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Mount Sinai lacrosse state champs: Defense that never rests

Mount Sinai's Leah Nonnenman, left, hugs Rayna Sabella

Mount Sinai's Leah Nonnenman, left, hugs Rayna Sabella following their win in the 2017 state lacrosse championships in Cortland, N.Y. on Saturday, June 10, 2017. Mount Sinai claimed the Class C title with a 15-4 win over Honeoye Falls-Lima. Credit: Adrian Kraus

Members of the Mount Sinai girls lacrosse team have gotten used to two things: winning and defending.

The Mustangs capped another dominant season with a state championship, their third straight and fourth in five years.

A stable of lockdown defenders kept offenses in disarray. Seniors Emily Vengilio and Haley Dillon commanded a unit including Julia Markey and twins Meaghan and Kirsten Scutaro. With senior Hannah Van Middelem between the pipes, Mt. Sinai’s defense was suffocating.

“Everyone always has some of defensive mentality when it comes to a championship program,” said coach Al Bertolone. “You can play defense in girls lacrosse; we’ve proven it.”

It was a defense that allowed just 3.6 goals per game in an 18-2 season that propelled the Mustangs to their second consecutive Founder’s Cup, an award given to the best team in Suffolk County by the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Foundation.

Some players came to Bertolone as natural defenders, but he said he switches positions to suit his teams’ needs. That’s what happened to Dillon, who originally played attack.

“Bert has his plan, and I guess he saw me more as a defensive player,” Dillon said. “I played low attack around the pipe. So, when I play defense, I play low defense. I know how the girls will move the ball and what they think about.”

Senior Rayna Sabella experienced the opposite. She was a defender whose speed and stick skills warranted a move to the midfield. She was also integral in the draw circle during the state championship run.

Sabella said the team’s senior class has been playing club lacrosse together “since fourth or fifth grade,” and the desire to graduate as three-time champions served as incentive.

“We’ve been motivated since Day 1,” she said. “I think the idea that the seniors wanted to end our last year with a bang, that was definitely our motivation.”

She also contributed to an offense led by junior Meaghan Tyrrell, who tallied 66 goals and 40 assists. Leah Nonnenmann, Veronica Venezia and Camryn Harloff were also offensive weapons throughout the spring.

Their efforts were in support of a defense that stands as Long Island’s best this season.

“I felt like it was an honor just to be a part of the defense,” Dillon said.

MUSTANGS’ road to the championship

Suffolk playoffs

Westhampton, 9-3

Suffolk championship

Bayport-Blue Point, 9-6

Long Island Championship

Wantagh, 9-4

State semifinal

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, 16-1

State championship

Honeoye Falls-Lima, 15-4

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