Scoring goals is not a problem for Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone, who was named an All-American at attack last season. He can score from the crease or the perimeter, with time and room or in traffic, with power or finesse. There is one goal, however, that has remained tantalizingly out of reach . . . for DeSimone and the entire lacrosse-mad community of Smithtown.
Neither the Bulls of Smithtown East nor the Bulls of Smithtown West — nor the Smithtown Bulls when it was a one-high school district — have managed to get off Long Island and earn a trip to the state tournament. But DeSimone and several senior teammates have been to the precipice.
“It would mean so much to the community. Everyone loves lacrosse here and looks up to the lacrosse players, from the youth on up,” DeSimone said. “Honestly, winning a state championship would be as special to them as it would be to us.”
DeSimone, a bulked-up 5-11, 185-pound senior who has committed to nationally renowned lacrosse power Johns Hopkins, is a primary reason Smithtown East believes this could, finally, be the year that a childhood dream comes true. “We kind of knew that our grade was special from how talented we were as we were growing up,” DeSimone said. “When it came to talking about our senior year, we all made a pact: That’s our year. That’s the year we’ll get it done. That’s the year we’ll finish the job.”
The unfinished business at Smithtown East comes with some painful memories. The Bulls lost last year in overtime, 13-12, to Connetquot in the Suffolk Class A semifinals. They fell in the Long Island Class A title game to Syosset, 14-8, in 2015 and to Massapequa in the same game in 2014, the latter another excruciating 13-12 defeat. The program has been outstanding for years, but has plenty of company in that department on Long Island. “Every year we have three or four teams ranked in the top 20 in the country just from Suffolk County,” Smithtown East coach Jason Lambert said. “Getting to states is a driving force. We know it’s out there. But if we get to that point, it’s gravy. It’s all about winning the county title because our league is so competitive.”
That’s true again in 2017, where the usual Suffolk suspects like Ward Melville, Smithtown West and West Islip, plus traditional Nassau powers Syosset and Massapequa, are serious obstacles. But DeSimone, plus other talented seniors and friends such as Luke Eschbach, Bobby Burns, Mike Latini and Sean Barry are bullish about their final season together. “I’ve grown up with all of them, loved them since kindergarten or first grade,” DeSimone said. “We’ve played together on youth teams, travel teams, school teams. Those are my main guys.”
But DeSimone is definitely the main guy for the Bulls, a versatile offensive force who excelled for two years at midfield before switching to attack as a junior. He was so determined to master his new position this season that he gave up playing varsity basketball to work on his game.
“The transition was pretty hard, seeing things from behind the cage instead of from up top,” he said. “But I think I’ve elevated my game to the next level and I’m more comfortable. The biggest thing is working on my offhand so I can be unpredictable and that means having a left and a right. Then the defenseman never knows where you’re going and never knows what you’re going to do because you’re a threat with both hands. Now I see myself as a true attackman.”
And a true leader. “He’s the type of player that makes everyone better,” Lambert said. “His lacrosse IQ is off the charts. He makes good decisions with the ball and has an extremely high skill set — shooting, passing, righty-lefty. He’s the ultimate competitor. He’s never stopped trying to get better.”
And never stopped shooting for that one, elusive goal.