Manhasset focusing on state title, not its ranking

Manhasset All-American trio, from left, Lindsey Ronbeck, Julia

Manhasset All-American trio, from left, Lindsey Ronbeck, Julia Glynn and Natalie Stefan pose for a portrait during varsity girls' lacrosse team practice on Firday, March 28, 2014. (Credit: James Escher )

"Manhasset will dominate!" Ask around and you'll likely hear that from anyone anywhere in the lacrosse world. Well, except maybe Manhasset.

A popular lacrosse publication recently ranked the Manhasset girls team second...out of all the teams in the country. Kind of a big deal?

Natalie Stefan: "That ranking doesn't mean anything to us.

The Indians are so highly thought of in large part because the team boasts three returning All-Americans in seniors Julia Glynn and Stefan, and junior Lindsey Ronbeck. Isn't that special?

Glynn: "It's a prestigious honor, but on the field, that's not crossing anyone's mind...We still feel like we have something to prove."

And so it is for Manhasset. For all the praise that has been and will continue to be bestowed, and for all the accolades accrued last year, there remains this burning fact: The Indians' season ended in disappointment.

They were ranked fifth late last season -- the new juggernaut that surged to their first Long Island title since 2005 and, in the process, unseated seven-time defending state Class B champ Garden City. A state championship, in the eyes of many, was a mere formality.

But that 9-8 upset to Brighton in the state semifinal happened.

"It was a heavy bus ride, a lot of tears," senior Jackie D'Alleva said of the trip home from Cortland. "It was the realization that we wouldn't play with that group again and also knowing the potential we had. We should've won that title."

Added Stefan: "A handicap was nobody on our team had ever been tested on such a big stage and there were some jitters."

If ever complacency creeps in this season, that memory serves as the repellent. That there were 13 juniors on last year's team means the Indians now have the opportunity -- if not an obligation -- to finish what they had started.

Observers marvel at Manhasset's talent and the system coach Danielle Gallagher employs. We expect excellence. But within their huddle is a group focused and humbled, who readily list their flaws.

And both sides are right.

The talent is impossible to ignore. Glynn's defensive prowess and abilities in transition have garnered acclaim. At 5-9, Stefan is an elite midfielder with great athleticism and an improved offensive game. Ronbeck emerged last year, showcasing a powerful shot and ambidextrous skills on attack.

D'Alleva, with her smarts and sound technique, is a defensive anchor. Goalie Erin Coleman, who became a starter midway through last season, "has had her confidence spike," Stefan said. Kathryn Hallet's elusiveness creates mismatches. And the list goes on.

That this team has done little more than acknowledge its hype is a testament to its hunger and an understanding of the challenges ahead.

Quicker passing, patience and guile on offense, better movement without the ball and defensive communication are among the litany of things the Indians insist they must improve.

"Whether you're ranked first or last, the job is the same: to get better and win," D'Alleva said. "In that regard, we have to prove ourselves in every game."

Those games include marquee non-league matchups with Maryland powers Notre Dame and Good Counsel, and a showdown with St. Anthony's -- the team that finished last season with the No. 2 ranking.

"I think we have something special again this year," Glynn said. "We have the talent and the drive to win , but we have to actually do it."

And only then would those rankings matter.

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