Ward Melville back to its winning ways, and No. 1 national ranking
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Most of them had played together since the fourth grade in the lacrosse-mad Three Village neighborhoods. They grew up watching West Islip replace Ward Melville as Suffolk's pre-eminent boys lacrosse high school program. They'd had enough.
"It's all we talked about. We wanted to win a state championship," senior Christian Mazzone said.
Mission accomplished, with a No. 1 national ranking, the exclamation point to a perfect 22-0 season that was capped by last Saturday's magnificent mauling of West Genesee, a 16-4 victory in the Class A state title game. The margin of victory was so great that when the Patriots took a 15-3 lead at the end of the third quarter, it triggered a running clock against the school that has won the most state championships, 15.
"I've been coaching at Ward Melville for 32 years and this is by far the best game I've ever seen a Ward Melville team play," coach Mike Hoppey said about his impressive closing act.
Hoppey, an assistant under Joe Cuozzo, who guided the Patriots to their seven previous state titles, confirmed what many of his players had already heard: that he was retiring after his eighth season as coach.
"He deserves this championship. He put in the time and he helped my game a lot," said senior midfielder Jack Bruckner, the Pats' leading scorer with 96 points (58 goals), who had five goals and two assists in a 13-6 state semifinal victory over Shenendehowa. "I'm glad he got it."
Mazzone, second to Bruckner with 91 points (53 goals) and who contributed two goals and three assists in the championship game, called the season "absolutely magical. It's awesome. We were playing for the whole community and for everyone that lost since 2000."
That was the last year Ward Melville won county, Long Island and state titles and many in the community agreed with Cuozzo when he urged the team before the county championship game to bring the title "back where it belongs."
The 2013 team produced the greatest of seasons with the greatest of ease. The closest was a 7-3 win over Garden City on April 20 in a telltale week that also included 11-2 routs of Suffolk Division I powers Northport and nemesis West Islip.
"We were a good team that became a great team," Hoppey said.
They had greatness on offense, for sure. Bruckner and Mazzone sparkled, but so did sensational sophomore sniper Danny Bucaro, who scored a team-high 60 goals. Hulking senior Brendan Hegarty had 47 goals, including four in the final. Dan Decker anchored a tough defense; the Patriots gobbled up ground balls like they were playing old-school Pac-Man, and goalie Danny Nemirov, nicknamed "Diesel" because of his weightlifting prowess while in middle school, was the ultimate stopper on those few occasions when games were close.
"Winning the state championship is unreal," Mazzone said. "We showed the world how good we are."
As Hoppey said, in his final postgame speech, "State champs, national champs."