There were signs along the way for the West Islip boys soccer team on its run to the program's first boys soccer state championship.
Some were within the last few months, others in recent seasons, and — at least one — goes back almost four years.
Lions junior varsity coach Dennis Mazzalonga had a bold statement about the current seniors after their ninth grade season.
"He told everyone," varsity coach Eddie Pieron recalled, " ‘If it’s [a championship] ever going to happen, this is going to be the group.’ "
It seems like Mazzalonga knew all along.
The Lions made the playoffs in 2019, won a first-round game and then lost to eventual state AA champ Brentwood in the second round. During the 2021 truncated spring season, West Islip lost in the semifinals to Newfield.
Pieron and his players had an inkling better days were ahead after finishing second with an ever-changing mix of players, including a few eighth graders, in a local summer league.
"We got one of those big trophies," the 18-year coach said. "I looked at the boys and they looked at me, and there was this thought — you know what? — -- this could be the first of many things to come."
The Lions looked at this season as a marathon.
"We had goals. We had steps to the ladder," Pieron said. "First, we’d qualify for the playoffs. We’d win the [Suffolk] League [III], we’d win Suffolk [Class AA], then the LIC [Long Island Championship], then we’d experience what states are like."
So much for West Islip being just a football-lacrosse town. It’s a sports town. Close to 200 fans made the trip to Middletown for the state semifinals. When the Lions won, that number doubled for the final.
"It still really feels amazing all the love and support we got from the school, the teachers and the town," senior center back Jack Dellipizzi said. "We even got free pizza in town."
One of the best moments of West Islip's dominant 5-0 win against Hilton in the state final came seconds after the final whistle when goalie Lucas Iacono ran over to his dad, Phil.
"This has been our dream for so long," said Lucas, who guided a defense that allowed just five goals in his team’s seven playoff games. "I owed it to him."
He also owed it to his defenders: Dellipizzi, Brendan McMahon, Vincent Puglisi and Derek Gildard.
Joey Blackton, Chris Laino, and Aidan McNally manned the midfield. Right wing Matthew Kessler and left wing Vincent Greco were solid all season for the Lions (20-2-1) who were recently ranked No. 20 in the country in a national poll.
The Lions had an incredible one-two punch with Blackton (22 goals) and junior forward Aidan Lodie (21 goals).
On the return from Middletown, the team bus was met close to school and escorted the final few miles by the West Islip Fire Department.
There will be more celebrations in the spring, Pieron said. The school district is planning a parade, as well as a state championship ring ceremony — more photos and memories to last the Lions a lifetime.
"One day, I’ll bring my kids here to see what we accomplished," Gildard said. "I hope we inspire them, and all the kids around, to be the best they can in sports and whatever they do."
Just follow the signs.
LIONS’ ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Sachem North, 2-0
Sachem East, 4-0
Long Island championship