CORTLAND, N.Y. — The Mount Sinai girls lacrosse team didn’t have a go-to star on offense this season. Naturally, it leaned on its defense. And the unit didn’t disappoint.
Suffocating defense overwhelmed Skaneateles on Saturday as the Mustangs won the state Class C championship with a 12-3 victory. Mount Sinai (18-3) has won two straight crowns and three in the past four years.
“We’re really a defensive team, and we’ve proved that all year,” said goalie Hannah Van Middelem, whose defense held Skaneateles scoreless for 32:38.
With Van Middelem anchoring them in the cage, the Mustangs were able to cruise to a state title, holding Skaneateles and Honeoye Falls-Lima to three goals each. Van Middelem made five saves in the title game.
“We have a great goalie,” defender Emily Vengilio said. “Hannah is always there to make a stop. We’re just a good collective defense.”
Mount Sinai’s defenders acted as a stronghold. Their communication led to timely slides and stifling doubles, leaving the Skaneateles attackers without an inch of breathing room.
That was on display after the Lakers’ Abby Kuhns scored with 20:33 left in the first, tying the score at 1. Vengilio and her teammates were feisty and disciplined, giving the Lakers fits and forcing them into turnovers. “Emily is a lockdown defender,” coach Al Bertolone said. “She’s never going to get the props that those kids who score get. She’s all over the place. She knocks down passes, the whole deal.”
Skaneateles didn’t score again until Catie Woodruff struck with 12:55 left in the game. Before that, Mount Sinai racked up seven unanswered goals by six different scorers — Camryn Harloff (two), Erica Shea, Meghan Walker, Leah Nonnenmann, Meaghan Tyrrell and Rayna Sabella — and took an 8-2 lead.
Tyrrell and Shea each scored twice more in the final 12 minutes. Each scored three goals to highlight a Mustangs offense intent on finding quality shots rather than a high volume of looks at the cage. Yet Shea’s biggest contributions came in the circle.
As she has been throughout Mount Sinai’s playoff run, the senior was consistent on the draw, giving the Mustangs opportunity after opportunity to run time off the clock. As important as the defense was during that 32-minute streak, Shea was equally impactful.
“Erica did an awesome job on the draw, which helped us keep possession for most of the game,” Tyrrell said. “You win the draw, you rule the world.”
And Mount Sinai’s players all said they felt as if they were on top of the world, especially Vengilio, who echoed her team’s season-long mantra: Prove people wrong.
“Everyone all season was saying we weren’t as good as we were last year because we lost all of our starters,” she said. “I think we just proved that we are a great team. We always have a good plan, and we executed it.”
Bertolone had a similar sentiment. “My first will always be my best,” he said, comparing his three state titles as a coach. “But this is the one we really worked for. It was unexpected. This is the one nobody thought we could do.”
It was Tyrrell who said after the semifinal win over Honeoye that the Mustangs weren’t done defying the odds until they won the title. On Saturday, she was relieved to have reached her team’s goal.
“We absolutely did prove them wrong,” she said.