Joey Spallina will spearhead Mount Sinai's drive for a state...

Joey Spallina will spearhead Mount Sinai's drive for a state title this season after two years without a state tournament. Then he'll head off to Syracuse, where he is expected to be honored with coach Gary Gait's revered No. 22 jersey. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Joey Spallina couldn’t remember exactly how young he was when he went to a travel team tryout and picked up his first practice pinnie. But he does remember what number it was: 22.

The No. 22 has long held a special meaning in the lacrosse community, and no more so than at Syracuse University.

Made famous by Hall of Famer Gary Gait in the late 1980s and passed on to players such as Charlie Lockwood and Casey, Ryan and Mike Powell, each season between 1988-2004 a Syracuse player wearing 22 made an all-American team. In those same years, the Orange won eight NCAA championships.

“It’s the most famous number in lacrosse,” Casey Powell, 46, said. “Gary set the standard and when I was Joey’s age, I wanted to be Gary. He inspired me to be the best I could be.”

No player is wearing 22 this season for the Orange but Spallina, a Mount Sinai senior who is the No. 1 high school player in the country according to National Lacrosse Federation rankings, will arrive on campus just in time to be the first player to wear 22 under Gait, who is in his first season as head coach after 14 years coaching the Syracuse women’s team.

“Having kids like Joey come here, it’s a result of the tradition of Syracuse lacrosse and 22 is a part of it,” Gait said. “We hope it brings those top kids that want to win championships and I’m so excited that Joey is one of them.”

“I’ve worn it my whole life,” Spallina said. “Pretty much all my favorite players wore 22 or played at Syracuse. That number is special. Getting the opportunity to wear it there is a dream come true.”

Spallina and his Mount Sinai teammates still have some unfinished business on Long Island before he heads to central New York in September. The Mustangs are the defending Class C Long Island champions after defeating Manhasset in a classic game last spring. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the chance to play for a state title for all spring athletes the past two years.

This year he’ll get the chance to chase a state title with his younger brothers, twins Jake and Brett. Both are juniors and also committed to play at Syracuse.

“It’s a dream for us because our family is super close,” said Joe Spallina, their father and head coach of the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team. “Family is everything and for them to have the opportunity to be able to play this high school season together and then to go play ACC lacrosse and have a chance to win championships together is stuff they’ll talk about for the rest of their lives.”

Because of Joe’s extensive coaching history — he also coached the Adelphi women’s team to three Division II national championships and is the former coach of the New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse — Joey grew up on the sidelines, getting the opportunity to watch and learn from some of the best to ever play. That includes Powell, one of the more creative offensive players ever and his favorite player.

“I’ve known Joey for a long time,” Powell said. “He was always running around and doing trick shots and putting on a show as a little kid and I remember being impressed. I didn’t know how great of a career he’d have but I knew he had a passion.”

Spallina enters his senior season with 333 varsity points. If not for the lost 2020 season due to the pandemic, Spallina would be moving toward the all-time Long Island boys scoring record of 500 points held by West Islip’s Nicky Galasso.

Spallina spent his youth lacrosse career with the pressure of being one of the best players on teams filled with older players and in 2019 he became the first freshman to make Newsday’s All-Long Island team. The expectations have continuously been raised and each time he’s been able to meet them.

“I’ve been around so much since I was a kid,” Spallina said. “I’ve gotten the chance to see and experience a lot of things in lacrosse, so there really isn’t a moment that will surprise me. I’m always prepared.”

And soon enough, he’ll get to prove it on one of lacrosse’s biggest stages.

“If there’s any kid who understands what it means to put that uniform and number on, it’s him,” Joe Spallina said. ”I think he’ll represent the school and number with class. The only thing he cares about is getting Syracuse to championship weekend and winning.”

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