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Jamie Ortega

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Jamie Ortega, a former lacrosse player at Middle Country, playing for University of North Carolina this spring. Photo from University of North Carolina

By Desirée Keegan

University of North Carolina standout Jamie Ortega wanted to live up to the hype after being named Inside Lacrosse’s No. 1-ranked freshman attacker, and she did just that with a record-breaking first season with a Tar Heels team that reached the NCAA semifinals.

Jamie Ortega’s
2018 headshot for the
University of North Carolina. Photo from University of North Carolina

The Centereach native was tabbed National Rookie of the Year as well by the lacrosse-centric publication, and Freshman of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, navigating her way to be the top goal-scorer on a deep North Carolina offense. She shot 57.4 percent for 70 goals and added 16 assists while starting in all 18 games, scoring multiple goals in each of the Tar Heels’ final 14 contests, including 12 in a three-game span in the NCAA tournament. Her 86 points broke UNC’s single-season record while she led all ACC rookies and ranked fourth overall in the conference. Her 70 goals also broke a 2008 record (50) for most goals scored by a freshman in a season, ranked second overall in the ACC and tied for 11th in Division I.

“She’s a tremendous talent,” 23-year North Carolina head coach Jenny Levy said. “[Myself and my coaching staff] have done this for a long time, and when you see ‘It’, you see it. She really has multiple weapons — she can dodge, feed and play off-ball — and she’s done that for a long time. She’s had the most tremendous freshman year we’ve ever had.”

Levy, who is considered among the best coaches in women’s lacrosse history, ranking third in NCAA Division I history in career wins and is a two-time national champion and a two-time National Coach of the Year, said she challenged Ortega to perform at a high level after UNC graduated a huge class of seniors. She said she hadn’t put that type of pressure on a freshman in a long time, and said she thought Ortega responded.

“I wasn’t really expecting being ranked the top recruit in the nation, and it did make me nervous because I felt like I had to live up to that expectation, but it also made me want to work harder, because I wanted to prove I was the No. 1 lacrosse recruit in the nation,” said Ortega, who was also named to the Inside Lacrosse ILWomen All-Rookie Team and All-America third team. “Being named the Rookie of the Year means a lot to me because it showed that through college — which is really hard, because it’s not like high school, everyone’s good — I can still stand out.”

She credited her teammates, like Marie McCool, a decorated player in her own right, for pushing her to become better, and giving her opportunities to succeed.

McCool said Ortega proved she was a force all her own, especially after the freshman recorded her 15th goal of the conference tournament, which broke a North Carolina record set by attacker Molly Hendrick the season prior.

“I don’t let things get to me. I feel I can push through adversities and the challenges defenders face me with.”

— Jamie Ortega

“Jamie Ortega is a special player,” McCool told The Daily Tar Heel. “She’s only a freshman and the confidence that she plays with — you don’t see it often with freshmen.”

Ortega played her best lacrosse the second half of the season. She scored a career-high seven goals and closed out a 10-0 first-half run in a 20-10 win against Duke University April 21. The performance was one goal shy of the UNC single-game record set in 2002.

Ortega grew accustomed to the spotlight in high school, having experienced facing double-teams throughout her six years on her Middle Country high school team, which she led to its first Suffolk County title and state championship game in 2017. Even a switch from midfield to attack couldn’t slow her down this season.

“It just comes so natural to her, playing the game how it is supposed to be played,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “Jamie did an awesome job on defense and offense for us. She definitely led the team in that aspect.”

Her senior year she tallied 98 goals and 45 assists and finished as New York state’s all-time leader in points with 588 (402 goals and 186 assists). She was also a five-year varsity starter and two-time all-county pick on Centereach High School’s soccer team.

Jamie Ortega reverses in front of the cage during a 2017 Middle Country lacrosse game. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’m a pretty confident person,” Ortega said. “I think that’s really important for other players to have. I don’t let things get to me. I feel I can push through adversities and the challenges defenders face me with.”

Through all her triumphs she also had some unique experiences as a Tar Heel, like when she faced her older sister Nikki, an attack for the University of Notre Dame. The sisters scored unassisted and back-to-back for the first goals for each of their teams in UNC’s come-from-behind win.

“It was stressful, because you want them both to win,” their mother Susan said, laughing. “I’m so proud of them, and one thing with Jamie is she’s always trying to get better and her hard work really paid off. Jamie is the most humble kid you’re ever going to meet. She doesn’t talk about herself, she doesn’t watch herself, and I think that makes it even more impressive to me because she’s all about the game and playing, and playing with her team, and having fun doing it.”

Jamie Ortega also had the chance to play minutes from her home when Stony Brook University hosted the NCAA playoffs for North Carolina, which made its 10th appearance in the NCAA tournament semifinals, including seven in the last 10 years. She had four goals and one assist in the team’s final appearance of 2018 against James Madison University, earning All-NCAA Tournament Team honors.

If that all wasn’t enough, Ortega is giving back to a sport that’s given so much to her.

She worked a camp called Top of the Class at Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts with her assistant coach Phil Barnes, who runs it with Harvard University head coach Devon Wills. Many Ivy League schools and coaches were there, along with six of her UNC teammates. She said working with the freshman to junior players felt natural.

“I didn’t feel like I was coaching — it felt like I was just hanging out with some lacrosse girls,” Ortega said. “This is definitely something I never expected, because I’m not one to brag, but being an idol to others really motivated you more. Lacrosse means everything to me, and to be able to play, and to still play at this level, making memories with my teammates, trying to succeed with them and giving back to others has been a privilege.”

By Desirée Keegan

Although North came out on the losing side, falling 16-15 to South July 1, Long Island athletes helped propel North to the first overtime game in Under Armour All-America girls’ lacrosse tournament history. The all-star game pits the best graduating high school lacrosse players in the country against each other every year.

Local lacrosse players Kelsey Huff, Sophia Triandafils, Emily Vengilio, Jamie Ortega, Shannon Kavanagh, Molly Carter and Hannah Van Middelem. Photo from Emily Vengilio

Mount Sinai’s Emily Vengilio and Hannah Van Middelem, Shoreham-Wading River’s Sophia Triandafils, Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega and Smithtown East’s Shannon Kavanagh were all local leaders chosen to play in the senior game.

“I was so excited when I got the call from Under Armour,” Triandafils said. “Long Island is one of the best areas for lacrosse. Everyone was so skilled and we all meshed together. This game was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve done involving lacrosse.”

The girls were treated like celebrities, being provided gear and getting their photos taken all weekend. Kavanagh was just excited to get out on the field one more time before traveling to the University of Florida.

“To have one last hoo-rah before heading off to college was the cherry on top of a great high school career,” she said.

University of North Carolina-bound Ortega and soon-to-be teammate Alli Mastroianni from New Jersey led North, which never trailed in the game, with three goals each. Kavanagh added a goal in the loss.

“We came out strong and really played fast and competitive, and didn’t stop fighting,” Ortega said. “I was happy with how I played and was even happier to add points to help our team compete against the South.”

Smithtown Easts Shannon Kavanagh carries the ball for North. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

Mastroianni opened the scoring and positioned herself for game MVP honors, finishing with three goals, two assists and four draw controls. North built its early lead, going on a 4-1 run and upping its cushion to 9-5 with six minutes left. The lead, however, was thanks in large part to goalie Riley Hertford’s nine saves in the first 30 minutes — one shy of the record for most in the girls’ Under Armour All-America game.

South twice had to come back from significant deficits; they trailed 11-7 at halftime but came out of the gates strong, scoring five of the first six goals in the second period to knot things at 12-12. North again built a significant lead, going up 15-12 with 10:19 remaining after a pair of free position shots and an unassisted goal.

North had two opportunities for a late game-winning goal after Mastroianni won the last draw of regulation. Kavanagh shot high with one minute remaining, then Vengilio, who is headed to Pennsylvania State University, picked up a ground ball with six seconds remaining, but the team couldn’t get a look at the cage.

“We moved the ball in transition nicely and everyone was looking for that one more pass — we had some pretty nice defensive stops,” Kavanagh said. “But everyone was so good, so it was so much fun to be able to play against such good competition. If I could do the whole thing over again I would in a heartbeat.”

Van Middelem made five stops for North in the second half.

Sophia Triandafils, Emily Vengilio, Kelsey Huff and Shannon Kavanagh lisen up during halftime. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

“We really got after it in the little time we had together,” she said. The team had three practices Friday before playing the game on Saturday. “It’s not hard to come together though when you have such talented lacrosse players playing together. I felt confident between the pipes knowing I had the top defenders in the country in front of me. It was an honor to be selected for such a prestigious event.”

Her Mount Sinai teammate was one of them, and Vengilio said she was glad to have shared the experience with her.

“It was really amazing to represent Long Island with all the girls I played Yellow Jackets with, and it was awesome that Hannah and I got to represent our hometown,” Vengilio said. “You’re out there playing with 44 of the best players in the country so obviously people are going to score goals and people are going to get stopped on defense. It was a great experience.”

Mount Sinai was the only school to have two players competing on the same team.

“With Mount Sinai being such a small spot on the map it’s great to be out there,” Vengilio said.

The win is just South’s fourth in the 12-year history of the game, and vengeance for North’s win last season.

“Lacrosse has meant the world to me since the day I picked up a stick for the first time,” Van Middelem said. “I have made lifelong friendships and memories from this sport.  It has helped me grow into the person I am today and has taught me so many life lessons. I couldn’t picture my life without lacrosse.”

The Under Armour 2017 senior girls lacrosse team representing the North contained a large amount of Long Island lacrosse players. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

Mad Dogs win program’s first state semifinal game, fall in overtime in Class A state final

The Middle Country girls lacrosse team at a banquet upstate following the team's first Class A state semifinal win. Photo from Amanda Masullo

It wasn’t the ending the Middle Country girls lacrosse team had hoped for, but the Mad Dogs returned from the trip upstate with a few more firsts for the program.

The team had already nabbed the elusive Suffolk County Class A title with a 13-3 win over Northport, and another first with a Long Island championship crown following a 10-9 edging of Massapequa.

As a result, the Mad Dogs had the opportunity to take their first trip upstate. In the semifinals against North Rockland, the team continued its magical run, and the Masullo twins led the way. Amanda scored six goals and Rachel had four goals and two assists in a decisive 20-7 win at SUNY-Cortland June 9.

Amanda Masullo. File photo by Bill Landon

“Helping my team win the semifinal game, and doing it along with my twin sister was a great experience, and it made me so proud of my team,” said Rachel Masullo, who added she knew she and her twin had to step up their game in the wake of Jamie Ortega and Ava Barry being face-guarded for much of the game. “Assisting my teammates is also a great feeling though, knowing that I was a part of our push forward on the field.”

She said she enjoyed sharing the moments she and her sister had together on the field, often assisting on each other’s goals.

“It’s easy for me and Amanda to connect on the field, because we’re always together and we know what each other is going to do,” Masullo said. “Making it this far with my team was what we’ve been striving for all these years, and to make it as a senior and to have my best friends by my side made it that much better.”

Amanda Masullo also had words regarding her sister.

“She’s the one that makes me work harder, and be better,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that.”

Although Ortega, the nation’s No. 1 lacrosse prospect who is bound for the University of South Carolina and also became New York’s all-time leading scorer during the Long Island championship win, was the main focus of the North Rockland defense, she still managed to make her presence felt, netting five goals and adding three assists. But the Masullos quickly put Middle Country ahead of North Rockland (18-3).

Rachel Masullo. File photo by Bill Landon

“We always have plays to get me open,” Ortega said of being heavily guarded. “Usually I can get out of them, so I’m pretty used to it by now.”

Consecutive goals from Amanda Masullo late in the first half pushed the lead to 8-1, including a score in which she picked up a ground ball and sprinted around nearly the entire defense for a close look at the cage. Then, when North Rockland threatened by closing the deficit to four goals at 9-5, Rachel Masullo scored twice to push the lead back to six.

Those two tallies started a run in which Middle Country scored 10 of the final 12 goals. Barry scored each of her three goals in that span. Her second goal gave Middle Country a 16-6 lead with 12:44 remaining, prompting the running clock that comes with a 10-goal advantage.

“Our defense was very strong this weekend,” Rachel Masullo said. “And Jamie, Ava and Jen [Barry, Ava’s younger sister] dominated on the draw, which made it that much easier.”

Following the win, Middle Country battled Pittsford, another team that had yet to win a state title. Ortega sent a rocket shot on a player-up situation for the equalizer late in the game, and won the ensuing draw for the Mad Dogs, who held on for a final shot, but Pittsford’s Michelle Messenger saved a skip-shot with four seconds left to ensure overtime. Middle Country ended up losing, 10-9, in overtime.

“The game’s never over until the buzzer goes off,” said Ortega, who had four goals and an assist and finished her varsity career with 588 points, more than any girls lacrosse player in state history. “We know how fast we can score a goal. It could be 10 seconds.”

Jamie Ortega. Photo by Bill Landon

The run to tie wouldn’t have been possible without the help of all of the Middle Country starters. Pittsford led 5-2 before a 5-0 run spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, bookended by Ortega goals that gave Middle Country a 7-5 lead. Ava Barry scored twice and assisted on both of Ortega’s goals — the second tied the game — and Sophie Alois, who scored the opening goal of the game, gave the Mad Dogs the lead for the second time, scoring the opening goal of the second half to bring the score to 6-5.

“I think it was a mood changer to score the opening goal of each half,” Alois said. “Our coach always says that energy is contagious, and today, my teammates all created an encouraging and energetic environment that everyone fed off of. I was just happy to add onto it.”

Alois said her team knew the pressure was on, and Pittsford answered with a 4-0 spurt of its own for the 9-7 lead that added extra weight back onto the Mad Dogs’ shoulders.

“We emphasized remaining calm, dodging and moving the ball quickly,” Alois said. “It’s easy to throw the ball away or rush a play when pressure is present. When I got the ball, I knew the importance of every possession. With this in mind, I made sure to fake my shot and place it to ensure a point for my team.”

Rachel Masullo fed Barry to pull within one, 9-8, and Ortega tied things up to force two three-minute overtime sessions. With the game still tied 9-9 at the end of the first three minutes, the teams switched sides, and a Pittsford (20-1) free position shot that was initially saved rolled in with 1:55 left to end the game.

Ava Barry. Photo by Bill Landon

“I think our mentality really helped spark a comeback,” Alois said. “Every timeout or stoppage of play, we all gave each other constant reminders that the game wasn’t over and that anything was possible. We kept playing until the final seconds.”

Following the final seconds, Ortega was still shaken up by the loss.

“I didn’t want my last game ever to represent Middle Country to end like that,” she said. “I just knew my team needed me and I needed to be there for them. Now that it’s over, it feels like a piece of me is gone, but I couldn’t be happier on how far we went and how hard we worked and pushed each other. These last few years have really been a journey.”

After the dust settled, Rachel Masullo said she thought some sloppy plays and minor mistakes contributed to the team’s collapse. Her sister said the team wasn’t used to battling against a tough defense, adding she was disappointed the team couldn’t pull through for who she thought really deserved it.

“No matter how much we were down, or how much time we had left, whether it be 10 minutes or two, our coaches never let us give up,” Amanda Masullo said. “The whole team not only wanted to win for each other, but for them, because they really deserve it. I’m just upset that we couldn’t pull through for them.”

Sophie Alois carries the ball to the crease. Photo by Bill Landon

Rachel Masullo said she thought the motivation and determination the team showed in battling back is what Middle Country athletics is all about, and she’s proud of how she’ll be leaving the program.

“This program has made me into not only a better lacrosse player, but a better person all around,” she said. “I won’t ever forget what this team has taught me these past five years, and I definitely made memories that will last a lifetime.”

Amanda Masullo said teams better continue to watch out for Middle Country.

“I’ve seen us go from the team who everyone knew they could beat, the team that would go crazy when we finally won a game, to the team who no other team wanted to play because they were afraid,” she said. “That’s something that amazes me, and thinking about it, it makes me realize that me and the other seniors have something to do with that. I’m grateful to have been able to play alongside these other amazing girls, and I will never forget how far we’ve come, and the history we made along the way.”

Middle Country’s Rachel Masullo hoists up her team’s new hardware after Middle Country outscored Northport 13-3 ofr the program’s first Suffolk County championship. Photo by Desirée Keegan

 

By Bill Landon

With 46 seconds left on the clock, it all came down to a single draw for Middle Country’s girls’ lacrosse team, which, leading 10-9, needed a crucial possession win to try and bring home the Mad Dogs’ first Long Island championship title in program history.

With Jennifer Barry taking the draw, her older sister Ava, a senior, said she spoke to her of the draw’s importance.

Jamie Ortegan drives to the goal. Photo by Bill Landon

“’You have to block everything out,’” Ava Barry said she told her sister. “’I told her, ‘you’re great at this, we’ve practiced this.’ She knew she had to get it, and she did.”

Senior Jamie Ortega was there to scoop up the ball, and with it, the school district’s first Long Island Class A title with a 10-9 win over Massapequa at Adelphi University June 4.

“It feels great — I’m so happy for them,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said of the win. “They grinded until the last second, and that’s what we needed them to do.”

It wasn’t the only title that Ortega grabbed Sunday.

The University of North Carolina-bound senior needed three points to become New York’s leading point-scorer. The nation’s top lacrosse recruit, who leads Suffolk County with 130 points off 89 goals and 41 assists, surpassed Northport’s Shannon Gilroy’s record of 570 points.

Ava Barry cuts up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

She did it fast, too, during Middle Country’s first three goals. First, she fed senior Amanda Masullo to tie the game, 1-1, and on a man-up advantage, passed to an open Sophie Alois, who found the back of the goal to retie the game 2-2. With the score knotted 3-3 after Ortega scored on an feed from senior Ava Barry, and her teammate returned the favor to help Ortega pass Gilroy and give Middle Country its first lead of the game. And Ortega didn’t stop there. She scored again as the Mad Dogs went on a 4-1 run to lead 7-4 at the break.

“When I beat the record it felt really nice, but winning that game was my biggest goal,” Ortega said. “Being recognized for my achievements makes me really proud, but the ride this entire team has been on has been one for the books.”

Barry scored on a cut, and fed Ortega her hat trick goal for a 9-4 lead to open the second half. Massapequa rattled off two unanswered goals before Ortega and Barry connected again.

That’s when things began to break down for Middle Country. The team wasn’t winning the draws, and the extra possessions led to a 5-0 Massapequa run.

“I was so nervous,” Barry said of the scoring streak. “We came out hard and we were racking up points, and then all of a sudden, we weren’t getting the draw like we were.”

She said she thinks her team lost focus, but said a timeout call settled the team down.

Rachel Masullo sends a shot toward the netting. Photo by Bill Landon

“We [started] to panic,” Ortega said. “We brought it in [during the timeout] and we knew we had to keep up our defense. We knew they could score again, and thankfully, we were able to hold them.”

Behind Ortega’s three goals and four assists, was Ava Barry with a hat trick and two assists. Alois netted two goals, and twin sisters Rachel and Amanda Masullo each scored once, with Rachel also feeding on a goal. Senior Emily Walsh made five saves between the pipes.

The Mad Dogs carry a potent offense into the state semifinal game June 9, where the Mad Dogs will take take on North Rockland in the state semifinals at SUNY Cortland at 4:30 p.m.

Dolson joked she’s not only hoping to pull out a win for her special senior class, but also for a little battle she has going on at home.

“My husband won his state championship with his wrestling team at Mattituck,” she said. “So now I need to get mine.”

Ortega thinks they’re on the right track to get there.

“I really think we could win states if we play to our full potential,” she said. “It’s something that I always dreamed about and finally bringing home that win means the world to me and to my team.  We worked so hard, we have such a talented team and we are so close. I know that we can continue to make history.”

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting

It was hammer time for Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega, as the sideline sang her goal-scoring song five times in the girls’ lacrosse team’s 13-3 win over Northport May 30.

“You can’t touch this,” they screamed louder and louder with each goal.

Ortega stepped out on the field Tuesday ready to finish what her older sister Nikki had started more than five years ago — win the program’s first Class A Suffolk County championship. Nikki Ortega had led the Mad Dogs further and further into the postseason over her six-year varsity career until she graduated two years ago, and her younger sister has been steering the wheel ever since.

“I wanted to do this for her,” Jamie Ortega said. “And I wanted to play for all those seniors that didn’t have the opportunity to. We finished it for them. We didn’t want that feeling again.”

That feeling she referred to was the devastation after each loss at the hands of West Islip over the last three seasons — twice in the semis and once in the finals.

This time, although the foe wasn’t as familiar, Middle Country knew it couldn’t take its opponent lightly. No. 5 Northport was fresh off an 8-7 upset over nationally ranked No. 1 Ward Melville.

“We were nervous,” said senior Ava Barry, who scored a goal and had five assists. “It’s hard to beat a team twice. Any team can win on any given day.”

Middle Country is also ranked nationally, featuring the top lacrosse recruit in the nation in Ortega. The senior pulled out a similar showing to when the Mad Dogs completed a 14-5 win over the Tigers May 8. Ortega finished that game with four goals and two assists.

She scored three goals and had one assist at the end of the first half in the final. She completed her hat trick when, after passing to Barry who couldn’t find a clear lane near the circle, sent a pass back to Ortega and who fired her shot home for a five-goal lead, 6-1.

“It’s my last year and I knew that this was the time to step up and play ‘all in,’” the University of North Carolina-bound midfielder said. “I’m so proud of this team.”

The team was “all in” from one end of the field to the other. The defense held Northport to 12 shots, and senior goalie Emily Walsh made nine saves. Jennifer Barry, Ava’s younger sister, led Middle Country to a 13-5 draw advantage, with Ortega also pulling away with some draw wins. The offense had nine assists on its 13 goals.

“Our defense was great, we came up so big on so many stops in goal and had so many extra possessions that we took advantage of,” Ortega said. “We knew if we got the extra possession and made them turn over the ball that we could calm down and make a good play out of it.”

Barry had passed to Ortega for her second goal and dished the ball to senior Rachel Masullo for a 7-1 lead. Ortega and Barry made another pass-back move on the opening goal of the second half, after Ortega forced a turnover behind Northport’s goal.

“My teammates were making great cuts, got open really well and helped me be able to make the passes to them,” Barry said.  “When the sidelines get involved in the game it’s fun, it’s exciting. You always want your sideline to be cheering your team on.”

After a brief second-half hiccup, with Northport’s Emerson Cabrera putting her team’s first goal on the scoreboard since the 11-minute mark of the first half, Middle Country got right back to work. Head coach Lindsay Dolson never slowed down her team, saying the girls like to use their speed, and the team racked up three more goals before Northport scored its final goal of the game. She also said the win gave the team some needed confidence. But Ortega said she told her team they were capable all along.

“I told my teammates we shouldn’t be nervous,” Ortega said. “This was our game, our time. I told them we’re not losing today, everyone believed it and we proved it.”

Twin sisters Rachel and Amanda Masullo added three goals apiece and Jennifer Barry assisted on two goals.

Middle Country will face the winner of the June 1 Massapequa-Port Washington game for the Long Island championship at Adelphi University June 4 at 7:30 p.m.

“Our mentality has been just putting in every ounce of effort and not stopping until we seal the deal,” Rachel Masullo said. “So many of our seasons got cut short. Now, we’re ready to barrel through anybody that gets in front of us.”

Jamie Ortega. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

For the fourth straight year, the Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team will be making it to the semifinals of the Class A playoffs. But this time, West Islip won’t be standing in their way.

Amanda Masullo. File photo by Bill Landon

No. 3-seeded Middle Country outscored No. 6 Sachem North 9-5 May 22. Because of the seeding, No. 9 West Islip was on the opposite side of the bracket, and No. 1 Ward Melville took care of the dirty work for the Mad Dogs.

“With Ward Melville eliminating West Islip, I think it has taken some pressure off of the team, because we finally have West Islip out of our hair,” senior Rachel Masullo said. “But no matter who we verse, we can’t take our foot off the gas. We have to keep giving it our all.”

West Islip eliminated Middle Country the last three years — twice in the semifinals, and in the 2015 finals. Sophomore Sophie Alois said that with the team continuing to improve year after year though, the Mad Dogs weren’t as frightened of the Lions as they had been in the past.

“Although West Islip has been our kryptonite the last few years, they don’t intimidate us anymore,” she said. “We know we can play with them, and beat them, and we’ve shown that.”

The sophomore was referring to the team’s 13-9 win over West Islip April 20.

For now, she’s glad the team can continue its season.

“I know none of us are ready for it to end,” Alois said following the win over Sachem North. “Today was just another notch in the belt, and now we’re focused on Wednesday.”

Sophie Alois. File photo by Bill Landon

Alois led the team with four goals. Masullo had the most points, with five on two goals and three assists.

“Coming into this matchup we knew we had to limit our turnovers in the midfield and have a really strong defense, which we did,” Masullo said. “Our composure also played a big part in this win.”

The senior added that coming into the matchup, she replayed the loss to Sachem North, an 11-8 defeat May 2, over and over in her mind, and knew the Mad Dogs couldn’t let it happen again.

“It definitely wasn’t a feeling I wanted to go through again,” she said. “The loss really fired us up.”

Because a handful of the girls have been playing together for three or four seasons, the team has a strong connection. Having a few sister pairings, and the No. 1 women’s lacrosse draftee in the nation in Jamie Ortega, doesn’t hurt either. The University of North Carolina-commit finished with a goal and an assist. Senior Ava Barry added a goal and three assists, and Masullo’s twin sister Amanda rounded out the scoring with a goal of her own.

Sophie Alois. File photo by Bill Landon

Alois said that head coach Lindsay Dolson tells the team “your attitude is contagious, and all it takes is one person to get everyone going.”

The sophomore said now more than ever, the team is heeding those words.

“I know none of us are ready for this season to end,” she said. “We don’t want to feel how we have the last few seasons, having our runs cut short. We are sick of losing, we want to win. The energy from my teammates is motivating, and we’re all contributing to the exciting atmosphere.”

Middle Country faced No. 2 Smithtown East May 24, but results were not available by press time.

“It’s going to be hard to stop us,” Alois said. “We’re full steam ahead right now, and we won’t stop until we’ve won.”

Rachel Masullo fights her way up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Middle Country’s girls’ lacrosse team shut out Northport in the second half to cruise to a 14-5 victory May 8, and remain in a tie for the No. 2 spot in Division I with Smithtown East.

Jamie Ortega moves the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

Northport midfielder Olivia Carner broke the ice on a penalty shot in the first minute of play, as the Duke University-bound sophomore stretched the net for the early advantage.

But the Mad Dogs answered with three successive senior goals. First, was Boston University-bound Ava Barry, then University of North Carolina commit Jamie Ortega and then Masullo twins Amanda and Rachel, both Long Island University Brooklyn-bound, teamed up for the 3-1 lead.

“I told my team to drop anything that we thought about this team and rely on our strength and determination,” Rachel Masullo said. “We really wanted this game. It was a confidence booster.”

Northport’s Emerson Cabrera, a University of Florida commit, drilled two shots past the goalkeeper in under a minute to make it a new game, but Middle Country kept attacking.

Barry and the Masullo sisters did it again, and Barry found Amanda Masullo on the cut for a 6-3 lead with just under seven minutes left in the half.

“They’ve always been good, so we always have to be ready to play Northport,” Amanda Masullo said. “We stepped it up in the second  half winning the draws on offense and we knew we had to settle in and not force it, so I think we really came to play today.”

Amanda Gennardo intercepts a Northport pass. Photo by Bill LAndon

Northport’s Natalie Langella, who is headed to Bryant University, cashed in on a penalty shot, and U.S. Coast Guard Academy-bound Brenna Farrington made it a one-goal game.

But the Tigers would come no closer.

A man up, Rachel Masullo dished the ball off to Barry for a goal, and then Ortega scored for an 8-5 advantage.

“It snowballed to hell from there,” Northport head coach Carol Rose said. “These girls have got to work harder — they’ve got to play with some passion and more energy — they’ve got to have some more fight in them. They kind of just gave up. It was hard to watch.”

When the Tigers did get the ball, they struggled to transition up the field and when they did, the Mad Dog defense was up to the task.

“We knew they’d be motivated and really hyped, and they came out strong, but we took over in the second half,” Ortega said of Northport’s senior day. “We limited our turnovers, didn’t make mistakes and won a lot of the draws. But from here on out, we have to play our best because everyone wants to beat you, and in the playoffs you don’t have a second chance.”

Boston University-bound Jennifer Barry, Ava’s younger sister, Amy Hofer, University of Michigan commit Sophie Alois and Camrynn Aiello all scored in the second half.

Sophie Alois fires a shot at the cage. Photo by Bill Landon

Rachel Masullo had one goal and six assists, Ortega finished with four goals and two assists, and Amanda Masullo notched a hat trick and added an assist.

“They played us tough, but I don’t think we played up to our potential,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “In the second half we had more draws, better defense and shot selection on offense, so I was pleased. Amanda Gennardo did a really nice job on defense — she came up with a huge amount of ground balls for us and she transitioned it up the field with no turnovers and that was nice to see from our underclassman.”

With the win, Middle Country improves to 11-2 and sit under undefeated Ward Melville with two games remaining before postseason play begins.

“In the playoffs, if you lose, you’re out,” Ortega said. “I don’t want to lose in the playoffs.”

Girls' lacrosse team's Jamie Ortega scores six in quarterfinal win, Mad Dogs will host rival West Islip in semis

Jamie Ortega, who scored six goals in the win, makes her way down the field. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Junior midfielder Jamie Ortega started and capped off a 7-0 run that helped Middle Country mow down Sachem North, 14-9, in the Division I Class A quarterfinals Friday — and running is the name of the Mad Dogs’ game.

“This is our run to the counties,” junior midfielder and attack Ava Barry said of her 16-1 team that is now on an 11-game win streak. “We did really well moving the ball down the field and really using our speed.”

Sophie Alois races across the field as she carries the ball into Sachem North's zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Sophie Alois races across the field as she carries the ball into Sachem North’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Middle Country raced up and down the field, and despite being double-teamed the entire way, Ortega muscled her way past defenders, firing shot after shot.

“Finding Jamie, even though she was faceguarded, that was definitely helpful,” senior defender Jordynn Aiello said. “Everyone was used today.”

Ortrega scored twice more during the seven-run spurt, freshman attack Sophie Alois tacked on two goals and Barry netted one.

“I think we shot well and we transitioned the ball,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “I think we rode really well in their transition.”

Ahead 11-3 to open the second half, Barry scored less than a minute in, Oretga added another and, after a Sachem North score, Barry tallied her hat trick goal after swiveling around defenders and dumping the ball in up high, off a feed in front of the cage.

“We knew coming in here that we had to play our game,” Aiello said. “It wasn’t our best game, but we pulled it out and played together, and that’s what counts.”

No. 2 Middle Country will face No. 3 West Islip in the semifinals on Wednesday at Newfield High School at 4 p.m.

West Islip has proven to be the Mad Dogs’ Achilles’ heel the last two seasons, knocking out Middle Country in the semifinals in 2014, 12-11, with one second left in regulation, and edging out the team in the finals in double overtime last year, 11-10.

Emily Diaz reaches for possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Emily Diaz reaches for possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan

But the team topped West Islip this season, 9-3, on April 29. Dolson said she thinks that the past years’ experience will help the team heading into the final rounds.

“We’re on to the next one,” she said. “We’ve been there before, so I think the experience will definitely help us hopefully get to the finals after West Islip.”

For players like Aiello, she wants to make sure her Mad Dogs stays focused on the next task at hand, to not get ahead of themselves.

“We need to make sure we keep our minds set on our goal and take it one game at a time,” she said. “Right now we’re looking forward to Wednesday versus West Islip and we have to come in and know that our goal is to beat them. We have to make sure we come out hard, stay strong on defense, cut off their big scorers and make sure we put the ball in the back of the net.”

If Middle Country wins on Wednesday, the team will face the winner of the Smithtown West/Northport matchup. Regardless of who the opponent may be if Middle Country makes it, Aiello said she has enjoyed the ride.

“We’ve been strong from the beginning,” Aiello said. “Coming into this season I had a good, strong feeling about these girls. A majority of us have been playing together since fourth grade. I’m very sad it’s my last season playing with them since I grew up with them, but I know we have something special on this field and I don’t want it to go to waste.”

Rachel Masullo reaches for the loose ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Rachel Masullo reaches for the loose ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Rachel Masullo moves through traffic. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Middle Country made quick work of Commack Tuesday, scoring five unanswered goals in the first five minutes of the contest, and despite losing its opening power, came away with a 15-10 win.

“We were kind of flat — there wasn’t a lot of intensity and it definitely showed,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “It has to do with our warm-up, and certain teams they take lightly. We’ve talked about it — not to do that. Good thing we didn’t get caught today, but it definitely could’ve happened.”

Jamie Ortega gains possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Jamie Ortega gains possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan

After gaining possession off the draw, junior midfielder Jamie Ortega beat out two defenders and stuffed the ball into the left side of the cage for the early advantage just 30 seconds in. She won possession off the draw again, and scoring next was junior midfielder Ava Barry. The two connected for the third goal of the game, when Ortega passed to Barry, who dumped it in up front.

“Jamie’s been doing an awesome job on defense and offense for us,” Dolson said. “She definitely leads the team in that aspect. She’s doing a great job.”

At the 20:42 mark, Commack was fouled for shooting space, and freshman midfielder Sophie Alois raced to the center of the field in front of the crease and scored to the left side for the 4-0 lead. Ortega and Barry connected for the final goal before Commack put its first point on the board, when Ortega couldn’t find an open lane and moved outside and away from a defender to be able to send a quick pass to Barry in front of the cage.

“We’re good at moving the ball around and finding the open girl quick because a defender comes on her, but on defense we could’ve crashed earlier,” Barry said.

Defense is where the Mad Dogs struggled most. Once Commack began winning possession off the draw, Middle Country wasn’t able to turn the ball over and the Cougars collected points as a result.

Sophie Alois contains after scooping up a ground ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Sophie Alois contains after scooping up a ground ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By the end of the first half, Middle Country still had a substantial lead, 11-5, and jumped out of the gate again to start the second half, scoring three unanswered goals before Commack countered at the 13:33 mark, and scored twice more to trail 14-8.

Middle Country junior midfielder Amy Hofer found the back of the cage for the Mad Dogs’ final goal of the game, but Commack scored three more.

Ortega finished the game with four goals and three assists, while Barry ended with a hat trick and two assists. Twin juniors Amanda and Rachel Masullo added two goals apiece, and Barry’s younger sister Jen, a freshman, tacked on a goal and an assist.

“We need to win, and we can’t always win by playing the way we played today,” Ortega said, who added that it’s been difficult playing without her sister, Nikki, the team’s leading scorer last season. “We lost a lot of important players from last year, but we’re still close, we’re still a family and we connect. It helps.”

Ava Barry shoots past Commack’s goalkeeper for the good goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Ava Barry shoots past Commack’s goalkeeper for the good goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Her coach is still seeing improvement though, as the mixed team, with seven freshmen and seven juniors, looks to reach the county finals level that last year’s did.

“They definitely have been growing and going in the right direction,” Dolson said. “Today, I think, was a little bit of a setback, but hopefully we’ll pick up from this in practice tomorrow and get ready for Northport on Thursday. They’re going to come with very aggressive defense. We need to handle that pressure and we have to put together a whole game.”

Middle Country takes on Northport Thursday at 4 p.m.

Barry said that if her Mad Dogs can limit the turnovers, get to the ground balls and continue to work on the draws, they’d have a good shot against Northport.

“I feel pretty strongly,” she said. “If we practice hard tomorrow and we warm up strong, we’ll play a better game.”

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