Bayport, the Wildcats opened the game with a deliberate game plan: Dominate time of possession and limit the opportunities for Bayport.
The strategy worked for a large portion of the first half. The Wildcats kept the score tight and didn’t allow the Phantoms to run off many easy transition opportunities. The Wildcats held possession for the majority of the half and were within one, at 4-3, in the final seconds of the first half when the Phantoms struck on a free position goal by Ava Meyn to make it 5-3.
Bayport opened the second half with the first goal and the Wildcats never got closer than three the rest of the way.
“We felt the whole time like we could win and we didn’t want this to happen, but this is still a great accomplishment for us since it’s been nine years being here,” said junior Graceann Leonard, who scored a pair of goals for the Wildcats.
Leonard said the Phantoms’ zone defense makes it difficult to dodge without running into a double or triple team and it required the offense to connect on skip passes and players cutting.
Fehmel said their opponents’ defense was “phenomenal.”
“We have practiced it a long time and I think we had a lot of plays to attack it,” she said, adding that she would have liked the team to play a little faster to get into plays quicker.
Bayport’s Katie Clare scored a tough free position goal with 8:20 left, fighting through a crowd to get near the goal and score. That made it 9-4 and put the Wildcats in a tough position to mount a comeback.
The Wildcats did strike for the next two goals, both by senior Catherine Erb. She bounced in a free position shot with 1:03 left to make it 9-6, but Bayport controlled the ensuing draw and was able to strike back.
Bayport junior Mikaela Mooney led all scorers with four goals.
Fehmel said the team was led by a great group of seniors, including Erb, Carlie Cutinella and Alexa Constant.
“They were amazing and all the other seniors, too,” she said. “[Goalie] Maggie Harding really stepped up for us and toward the end of season really bought it and played amazing and stood on her head a lot of games.”
Leonard also said all the seniors had a big impact.
“It’s going to be a lot of space to fill,” she said.