Nearly three-quarters of the way through its season, West Islip was its own biggest enemy in a game against Bay Shore. Teammates yelling at each other on the field, hands thrown up in the air in frustration -- not exactly the demeanor you'd expect from a championship-bound team.
"It was one of the times when you knew you had hit your lowest point," junior All-American Vanessa Costantino said. "Bay Shore's a really great team, but we knew we could play better than we did. We crumbled."
That game proved to be the turning point.
After the Lions eked out a one-goal win, they went into the locker room and cleared the air.
"From Bay Shore on, I think everyone got this feeling like, 'We could do this, but we're not going to be able to do it if we don't come together as a group,' " coach Joe Nicolosi said. "We had to come together."
Down the season's final stretch, West Islip operated with machine-like efficiency and cohesiveness. In hindsight, the bitterness endured during the Bay Shore game made the celebration following the team's 10-9 win over Suffern in the Class A championship even sweeter.
"It honestly feels amazing representing this town," said junior attacker Emily Piciullo, who scored four goals to help the Lions win their first state crown. "Being a part of this team was incredible and we wouldn't have made it without each other pushing ourselves at practice every day."
The source of West Islip's success can be traced right back to its practices, each of which began with a mile-long sprint. Nicolosi's strict conditioning regiment bred a group of players who would never be the more exhausted team.
Entering the Suffolk title game against previously undefeated Middle Country, West Islip (19-3) was branded an underdog. But by the time the second overtime started, Middle Country appeared visibly tired -- players had their hands on their hips and knees. The Lions, meanwhile, looked ready for another mile sprint.
That was a big factor the rest of the way. In the state championship against Suffern, the entire second half of the seesaw match was a battle of adrenaline -- one West Islip knew it wouldn't lose.
"Even though we all dreaded those four laps every day, they were the reason we are state champs," said senior attacker Lena Riportella said, who scored the winner with 2:07 left. "The adrenaline through that game was insane, but we were ready for it."
Coming into the season, few believed West Islip could do this. They had lost six starters from the previous year's state runner-up team, including reigning Suffolk player of the year Lindsay Darrell. In the state semifinal, the Lions had to go through West Genesee, which knocked them off in last year's state final.
But, as it was proved many times this season, adversity was West Islip's biggest weapon.
"How do you overcome adversity? Together. It can't just be one person," Costantino said. "After that Bay Shore game, after we talked it over, we said, 'Here's our time. Let's overcome it.' We knew if we kept pushing one another, we would succeed."