The players were close; most of the games were not.
But for Ward Melville, the bonds of friendship and teamwork were tested on April 18. That’s when the defending state champion Patriots, after opening the season with nine straight victories, were jolted by Half Hollow Hills East, 7-6. They never lost again.
“That loss woke up the giant,” Ward Melville boys lacrosse coach Jay Negus said.
“It was a reality check, the changing point in the season,” senior midfielder Ryan Pallonetti said.
“That was the kick in the butt that re-focused us,” senior midfielder Zach Hobbes said.
Ward Melville not only won its remaining 12 games, but did so in dominating fashion. The Patriots’ average margin of victory after that loss was 12 goals. Their only close game was a tense 8-5 victory over Massapequa in the Long Island championship game.
In the state Class A playoffs, they went to running time in both an 18-2 semifinal rout of Niskayuna and a 15-2 title-game win over West Genesee that ruined the final game of West Genesee’s Hall of Fame coach Mike Messere, who retired after 44 seasons with a nation’s best 841 victories and 15 state titles.
“We took advantage of one-on-one matchups and got a lot of quality shots,” Hobbes said. “It’s an incredible feeling to do this in my senior year.”
Hobbes and senior Liam Davenport were, in Negus’ words, “the heart and soul of the team,” two-way midfielders who hardly ever left the field. Hobbes (33 goals) and Davenport (12 goals) were among seven double-digit goal-scorers for the Patriots, led by Matt Grillo, who was second on Long Island with 70 goals.
Grillo, a senior who had the last-second, overtime game-winner in last year’s state championship game, netted five goals in the state semifinals and four more in the final. He had two in the low-scoring Massapequa game as well.
The complement to Grilllo’s assortment of accurate shots from multiple angles was hard-shooting junior Dylan Pallonetti, Ryan’s younger brother, who showed range in scoring 53 goals. Senior Malachy McAvoy added 30 goals and made a huge leap from last year.
“We try to preach a balanced approach on offense,” Negus said. “You can’t stop us by stopping one guy.”
Ward Melville (21-1) had the stoppers, too, surrendering a county-best 4.23 goals per game. Rising sophomore goalie Colin Krieg got plenty of protection from a defense that was led by senior Alex Mazzone and also featured junior Frank Ciniglio and sophomore Ethan Larson plus long-stick middie Pat O’Neill, a junior who excelled down the stretch.
“Our defense played well all year,” Negus said, “and on offense, the key was our passing and our unselfish play.”
It all kicked into high gear after the Hills East loss. “We didn’t play well that day and we knew it. It was a teaching opportunity and a huge chance for us to get better,” Negus said.
For the second year in a row and 10th time in program history, better became best.
ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Suffolk A playoffs
Half Hollow Hills East, 14-5
Long Island championship
West Genesee, 15-2