When Wantagh needs a spark, it often turns to Nikki Sliwak.
Sliwak scored the final two goals of the Warriors’ 11-10 win over host Cold Spring Harbor in a Nassau I girls lacrosse game Thursday, including the game-winner with 12.8 seconds remaining on a feed from Courtney Gendels.
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Gendels lined up for a free position attempt after being fouled. As a righthander, she had a clear lane to the goal and could have taken a shot. But she selflessly passed high to Sliwak, who in one motion caught the ball across her body and fired it into the back of the net.
“She is known for being unselfish,” Sliwak said of Gendels. “We actually tell her to shoot sometimes. I knew it was coming. It was an awesome feed. She could have messed up that pass.”
The pass was up and away from the defense, perfectly placed for a player as athletic as Sliwak, who had four goals.
That strike came minutes after Sliwak scored the tying goal with 2:43 remaining on a run that displayed her full arsenal of moves. She was met high by two defenders, dodged to split them and then fired a powerful shot into the back of the net.
“I play to my strengths,” she said.
The Warriors (9-1) leaned heavily on Sliwak and the defense in the second half. Madison Conway scored with 5.1 seconds left in the first half, but Cold Spring Harbor (7-3) still led 7-5.
According to coach Jaclyn Stevens, the Warriors were getting a bit ahead of themselves.
“We got a little panicky in the first half,” she said. “When they’re down, they just start to panic a little bit, and we just had to bring them back down to the ground.”
Stevens, who preached patience and possession in the halftime huddle, pushed the right buttons. Even though Ashley Lynch scored early in the second to push the Cold Spring Harbor lead to 8-5, the Wantagh defense buckled down and allowed just two scores the rest of the way.
“As a team, we’ve really been picking it up on defense,” said Michele Smith, who caused three turnovers and picked up one ground ball. “We’ve been focusing on team defense and our slides.”
That smooth defense allowed Sliwak the chance to net the winner and keep her team undefeated in league play.
“We’re at our high point,” Smith said, “but there’s always room to go higher.”