Boys lacrosse: Blue Waves on pace for best record in lax program history

Before the season started, Riverhead head coach Vic Guadagnino circled a few games on the schedule that he felt the Blue Waves needed to win to end up in playoff contention for the first time since 2019. Games against Patchogue-Medford, South Fork and William Floyd were always tight in recent years but ultimately ended in losses. This season, those games have been wins.

On April 12, Riverhead defeated Patchogue-Medford, 8-7, on an overtime game-winner by Sean Michael Payton. On the 18th, Riverhead prevailed over South Fork, 9-8, holding onto a slim margin in the fourth quarter to gut it out. On the 24th, William Floyd got picked off, 8-5, thanks to three Jackson Redmond goals, one of which broke a 5-5 tie with 7:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“It’s been the years of these guys playing together that finally made things click,” Guadagnino said. “They’ve been laser-focused this year. They want to achieve. They’ve been through a lot, taking the losses the last three seasons. It’s been rough on them. In 2019 we hung a banner, finished seventh in our division and then we had the budget fail, and kids left. These guys have been going through the growing pains bringing this program back together.”

“Our energy level is what has helped us win those games,” senior attacker Griffin Sumwalt said. “We’ve been together so many years. We just trusted the process.”

Following Tuesday’s 16-4 walloping of Copiague at Pulaski Street Sports Complex, Riverhead now sits in fifth place in a crowded, fiercely competitive Division I bracket with a 10-3 overall record. The Blue Waves sported green socks in the victory to help raise awareness about mental health month as a nod to Riverhead softball captain Deanna North, who has been outspoken this year about mental health issues students face.

Fifth place in the division is the highest a Riverhead lacrosse team has ever placed this deep into a season. Eleven teams make the playoffs and the top eight seeds will get a home game in the first round. Seventh place in 2019 was the Blue Waves best finish in program history.

The team has three games remaining on the schedule: Sachem North (3-9), Walt Whitman (3-9) and North Babylon (2-10). 

“There’s so much moving around in the standings as one team knocks off another, and the power points, of course, play a part in that,” Guadagnino said. “We need to take care of Thursday against Sachem East. It’s not going to be an easy game. If we take care of things the rest of the season we should secure a home game in Round 1.”

Sumwalt, who scored two goals and added three assists against Copiague, leads Riverhead with 55 points this season including 35 goals and 20 assists. Fellow senior attacker Zach Timpone has scored 29 goals after netting three on Tuesday. 

“I didn’t want to go four years on varsity without a winning record and without making it to the playoffs,” Timpone said. “It’s basically come down to our work ethic this season. We’ve been practicing as hard as we can to get better.”

As strong as Riverhead has been on the attack, the success this season has been keyed by a defense that has allowed on average only seven goals per game. Danny Healy, Liam Lennon, Brendan Wallace and Michael Gabriel have been a solid back three for the Blue Waves and have consistently kept opposing attackers out of scoring range. Defensive midfielders Ruairi McElhinney and Kevin Qualey have been a major part of that effort. 

“I remember during the COVID shut down we were out here trying to get better,” Healy said. “We’ve been really working at this since freshman year. We finally grew up. We’re finally beating those teams that gave us hell in the last few years.”

Sophomore goaltender Dillon Zaleski recorded his 100th save this season against Copiague and Guadagnino said adding him to the mix has been a major contribution. 

“It’s only his first season on varsity and he’s made a major impact,” the coach said. “He’s made great saves for us and communicates at a high level.”

The biggest reason the Blue Waves have been on a tear this season is that it’s not just one player doing it all. It’s truly a team effort.

“I’ve gotta say it’s been different guys stepping up in different games,” Guadagnino said. “It’s been super cool. Sometimes it’s the middies like Sean Payton and Jackson Redmond and other days it’s the attack with Timpone, [Logan] Dempsey or Sumwalt. Our defense has forced turnovers and come up big when we needed them to. Our goals against have significantly dropped since last year.”