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Erica Shea

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Mustangs' suffocating defense holds off Skaneateles, while offense racks up 12 goals in win, to prove these girls are just as strong as those on last season's squad

By Adrian Szkolar

Even though Saturday was her birthday, Hannah Van Middelem was focused on other things.

The Mount Sinai junior goalkeeper’s mindset was instead the same as her teammates’, and all they were thinking was: officially prove the many doubters wrong with the last game of the season.

Playing against Section III’s Skaneateles in the Class C state final at SUNY Cortland, the Mustangs played their usual strong defensive game, shutting down the Lakers’ offense on their way to a 12-3 win and second consecutive state title.

Mission accomplished.

“We just wanted to come out, play as a team and win,” said Van Middelem, who made five saves and was named the tournament’s MVP after the game. “No one ever picked us to win any games. We just wanted to prove everyone wrong.”

All in all, the MVP award and the state title were pretty good birthday gifts.

“It’s special to me, but really my defense helped me win it,” she said. “We communicated with each other and listened to each other. We just played a great team game today.”

After graduating seven players from last year’s state title-winning team, including last year’s state tournament MVP in Kasey Mitchell, few gave Mount Sinai the thought of being able to repeat.

To start, the team’s younger players had to step up to fill the void on offense, and the team would have to improve defensively.

“People doubted us all year, and rightly so, but it’s a testament to our program that our kids have been able to step up and fill the breach,” Mount Sinai head coach Al Bertolone said. “We didn’t rebuild, we re-loaded. We pushed them all year, and they accepted the challenge and every week, we kept getting better.”

The improvement the team made since the start the season was especially evident against Skaneateles.

After Mount Sinai senior midfielder Caroline Hoeg and Skaneateles’ Abby Kuhns exchanged goals to start the game, the Mustangs opened the floodgates.

First came a goal from senior midfielder Erica Shea, who took a feed from Hoeg in front while unmarked and easily finished at the 13:22 mark.

Then there was a goal from sophomore Camryn Harloff. Then senior Meghan Walker. Then junior Leah Nonnenmann. Then sophomore Meaghan Tyrrell.

The Mustangs went into halftime with a 6-1 lead, with six different goal scorers.

“From the beginning, we knew we had to come out strong because [Skaneateles] wasn’t going to let up,” said Shea, who is also the team’s primary draw taker. “We had to come out of the box roaring, and that’s what we did.”

Harloff, an attack, and junior midfielder Rayna Sabella tacked on two more goals to start the second half to put the game out of reach.

Tyrrell, an attack, finished with three goals for the second straight game, and added an assist. Shea also had three goals, Harloff netted two goals and an assist, and Hoeg contributed a goal and an assist.

While Mount Sinai, which came into the game ranked third in Class C in the New York State Sportswriters’ Association rankings, and was the favorite coming into the finals, that was far from the case back at the start of the playoffs.

Most observers saw Bayport-Blue Point, an unbeaten team featuring All-American Kerrigan Miller, along with Nassau County’s Cold Spring Harbor, a team with wins against bigger lacrosse powerhouses such as Garden City and Rockland County’s Suffern, as the favorites for the state title.

Back in April, the Mustangs were dismantled by Bayport-Blue Point in a 10-2 loss.

“When you have adversity in your season, it can either galvanize and make you stronger or break you up,” Bertolone said. “It made us stronger. We believe in pressure defense, and our kids bought into it.”

A month later, the Mustangs turned heads by shocking Bayport-Blue Point in the county final, and followed that up with an upset over Cold Spring Harbor in the Long Island championship to get back to Cortland.

After that, the road to the championship was paved. Before Saturday’s game, the Mustangs got a comfortable 10-3 win over Section V’s Honeoye Falls-Lima in Friday’s state semifinals.

“It feels good to be the underdog and come out on top,” Shea said. “This year, it’s really special; no one believed in us, and we proved people wrong, from counties all the way to here. And now we’re state champs.”

After Saturday’s game, Van Middelem said that the team’s celebration of the title win, her birthday and proving the non-believers her team could remain its own powerhouse, would be relatively low-key.

“We’ll just have a fun bus ride home,” she said.

A fine way to celebrate proving the critics wrong.

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Mustangs win second consecutive Long Island title with 7-5 win over Cold Spring Harbor

Senior midfielder Erica Shea crouched along the sideline below the stands and whispered as she pulled up her hands to pray.

“Let’s go,” she shouted, after stepping out onto the field and clicking her stick against those of her teammates. “Can’t lose,” she and her team said as they exited the huddle before the start of the game.

Her prayers were answered or maybe not even needed, but either way she’s right — her Mount Sinai girls’ lacrosse team can’t lose. The Mustangs played a man down for the last 10 minutes of the game and, despite letting up three goals in that span, still came away with the Long Island Class C championship title with a 7-5 win over Cold Spring Harbor on June 5 at Stony Brook University.

The team proved that defense still wins championships.

“We’re always defense first,” head coach Al Bertolone said. “We have a very strong nonleague schedule — we were in a lot of tough games. Our kids learned how to play gritty and tough in these moments.”

Mount Sinai scored three goals to open the first half. Immediately following a Hannah Van Middelem save just minutes into the game, sophomore attack Camryn Harloff scored first after carrying the ball down the back side of the field for a goal. Senior midfielder Caroline Hoeg scored off a Shea feed minutes later, and junior attack and midfielder Leah Nonnenmann tacked on the third unassisted with 18:35 still left in the first half.

After a brief hiccup in which the senior goalkeeper let up a rare goal, senior attack and midfielder Meghan Walker dumped the ball in up front off a pass from Nonnenmann, after the junior couldn’t squeeze past defenders, pulled back and saw the open look for Walker.

Next, junior midfielder Rayna Sabella took the ball from the left side of the goal and passed it up to Harloff on the far right post. She sent the ball flying into the netting for a 5-1 advantage.

“We knew that [Cold Spring Harbor] wanted to come out and crush us because last year they lost to us in triple overtime,” Harloff said. “So we knew we had to come out stronger and have that intensity to beat them.”

Sabella added a free position goal to extend the lead to 6-2, but Cold Spring Harbor was able to pull apart the defense just for a brief moment to draw within 6-3 after a good goal.

“We game-planned pretty well — on defense we knew their personnel and we knew who we had to stay strong on at all times,” Sabella said. “Throughout this season we’ve been known as a ‘second-half team,’ so we knew in order to win we’d have to pick it up in the first half and keep that momentum throughout.”

Shea added to the offensive onslaught when she pressed against the defense and sent a buzzer-beating shot rocketing into the cage to end the half.

“We knew we had to give 100 percent the entire time because we knew they weren’t going to give us any let-ups,” she said. “We had to go full throttle.”

The second half started slower, and Mount Sinai found itself plagued with yellow cards, being down a player for two minutes at a time on several occasions through the 25 minutes. Cold Spring Harbor scored two goals but calm is contagious, according to Bertolone.

“We were poised and we pulled it out,” he said.

The Mount Sinai team had graduated a significant amount of talent following last year, and had its fair share of doubters heading into this season.

“No one thought we could do it, but we thought we could,” Harloff said. “We believed in ourselves. No one thought we would get here and it feels great to prove them all wrong.”

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“We wanted to prove everyone wrong that doubted us, and we did.”

That’s what Mount Sinai junior goalkeeper Hannah Van Middelem had to say following her Mustangs’ 6-5 win over previously undefeated Bayport-Blue Point Tuesday, which earned the girls’ lacrosse team the Suffolk County Class C title.

Van Middelem came up with nine key saves to help her team to victory.

“I felt really confident because my defense was channeling outside shots, which helped me,” she said. “Our defense played great and the draw circle was amazing. We got almost every single ground ball.”

Van Middelem made her first save of the game just 30 seconds into the contest and senior attack Rebecca Lynch made the first goal off a free position shot. A Bayport-Blue Point yellow card left the team down a player, and sophomore attack Camryn Harloff took advantage of the penalty when she scored off an assist by junior attack and midfielder Leah Nonnenmann.

“We kept cool, calm and collected and took it like every other day,” Nonnenmann said. “We did our work, we adjusted to everything we needed to, we did it all. Communication was key and never letting our heads go down, no matter what.”

After Bayport-Blue Point’s Kerrigan Miller scored to cut the deficit, she forced a turnover, and a yellow card on a slash left Mount Sinai down one for two minutes.

Despite missing a player, Van Middelem wouldn’t let up the lead that easily, batting away a free position shot before Kelsi Lonigro evened it up for Bayport with 12:49 left in the half.

With 8:28 left, Bayport scored again, but a penalty prior to waved off the goal. Harloff attempted the next shot, but the ball bounced off the right post. Less than a minute later, senior midfielder Caroline Hoeg scored on a free position shot to give the Mustangs a 3-2 lead.

“It was all intensity,” she said. “We all knew what we had to do, we game-planned amazing, our coaches were on top of everything we had to do to beat them and we came out here and that’s exactly what we did.”

But Miller and Lonigro, two of the Phantoms’ strongest players, also weren’t going to go down without a fight. They scored back-to-back goals to give their team a 4-3 advantage heading into the halftime break.

“It’s a very intense rivalry, but it’s a good rivalry,” Mount Sinai head coach Al Bertolone said. “I’ve had great wins, and this is probably one of the best. We had a tough nonleague schedule, we lost to them straight-up the first time and we did some different things this time and the goalie played great. She’s an All-American type, which is what you need.”

Hoeg said despite the lead loss, her teammates knew to keep their heads in the game.

“Once they got the lead, we were a little down, but we knew we had to pick it right back up and come out here hard and do what we do,” she said.

Harloff had a shot saved to open the second half and Van Middelem made two straight saves, her second of which led to a Mustangs goal. After she passed the ball to Harloff, the ball was carried up to the front of the cage, where it was passed to junior midfielder and attack Rayna Sabella, who scored the tying goal.

Nonnenmann, trying to get a goal all afternoon, finally hit her mark when she swiveled around defenders in front of the cage and dumped in the go-ahead goal.

“I was a little off the first couple of tries and I was getting in my head, but I cleared everyone out, played my game and I finally pulled it out,” she said. “We’ve been working so hard and the hours and hours of practice we put into it was all for this.”

With 4:53 left to play, sophomore attack Meaghan Tyrrell passed the ball to Hoeg from 15 yards out, and a good goal gave the team a 6-4 advantage, despite Bayport’s defense being tough to penetrate.

“Once we got the lead, we knew it was ours,” Hoeg said. “From the huddles to the girls on the sideline, everyone cheering, we knew it was ours and we weren’t going to let it slip away.”

Bayport then wound up with the ball. The first of several free position shots was high and Van Middelem tipped the second away and made a save on the third to keep the game in the Mustangs’ favor.

Mount Sinai mostly maintained possession thereafter, but the stifling Phantoms defense forced a turnover that led to a breakaway goal with 41.6 seconds left to play.

Another Bayport yellow card left the Mustangs in control, and Tyrrell held onto the ball until the clock expired.

“This one is special,” Bertolone said. “We battled adversity, we did everything right. We’re young in some spots, but a lot of those kids were on the field last year. Hoeg played very well, she was tough all day, [senior midfielder Erica] Shea has been excellent all year. The kids really stepped up and came through for us.”

After losing to Bayport 10-2 in the regular season, and after a goal with one second left in the game gave the Mustangs a 10-9 win over Shoreham-Wading River in the semifinals, the girls now know anything is possible. Mount Sinai, at 15-3, has won eight straight games and looks to take the streak all the way back to the state finals, which the team won last season.

Mount Sinai faces Cold Spring Harbor in the Long Island championship on June 5 at 2:30 p.m. at a location still yet to be decided.

“This game helps us going forward,” Van Middelem said. “We felt really confident — we just believed in ourselves. We still feel confident. We can take it all the way.”

Mustangs score five unanswered goals in second half to secure 6-5 win over Shoreham

Mount Sinai teammates huddle around Meaghan Tyrrell after she scores what would be the game-winning goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Mount Sinai’s motto this season has been “proving people wrong.”

And again, the girls’ lacrosse team did just that. Despite being down 5-1 at halftime, the Mustangs rallied back to score five unanswered goals en route to a 6-5 win over Shoreham-Wading River in the game’s final minutes Monday.

Mount Sinai's Caroline Hoeg scores over Shoreham's Sophia Triandafils. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinai’s Caroline Hoeg scores over Shoreham’s Sophia Triandafils. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It was a great turnaround,” Mount Sinai head coach Al Bertolone said. “Everything that you wanted to have happen in the first half happened in the second half. It was the way I thought we could play.”

But the girls came out flat.

While the Mustangs had trouble getting started, the Wildcats were off to the races. Isabella Meli and Erin Triandafils tacked on two goals each, and Mikayla Dwyer scored once while Jesse Arline assisted twice, to put Shoreham up 5-0.

With 3:28 left in the first half, Mount Sinai senior midfielder Caroline Hoeg dodged opponents as she made her way up the middle and scored unassisted to break the ice for her team.

“I think we started off rocky, but we came out at halftime and knew what we had to do,” she said. “Everyone knew they had to play for the girl next to them and we played our hearts out.”

Mount Sinai's Camryn Harloff reaches between Shoreham defenders for the loss ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinai’s Camryn Harloff reaches between Shoreham defenders for the loss ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Hoeg helped win possession off the draw to open the second, and from the left side of the cage, passed to junior midfielder Lisa Nonnenmann who scored through traffic up top.

“It’s a gut-check time,” Bertolone said of his team being down. “I told them, ‘are we just going to let someone come in and push us around? Are we going to respond?’ And they did.”

At the 11:12 mark, sophomore attack Meaghan Tyrrell took matters into her own hands when she swiveled around the back of the cage and fired a shot across the front of the net to the far left side. Minutes later, she passed the ball to Hoeg up the middle, who beat out defenders and bounced in a shot that close the gap, 5-4.

“At halftime, our coach was pep-talking us and our captains were great,” she said. “When we came out we knew we had to win the draws to come back, so that was our motive.”

Bertolone called for a timeout and before sending his team back onto the field, the girls shouted “heart,” and continued to play with a lot of it.

The Mustangs won possession off the next draw, and although Nonnenmann had a free position shot soon after, she failed to capitalize. At 3:50, she got another shot, and made it count, tying the game 5-5.

Mount Sinai's Erica Shea makes her way around Shoreham's Isabella Cortes. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinai’s Erica Shea makes her way around Shoreham’s Isabella Cortes. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It was nerve-wracking but we’ve been working really hard this season and it was just great to get out there after we dug ourselves into a little bit of a hole to really work all together, settle the ball and pull it out,” she said. “I think we practice more than anyone else around, we get down to business and it helps us get the job done.”

With 2:06 left on the clock, the Mustangs proved that hard work pays off. From outside, Hoeg passed to Tyrrell at the front of the net, who bounced a shot into the open right side after a goalkeeper misstep, for the 6-5 lead.

“Caroline knew I was open, she knew that was the play, and I saw the goalie’s stick come out and I thought she was going to save it, but I got in there, went around her and shot,” she said. “It was very nerve-racking, but it also felt really great.”

Bertolone called for another timeout, and told his team, “You don’t want to lose this after coming all the way back. We need to win this draw.”

The Mustangs won the draw, and despite turning the ball over, forced a turnover and held the ball until time expired.

Mount Sinais' Leah Nonnenmann makes her way to the cage ahead of Shoreham's Erin Triandafils and Megan Daly. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinais’ Leah Nonnenmann makes her way to the cage ahead of Shoreham’s Erin Triandafils and Megan Daly. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The 2015 state championship-winning team is hoping to get back to Cortland this year, and the team’s resiliency may take them there.

“We practice for days like this,” Hoeg said. “This is what we have to do if we want to get to the next level and we want to get back upstate. We knew that we all had to come together and show people that we can come back from losing our top players and prove people wrong. That was the motto this year — coming out and doing what people think we cant.”