The Mount Sinai girls lacrosse team didn’t come into the 2016 season with a ton of firepower, but it did have heart.
Suffocating defense and patient offense propelled the Mustangs to the state Class C championship, their third in four years.
“We responded to adversity,” coach Al Bertolone said. “Adversity either breaks you apart or it galvanizes you and makes you better.”
Three losses in April were the season’s turning point. The Mustangs dropped contests to Wantagh, Bayport-Blue Point and Christian Brothers Academy, and goalie Hannah Van Middelem said those three losses easily could have defined her team’s season.
But they didn’t.
The Mustangs reeled off 11 straight wins after the 11-10 hiccup against Christian Brothers on April 24 to put the finishing touches on a season inspired by the mantra “prove people wrong.”
“We were all put in positions where we never were before,” defender Emily Vengilio said. “In order to get back to the top, we realized that people had to step up. Everyone had to be creative and innovative in their own play.”
Defense was the backbone of the team’s run, holding opponents to six goals or fewer in nine of the 11 straight wins. Van Middelem was a rock in the cage, and Vengilio led a unit that effectively communicated and slid when necessary.
“If our offense was struggling, we knew we could fall back on offense in the big games,” Van Middelem said.
But the offense rarely struggled. Overall, the Mustangs, led by Meaghan Tyrrell and Erica Shea, outscored their remaining 11 opponents 103-76.
“It was easy to take risks because we knew we had our defense to fall back on,” Shea said of the offensive strategy.
The talent on offense was evenly distributed, leaving any of the attackers comfortable with taking a late-game shot at the cage.
“It really had to be a collective,” Vengilio said. “It wasn’t a team that we could give the ball to one or two people and we could win. We played a lot for each other.”
“Everyone says that we have ‘program kids,’ that ‘we don’t have stars,’ ” Van Middelem said. “But we’re not just a defensive team. We can also play great offense.”
A blend of both helped the Mustangs finish a season-long goal of proving that they could still play.
ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Suffolk Class C playoffs
Shoreham-Wading River, 10-9
Bayport-Blue Point, 6-5
Long Island Championship
Cold Spring Harbor, 7-5
Honeoye Falls-Lima, 10-3