The North Shore girls lacrosse team will not have the opportunity to pursue a fourth straight Nassau Class C title.
An enrollment boost in the school last fall moved the team up to Class B, though the Vikings' roster actually shrank. Its depth is so sparse that coaches Jeff Butt and Megan McCormack sometimes participate in practices so they'll have enough "players" to complete certain drills.
The Vikings this season have been the little (school of) fish in a considerably larger pond.
And to that they say: So?
"We've turned a weakness into a strength," senior Carly Comitino said. "We don't have depth, so practices are more intense and productive. Everyone is doing something and involved in every aspect, so there's no down time; no wasted time."
North Shore wasted no time proving it could overcome that disadvantage. The Vikings went 10-5 (6-3 in Nassau Conference I), earning the fourth seed in this week's playoffs.
Comitino (60 points) and Carlee Janelli (42) lead the offense, which is bolstered by Meaghan Brennan, Kelly Johansen and Lauren Cristodero. And the emergence of Alexandra Cantwell, Ali Biolsi and Samantha Capobianco (122 saves) elevated the defense, which has held 11 opponents to single digits. Last season, they accomplished that feat only five times.
"We learned a lot from last year," Janelli said. "We made our mistakes and figured out what we needed to improve and optimize."
With only 15 players on the active roster and 2-3 games each week during the regular season, the starters have little time to rest, which means the tempo and demands in practice vary. McCormack, Comitino said, "can go from drill sergeant to cute and nice, and then [vice versa.]"
The Vikings' success within the conference, including a 10-9 win over defending Class A state champ Farmingdale, is in stark (and somewhat surprising) contrast to last season. Nassau, last year, established a "power league," which grouped the county's 10 best teams, regardless of school size. North Shore went 2-7. Each of the teams in Conference I get an automatic playoff berth in their respective class, so the Vikings, despite their regular season, cruised to a third consecutive "C" title. This year . . .
"Seven of the 10 teams in the conference are B schools, so our record did matter and we considered those must-win games," Butt said. "That sense of urgency brought a different attitude and it's been a huge factor in our success."
It's been enough to offset the graduation of their leading scorer and goalie, and from that, this group has gained confidence. Through the realization that "we had big shoes to fill," Janelli said, "each person has stepped up and we've relied on each other more and functioned as a team."
"I always tell the girls to look ahead and not think about the past," Butt said. "But we bring it up like, ‘Look what you’ve done. You can play with anyone.’ Then they make fun of me and say, ‘We thought you to told us to not look at the past.'"
Looking ahead, the road before them becomes more difficult, of course. The teams seeded above the Vikings in Class B (Manhasset, Garden City and Wantagh) are each ranked in the national top 50, forming a figurative gauntlet to a possible championship.
And to that they say:
"We know it'll be challenging," Comitino said. "But we also know anyone can be beaten and anything can be overcome."