The Ward Melville boys lacrosse team doesn’t want to rest on its laurels.
After winning a second straight class A state championship last season by defeating West Genesee, 15-2, the Patriots say they are used to the weight of expectation on their collective backs.
But they also know another title run won’t come easy. Ward Melville graduated 22 players from last year’s team and despite the recent success the program has enjoyed, the focus for this season’s group is establishing consistency and chemistry.
“We’re starting to find a way to click,” said Maryland-bound senior Dylan Pallonetti, who recorded 74 points last year. “As the season goes on we’ll be able to build on that and keep getting better and better. The chemistry is huge.”
Despite the influx of fresh faces, the Patriots return a core of key players from last year’s team, including five starters, and, according to coach Jay Negus, that immediate sense of leadership has helped the team find some early season success.
Negus added that he’s turned to players like Pallonetti and senior longstick middie Pat O’Neill, who will head to Brown next year, letting the first-year players square off against them in practice. It’s not an easy test, but it’s one Negus said he hoped will prepare his team for the tough competition in Suffolk I.
“This team is young," Negus said. "We have some experienced starters returning, but as an overall whole, we have a long way to go. We’ve got some growing to do and we want to do that every game.”
The Patriots, who averaged just under 12 goals a game last year, are always looking to play quick and they don’t slow down in practice. If anything, the determination to prove themselves is heightened even more when they’re facing off against each other. The intra-squad competition has become an integral part of Ward Melville’s practices and has helped the team find its footing in the first few games of the season.
“We want the new kids to come into their own,” O’Neill said. “It’s about teaching them how to play. We want to get really good competition in at practice.”
Ward Melville is an offensive-minded team, but the Patriots are also looking to lock in on defense with Frank Ciniglio (Cornell) and Ethan Larson (UNC) on the back line and UNC-commit Collin Krieg in net. Krieg recorded 105 saves last year and allowed a combined four goals in the state semifinal and championship.
Still, Negus said the Patriots know other teams are looking to knock them from the top spot.
“We talk to the kids all the time, you can’t control the events, but you can control your response and that will equal your outcome,” Negus said. “That’s the kind of culture we’re trying to build.”
Hills East, Northport, Smithtown West, and West Islip are also hoping to contend in Suffolk I. Hills East, which fell to Ward Melville in the class A county final, is led by junior midfielder and Johns Hopkins commit Brett Martin, while Smithtown West boasts a deep roster of Division I talent, including Maryland-bound faceoff specialist Conor Calderone.
In Suffolk II, Harborfields is looking to repeat as class B county champions, despite graduating much of its starting lineup. Thomas Sangiovanni, a Siena-bound midfielder, will lead the way after finishing with 29 goals and 14 assists last season.
“We've done a lot of winning recently, fortunately,” said Harborfields coach Glenn Lavey. “We know there's plenty of challenges this year, but we always think we can win the next game when we take the field.”
Comsewogue, Eastport-South Manor, East Islip and Hills West could also make a move in Suffolk B.
Albany-bound goalie Thomas Heller will lead Comsewogue's experienced defense, while Eastport-South Manor boasts a core of senior talent. East Islip’s John Sidroski, a 2018 first-team All-Long Island selection and Lehigh commit, returns for the Redmen, looking to build off his 102-point performance last year. Hills West expects production from defenseman Gerald Filardi Jr (Penn State), midfielder Justin Brown (Michigan) and attackman Christian Mule (Duke), who racked up 105 points last year.
Islip, like Ward Melville, is prepping to defend a state championship after defeating Westhill 9-3 in the class C final. The Buccaneers won the program’s first-ever county, Long Island and state titles last year. They will have to replace All-Long Island defenseman Ethan Rall and last season’s Newsday Suffolk Player of the Year, Mike Bienkowski.
Mt. Sinai presents one of the biggest challenges to Islip’s title defense. The Mustangs return junior attack Russell Maher, a Virginia commit, long stick midfielder Jack Schirtzer, a Maryland commit, and freshman attack Joey Spallina, who finished with 84 points last season.
Mattituck rounds out the heavy-hitters in Suffolk. The reigning county champs, whose season ended in the class D state semifinals last year, are led by five-year starter and Marquette-commit Max Kruszeski, who scored 64 goals last spring.