Battle of the Easts: Smithtown lacrosse bulls down Islip

Battle of the Easts: Smithtown lacrosse bulls down Islip

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Brian Willetts moves the ball around the cage in the Suffolk County Class A championship game against West Islip last season. File photo by Bill Landon

The Bulls have come charging out of the gate.

The Smithtown East boys’ lacrosse team proved it’s still a force to be reckoned with, dominating its season-opening, nonleague game against East Islip Tuesday, 17-6.

Last season, the Bulls went 16-4 overall, 12-2 in Division I and nabbed the school’s first Suffolk County Class A boys’ lacrosse championship; and as the team’s motto says, the Bulls are hungry for more.

“We had great leadership, we had a really close team, everyone was there for each other and it shows that we may not have had the best players in the league last year,” senior midfielder John Daniggelis said. “But we definitely had the best team, and we worked as one, which allowed us to get to the county championship, win it, and then move on to the Long Island championship.”

Despite graduating 16 seniors off the roster, many of the team’s key playmakers have returned, especially on offense. Daniggelis said five out of six starters are back this season and they possess a lot of firepower.

“We have kids that are experienced, which is something that you can’t teach on the varsity level,” he said. “We know that our offense can be very explosive and can put up a large sum of goals, and the big key is going to be on defense. We’re really buckling down and focusing and paying attention to detail so that we can hold teams to a low score.”

This vision came to fruition Tuesday as the team scored nine straight goals in the first quarter before East Islip scored its first, which helped many Bulls see playing time. Senior goalkeeper Sean Turner, who is starting between the pipes for the first time this season, made three saves and only let up the one goal before he was taken out.

“[He] played a great game,” senior attack Brian Willetts said of Turner. “The defense was busy today and it was nice to see them come together and work together, but offensively we moved the ball great, we won faceoffs — it was a great overall game and a great team win.”

John Daniggelis maintains possession in a game against Northport last season. File photo by Bill Landon
John Daniggelis maintains possession in a game against Northport last season. File photo by Bill Landon

Junior midfielder Gerard Arceri, known for dominating at the “X,” combined with sophomores Steven Cuccurullo and Brian Herber to win 20 out of 23 faceoffs in the game.

“He was phenomenal least year,” Smithtown East head coach Jason Lambert said of Arceri. “We’re pretty fortunate that right now we have three kids that take faceoffs for us that are committed to play Division I already, which is very rare and we’re very lucky, so we feel most confident, as far as having the most depth on our team, at the faceoff ‘X.'”

The team said it remains confident on offense, and it showed. Willetts, an offensive co-captain, scored five goals and added an assist in the game; junior attack Dan Rooney added two goals and four assists; sophomore midfielder Connor Desimone tacked on two goals and two assists; and Daniggelis, the second offensive co-captain, finished with two goals.

And on defense, the Bulls said they thought they needed the most work on the back end of the field. But that didn’t seem apparent during the game.

“We have new defenseman coming in, [seniors] Ryan O’Connor, Cole Valinoti, and [sophomore] Sean Yorke, who can hold down the fort and are all good defenseman,” senior defenseman and Smithtown East’s final co-captain, James Sarrocco, said. “We couldn’t get outside the first few days of practice and we had to be in the gym, which was kind if tough, but once we got outside, we were rolling right from the beginning and it carried over into the first game.”

Willetts, a four-year varsity starter, said the offense has been clicking, while being unselfish and sharing the ball, and even some young, skilled players have stepped up to help out, while the seniors continue to lead the way.

Daniggelis, another four-year varsity starter, said he thinks this senior leadership is important to the Smithtown East program.

“Being on the team for four years you get to see players come and go, and if you can take one lesson from each guy, you can instill it in these younger guys and hope they can take one thing from you,” he said. “Our thing has always been leaving the program better than you found it. So when I was a sophomore, we went to the semifinals, and last year’s seniors were able to take us to the county championship and Long Island championship, and I think our team has the full intention to go farther than that this year, leave the program better than we found it, and hopefully make a run in the playoffs.”

With the league structure changing, the Bulls will still go up against some stiff competition, and Lambert has also set up a tough nonleague schedule against teams like Locust Valley, Greenwich and Bronxville, to keep the playing level high. But according to the boys, one of its biggest tests will come in the form of Half Hollow Hills West on Friday at home at 4:30 p.m., against a team that returns 24 seniors.

“If we keep our heads down, if we keep our nose clean, if we just strive to push each other and get better in practice each day, everything else will take care of itself in the end,” Lambert said. “It worked well for us last year, so if we keep working hard, when the dust settles, we want to make sure that we put ourselves in a good position to be one of the few teams left standing in the end.”