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SportsHigh SchoolGirls Lacrosse

State tournament was Shark weekend

Eastport-South Manor players celebrate at the final whistle

Eastport-South Manor players celebrate at the final whistle of the NYSPHSAA Class B girls lacrosse final at SUNY-Cortland on Saturday, June 6, 2015. Eastport-South Manor won the Class B title with a 15-8 win over Somers. Photo Credit: Adrian Kraus

Just a few hours before the state semifinal, Eastport-South Manor captains Samantha Giacolone and Kaeli Huff joined coach Becky Thorn and assistant Brie-Claire Drost in Thorn's hotel room in Cortland.

The quartet talked for around 90 minutes. It started as a discussion about their game plan for Watertown before becoming a breakdown of ESM's entire season, and how special the ride had been. Eventually, it evolved into a talk about how much they had all grown together.

Soon, everything came into focus.

"We had a chance to put Eastport-South Manor on the map," Giacolone said. "To prove to everyone that we were a great team. We had a chance to take a really big step as a program. My mind was just set on bringing that plaque home.

"At that point, I just wanted to play. I hated waiting."

Giacolone and Huff emerged from the hotel room confident, determined, focused, and the rest of the team took note. Yes, these Sharks were in unfamiliar waters -- the team had won the county tournament two of the last three seasons, but with its one-goal victory over Wantagh in the Long Island final, ESM had punched its ticket to the state tournament for the first time.

With two All-Americans in Giacolone and Huff leading the way, there was no slowing the Sharks down. Their confidence was infectious.

"It's been an honor to playing alongside them," said eighth-grader Kasey Choma, who scored four goals during the two-day state tournament.

Facing off against Watertown in the state semi, the Sharks raced off to a 5-0 lead before winning by seven. In the Class B final against Somers, ESM led 4-0 before topping Somers, 15-8 -- thanks in large part to Huff's season-high six goals -- to claim its first state title.

Sophomore Kelsey Huff, younger sister to junior Kaeli, had five goals during the state tournament. Sophomore Kaitlyn Dowsett had four goals and three assists, and junior Laura Kesnig had a goal and four assists. "We wanted to set the tone in each game, and I think we executed that pretty well," Thorn said. "Our big players stepped up early."

The approach was nothing new for the Sharks (19-3), who often looked to the behavior of their leaders in big moments.

The culture was born when Giacolone arrived. When she played in her first game as a seventh-grader back in 2010, her mother, Theresa, sent her a text message: "Be Fearless." So for her 18th birthday, Giacolone tattooed those words on her wrist, and they've been guiding her -- and the Sharks -- ever since.

"With the group of girls I had in front of me," Giacolone said, "I had all the confidence in the world."

Giacolone, who is a member of Team USA's Under-19 squad and is headed to Notre Dame, had 182 saves this season. Her graduation marks the end of an era at Eastport-South Manor, but her legacy will live on in the teammates she had a profound impact on. "Sam will be gone next year, but she's taught us to be fearless," Kaeli Huff said. "We'll carry that with us."

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