St. Anthony's Megan Kenny (2) gets around Manhassett's Caitlin Barrett...

St. Anthony's Megan Kenny (2) gets around Manhassett's Caitlin Barrett (22) and scores in the first half during a girls lacrosse game between St. Anthony's and Manhasset on Thursday May, 11 2023. Credit: Bob Sorensen

What more could you ask for as a final test before the playoffs than a matchup against a defending state champion? Thursday was a rare occasion when both teams on the field could make that claim about one another.

 And the game lived up to that bar as host St. Anthony’s defeated Manhasset, 11-9, in non-league girls lacrosse on Thursday evening. The Friars utilized a 7-0 run after falling behind 4-1 early to fuel the victory.

 “These are what you want at the end of the season,” St. Anthony’s coach Summer Koepplin said. “I love playing them, we play them every year. They are a great team, great program and it gives us something really aggressive to work toward at the end of the season.”

 St. Anthony’s is the three-time defending state CHSAA Class AA champion and Manhasset won the state Class C championship last spring.

 The Friars utilized a balanced scoring attack with four players finishing two goals as the team’s high scorers. Tess Calabria, Megan Kenny, Brooke Lang and Kate Licciardi each had two goals for St. Anthony’s (14-2).

 “We like to move the ball quickly and see what’s open,” said Licciardi, who also had two assists. “I think because we do have seven strong players on offense, it’s hard to scout us. If you faceguard one, the rest of us are going to perform so I think because we whip the ball around so well, it can be tough for the defense.”

 Manhasset (6-6) scored the game’s first three goals and opened a 4-1 lead with 16:45 left in the first half. But St. Anthony’s closed the first half on a 4-0 scoring run with Jillian Lopez’s free-position goal giving the Friars a 5-4 lead with 7:24 left. Koepplin said the key to that scoring run was just getting her team to relax.

 “I think in intense games like this, you always get to a point where you’re like ‘I have to make an All-American pass’ and it doesn’t have to be like that,” Koepplin said. “You don’t have to make a SportsCenter play.”

 St. Anthony’s carried that momentum into the second half and took an 8-4 lead with 19:03 left after scoring seven straight goals. Mia LoPinto had three goals and Caitlin Barrett added two goals for Manhasset.

 Next up for the Friars, a chance for their fourth straight state CHSAA title. This year’s team wants to continue the legacy the prior ones left. 

 “It’s physically palpable at practice how bad we want this four-peat,” said Shae Lembo, who made five saves. “We don’t want anyone else even having the idea they can take that from us.”

Both teams will begin the quest to defend their league, county and state titles next week. St. Anthony’s, the top seed in the CHSAA, hosts the winner of No. 5 St. John the Baptist/No. 4 Kellenberg in the CHSAA Class AA semifinals Monday at 5:30 p.m. The Nassau Class C playoffs begin Tuesday.

 “Especially coming off a win like this, it just gives us that extra confidence boost to perform as well as we can in the playoffs,” Lembo said. “This amps us up for everything that’s going to come in the next two games.”

Manhasset coach Meghan Clarke also feels the opportunity to play another strong team like St. Anthony’s right before the playoffs allows her team one more chance to improve before the playoffs.

“To play and match up against St. Anthony’s right before we go to our second season, so to speak, is super important,” Clarke said. “They play a high-pressure defense which is good for our offense and to see what adjustments we need to make leading into our second season is crucial.”

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