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The East Bulls will battle crosstown foe Smithtown West in semis May 25

By Bill Landon

Being down early doesn’t faze the Smithtown East boys’ lacrosse team. And despite the 4-0 lead visiting Connetquot had in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs May 19, the Bulls bounced back for a 12-10 victory to advance to the semifinals.

Connor Desimone rockets a shot into Connetquot’s goal. Photo by Bill Landon

“That’s kind of been our M.O. this year — we’ve allowed our opponent to jump up on us early in games and these guys have done a good job all year staying together, [being] positive and chipping away at it,” Smithtown East head coach Jason Lambert said. “When we got down 4-0, I said, ‘hey guys, we’ve been here before, we’ve done this before — we’ll come back.’ And with our seniors and the leadership we have here, there’s never panic with this group.”

Smithtown East didn’t find the cage until two minutes into the second quarter, when senior midfielder and co-captain Luke Eschbach slammed home a solo shot. Senior Michael Latini attacked next, with 5:05 left in the first half, to cut the lead in half. Senior faceoff specialist Brian Herber won the ensuing battle at the ‘X,’ and dished the ball to classmate and co-captain Connor Desimone who buried his shot 20 seconds later to pull within one, 4-3.

At the 3:15 mark of the second quarter the Thunderbirds struck again, but so did a lightning bolt, which suspended the game for 30 minutes. Connetquot picked up where it left off when play resumed, to double Smithtown East’s score, 6-3.

“That half hour stop was almost a blessing in disguise,” Lambert said. “It allowed us to gather ourselves, talk to the kids and tell them exactly what we were seeing, and hear what they were seeing.”

Desimone passed to Latini, who on the cut shot the ball behind his back, catching the keeper off guard to make it a 6-4 game.

Brian Herber wins a faceoff and fires at the net. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’ve done it in practice and I’ve never tried it in a game,” Latini said. “But I always wanted to try it, and today, it went in.”

After another Herber faceoff win, Latini scooped up the flick, and senior Dominic Pizzulli drilled his shot into the netting as the Bulls trailed 6-5. The four-goal deficit early in the game had little effect on Herber or the rest of his team.

“I was a little nervous,” Herber said. “But I know this team and knew we would definitely come back — we always do.”

With 26 seconds left before the break, Desimone leaped from behind the cage dove in front to bury his shot and make it a new game.

Smithtown East goalkeeper Thomas Harkin, who had eight saves on the day, commended his opponent for the tough battle.

“They brought a lot of ball movement, they moved well inside — they are very good at doing that, but we prepared for that,” Harkin said. “We knew we had to step it up, wake up a bit. We knew the next ground ball, the next pass, the next shot, the next anything, it’s ours.”

Two minutes into the second half, Desimone gave his teammate’s words meaning when he scored his hat trick goal to give his team its first lead, 7-6.

Thomas Harkin makes one of eight saves. Photo by Bill Landon

“Our guys have a ton of heart, starting with our goalie,” Desimone said.

Smithtown East’s lead wouldn’t last long though, as the Thunderbirds scored three unanswered goals for a 9-7 advantage with 2:30 left in the third.

Senior Bobby Burns put an end to the Connetquot rally, and Herber’s faceoff win led to the game-tying goal by senior Mike Marino. Marino tied the game again minutes later, 10-10, and the Bulls’ defense stood strong in the final eight minutes, cutting off all lanes to the cage.

“[Anthony] Voelker played great on [Connetquot junior attack George Wichelns],” Herber said. “He’s a big part of Connetquot’s team and [Brian] Cosgrove was playing great off ball, which really slowed them down.”

Desimone passed to Eschbach for the game-winning goal, and Desimone put the game away soon after.

“It all starts in our cage with our goalie Thomas Harkin — he’s been great all year, and our faceoff kid Brian Herber battling giving us chances, giving us the ball, giving us the opportunity to play offense,” Lambert said. “It was a total team effort, but those two guys, they’re the backbone of our team.”

Smithtown East will face crosstown rival Smithtown West in the semifinals May 25 at 6:30 p.m.

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Smithtown East senior lacrosse player Gerard Arceri has been selected to the 2016 U.S. Men’s National U19 training roster. Photo from the Smithtown Central School District

Smithtown East senior Gerard Arceri has been selected to the 2016 U.S. Men’s National U19 30-man training roster and will now compete for one of 23 spots on the final team, which will participate in the World Games next summer.

Smithtown East senior lacrosse player Gerard Arceri has been selected to the 2016 U.S. Men’s National U19 training roster. Photo from the Smithtown Central School District
Smithtown East senior lacrosse player Gerard Arceri has been selected to the 2016 U.S. Men’s National U19 training roster. Photo from the Smithtown Central School District

“Gerard has separated himself from a very strong pool of tryout participants,” said John Jez, 2016 U.S. Men’s National U19 team manager. “He possesses the qualities and skills to potentially make the final 23-man roster and assist in the efforts to bring home a Federation of International Lacrosse world championship in July.”

Arceri will participate in training and team development from Nov. 13-15 at The Ohio State University, followed by a second session on Jan. 8-10 in Bradenton, Fla.

Smithtown Central School District had the most invitees — five — of any public school in America.

Fellow East alum John Daniggelis, who now plays lacrosse at Yale University, made it to the last round of cuts with Arceri. Kyle Keenan, a 2011 Smithtown West graduate, made the U.S. U19 team the last time the games took place four years ago.

Katie Reilly races between two opponents. File photo by Kevin Freiheit

Three Huntington athletes participated in the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Weekend at Towson University in Baltimore, Md. Newly minted alum Samantha Lynch played in the senior All-America game and incoming seniors Katie Reilly and Taylor Moreno were on the Long Island All-America underclassmen tournament team.

Lynch came off the bench to help the North team rally from an 8-1 deficit and nearly overtake the South, falling just short, 14-12. The South led at halftime, 10-3, but the North owned the second half, outscoring its opponent, 9-4.

Lynch took a shot and scooped up two ground balls in the game, which drew a crowd of 3,711 to Towson’s Johnny Unitas Stadium. Each of the teams was comprised of a 22-player roster, representing the finest graduating seniors in the country.

Reilly and Moreno played on a Long Island team that finished second in the tournament, winning five of six games. Long Island topped New England (17-8), South (20-6), Midwest (20-2), Philadelphia (11-6) and Washington, D.C. (9-7) before dropping a 12-6 contest to Baltimore in the championship game.

Lynch is headed to the University of Notre Dame on a lacrosse scholarship. Reilly has verbally committed to Princeton University. Moreno has given a verbal commitment to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Middle Country's Ashley Miller stands poised and ready to make a save in a previous contest against Northport. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Ashley Miller has been a part of two undefeated girls’ lacrosse seasons in Middle Country school district’s history, and as she moves on to play at Dowling College, she will have the opportunity to add another to her resume.

“It feels great to look back at what I’ve accomplished,” the now former Middle Country goalkeeper said. “I remember in eighth grade my middle school lacrosse team went undefeated and to have both my high school and middle school careers end undefeated is a good feeling.”

This past season, the Mad Dogs went 14-0 in Division I before falling to West Islip, 11-10, in double overtime in the Suffolk County finals. It was the first time the varsity team went undefeated and was the furthest the team had made it in the postseason. In 2014, Middle Country fell in the semifinals to the same West Islip team, 12-11, with one second left on the clock.

Middle Country's Ashley Miller watches the play downfield. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Middle Country’s Ashley Miller watches the play downfield. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Being in goal, Miller has been the last line of defense for both undefeated seasons and as she has gotten older, her skills have only improved. As a starter in goal for the last two seasons, head coach Lindsay Dolson noted the advances she saw.

“She definitely has come a long way and has improved her skills so much and worked really hard to get there,” she said. “We felt confident in her. She’s worked really hard and done all the extra work to get to where she is today. She came up with big saves for us.”

Dolson also pointed out that Miller was part of the reason the team was so successful the last two years and made it as far as they had.

“If you don’t have a good goalie in the cage there’s not a lot that you can do to stop people from scoring, especially in girls lacrosse, so she helped us become the team that we are today,” she said. “Ashley was a great player and very coachable. Anything we wanted to try, she was always willing to do it.”

Miller started out playing lacrosse with her cousins when she was young, but wasn’t interested in the sport at first. Not on an official team until seventh grade, she used the sport as a way to stay athletic and make new friends. According to her father, Butch, she played field hockey and lacrosse in junior high but switched to lacrosse in high school because she had more of a passion for the sport.

“She picked it up in middle school and was always a determined individual,” he said. “Whatever she starts, she follows through. She doesn’t give up, she’s not a quitter and she gives it her all.”

Middle Country's Ashley Miller races away from the cage to send the ball into play. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Middle Country’s Ashley Miller races away from the cage to send the ball into play. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Miller learned a lot of the basics in seventh and eighth grade and as she moved up to the high school level, she played year-round with off-season practices and winter and summer leagues. She was pulled up to the varsity team during the playoffs when she was a freshman and remained on the team, starting between the pipes her junior and senior year.

“The team was really close, we all got along really well and it was interesting how I was able to build up so quickly and pick up the game so fast and to be able to get pulled up to varsity early,” she said. “We became really close and it felt great to be a part of that and experience that, because it was the best team I’d ever been on. It meant a lot to be able to play such a major role.”

Miller’s father said his daughter was always interested in playing locally and was thrilled with her decision to play at Dowling.

“It’s hard to put into words how amazing it is that her hard work is paying off for her,” he said. “She’s done a lot for herself and it’s made her a better person. I’m very proud to be her father. All of her dedication earned her a scholarship and there are a lot of doors that have now been opened for her. I want her to strive to be the best and never settle; always reach for the stars.”

The Dowling freshman will be competing against three other goalkeepers for the starting position and hopes to be able to make an immediate impact on the team.

“One of my goals is to never stop improving, but I also want to try to get a starting position,” she said, laughing. “I love the sport, it helps you get out there and meet new people and it also helps you take your stress out and just have fun. I learned how to push myself through the sport, be a good team member and to be the best that I can be.”

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Jacob Bloom chases after an opponent for Miller Place. File photo by Desirée Keegan

When Jacob Bloom was heading into middle school, he had to choose between the two sports he had dedicated most of his childhood to learning.

But, his father told him his future wouldn’t involve a baseball bat, but a lacrosse stick, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made, as the now former Miller Place defender will be playing for Marist College next year.

“It was more of a complete sport,” Bloom said. “The physicality and the emotion — I fell in love with the game right away.”

Bloom’s father, Mark, who was coaching him in both sports, said he saw potential in his son to excel in the sport at a young age.

“He positioned himself better as a lacrosse player than as a baseball player,” he said. “In his size, his structure and his footwork.”

Miller Place boys’ lacrosse head coach Keith Lizzi saw the same strong future in the budding defender, who was brought up to the varsity team as a ninth grader.

“Jacob is extremely mature,” said Lizzi, who first coached Bloom when he was on the middle school football team. “He was coachable at a young age — he was like a sponge — and he listened well. He understood that it was going to make him better if he listens.”

Bloom said it was a challenge being the low man on the totem pole, but the team was able to groom him at a young age, and the athlete said the experience was what he needed most.

Mark Bloom saw his son devote most months out of the year to continue progressing in the sport, playing 10 months out of the year, and Lizzi also saw his player’s development each season. As a result, Jacob Bloom’s role continued to become more important to the team, as he began covering opponent’s tougher players each season.

Miller Place's Jacob Bloom reaches out his stick to keep a Comsewogue player at bay in a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Miller Place’s Jacob Bloom reaches out his stick to keep a Comsewogue player at bay in a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“He’s very tactical,” Lizzi said of Bloom. “When he’s playing defense, he’s always thinking about what he’s doing. He’s not going to super aggressive and be all over you, but he’s going to outthink you.”

The defender always had a plan, according to Lizzi, and was very organized and harped on the little things to make sure he was always at the top of his game.

“Being a smart kid, he was able to figure out people’s next move,” Lizzi said. “When you play defense, you have to react, and his mentality was, if he could figure out what the other kid was trying to do, he’d be in a good spot. He knew every year there was something different to improve upon. He made major strides every year as a result.”

Bloom also prides himself on this.

“Defense takes a lot of mental work and understanding what your opponent wants to do, and I’ve always prided myself on being a very smart player and having a good lacrosse IQ,” he said. “I watch plenty of film and I’m always studying the guys I’m covering.”

He improved in his stick skills, passing, catching, throwing, footwork and body positioning every season, which Lizzi said helped him stand out among other defenders who didn’t continue to work on the basics at the varsity level.

Bloom was also a leader on the team.

“He was so mature that it was like having another coach on the field, which helped us,” the coach said of his former co-captain. “He understood our game plans, our strategy and why we did what we did, so he was able to help some of the younger kids around him and from a leadership point of view, he was a great role model.”

Bloom’s contributions to the team, along with its strong offensive leaders, helped the Panthers earn a Suffolk County championship title in 2013, and reach the finals again in 2014, where the Panthers fell to Rocky Point, 6-4. This past season, the team fell in the second round of the playoffs to Eastport-South Manor, 12-7.

Bloom was named an All-County defenseman this season and also won the Panther Pride award, which is given to a player who exemplifies what a Miller Place athlete should be. He also earned the school’s defenseman of the year award and leadership award.

These qualities helped him earn the recognition of various colleges and universities. He ultimately chose to play at Marist, where he will be joining the Panther’s former co-captain and All-County defenseman Brett Osman and All-County and All-Division midfielder and co-captain Liam Walsh.

“I couldn’t be prouder for him to play Division I lacrosse,” Mark Bloom said. “Just to watch him grow and become a man and a leader on the field, I think that he’s only scratched the surface with his ability. I think he can go much, much further than even what he’s achieved and reached now.”

Jacob Bloom said he’s excited to play for a growing program and Marist’s head coach Keegan Wilkinson. He said he’s learned a lot along the way that he plans to take with him to the next level and said the camaraderie, fraternity and brotherhood created with some of the guys he’s known since third grade, and will be friends with for the rest of his life, has meant a lot to him.

“What I take from coach Lizzi would be to never be satisfied — you have to keep working and keep getting better,” he said. “No matter how good you think that you are, you can always be better. Working toward a common goal has taught me to work hard and I can achieve great things.”

Isabella Nelin and Isabella Petriello pose for a photo with their lacrosse sticks at the Brine National Lacrosse Classic. Photo from Anthony Petriello

Both girls made the team, again.

And although Isabella Petriello and Isabella Nelin were not able to help the Long Island sophomores defend the Brine National Lacrosse Classic championship title the girls won as freshmen, they’re just happy to be able to continue to play the sport they love.

“Lacrosse is my passion — it’s really taken over my whole life,” Petriello said. ”It’s helped me not only to be a better athlete, but it’s helped me with everything. With my time management skills, my ability to focus, to accept failure, and to just keep working hard.”

The athletes, both defenders, continued to work hard at the lacrosse classic in Midlothian, Virginia, outscoring much of the competition despite an early loss, and cruised to the semifinals, where the team fell to would-be champion Pennsylvania, 8-4.

“It was a great experience,” Petriello said. “It was an honor to get the chance to play with such talented girls that share the same passion as me.”

Nelin’s mother, Karen, was just proud of her daughter for making the team for a second year in a row, and is proud of what her daughter has been able to accomplish since she first joined the sport in the seventh grade.

“I feel like Bella can definitely get the job done,” Karen Nelin said. “I have such confidence in her. She’s a fast runner, she’s very tall, and she’s also good when her teammate needs help to slide. She’s a voice out there. Even when the offense has the ball, she’s out there encouraging them, and is confident and supportive.”

Petriello said the loss pushed her to want to do bigger and better things in the future.

“You go into it expecting the things that you did last year because you’ve been working so hard, and it definitely was hard, I wont lie, but failure and losing are a part of being successful,” she said. “When I don’t reach my goal the way I want to, that’s what I use to light my fire. It helps me keep fighting to get to where I want to be in life.”

And Isabella Petriello’s father, Anthony, said his daughter has some things you simply can’t teach.

“She has that grit, that desire and that heart every single time she goes out there,” he said. “That gives her the ability to help her teammates and do the things that she needs to do on the field, along with her teammates, to get the job done.”

Although Isabella Petriello has been involved in the sport longer than Isabella Nelin, both have been named strong players. Petriello uses more aggression, while Nelin likes to be more tactical.

The defenders play for the Long Island Top Guns travel team, but Petriello picked up the sport when she was in second grade, playing for the Brookhaven Town team before playing for Miller Place.

“She lives and breathes lacrosse for her ultimate goal of playing at the college level,” Anthony Petriello said, adding that his daughter plays volleyball for the school team, as well as in a Middle Country school district lacrosse league on Thursday evenings. “What a reward for parents to see their child succeed in anything in life.”

Nelin, on the other hand, picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time in seventh grade after her friends tried to get her to join.

“I was a little rusty at first, but I’d go over their house and ask them to please throw and catch with me,” she said, laughing. “Even when we don’t even plan on practicing, we end up grabbing sticks and going outside and having a pass. Once you start playing the sport, you don’t stop. I feel like I always have a stick in my hand.”

Although she started later, Nelin has trained with many coaches, including local defender Shanna Brady of Smithtown, who played for St. Anthony’s and currently plays for NCAA tournament-winning University of Maryland. Nelin also plays varsity lacrosse for Ward Melville.

The girls like the team aspect of defense, and work well together on the field.

“We both know where the other one is on the field at all times and know what the other person will do, and it makes it a lot easier,” Petriello said. “[Isabella Nelin] is always pushing herself and, especially me and others, to be better,” she said.

Nelin is also comfortable working alongside her Long Island teammate.

“The coaches don’t know us, so when they ask who wants to start on defense, we both stand next to each other and try to raise our hands at the same time,” Nelin said, laughing. “We both want to get on the field at the same time. I can trust her when she says she has my right and tells me to force a player somewhere so we can double-team her.”

And Brine’s Long Island team’s coach Megan McCormack, noticed the girls’ chemistry quickly.

“They were both very talkative, very aggressive,” she said. “They worked well with one another and meshed well with the other girls on the team.”

Nelin is excited to see where the future will take her.

“Lacrosse really means a lot to me,” she said. “I feel like it’s my future. I’d love to play in college and it’s helped me meet a bunch of new people. It’s opened new doors for me; I’ve traveled to a bunch of different states and it’s just been amazing. I feel like it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

McCormack believes that Nelin and Petriello’s futures will be bright.

“You can see and pick up on that chemistry right away,” she said. “I knew that they felt comfortable with one another. They knew what each other did well and what each other needed, whether or not they should push one another, so I thought they really complemented each other well. I know they both had successful lacrosse careers ahead of them.”

Tim Mattiace, second from right, with Deren family members, is all smiles after receiving the Ray Deren memorial scholarship. Photo from Huntington athletics

Ray Deren’s name in Blue Devil athletic history is etched in stone. The legendary sports administrator’s creativity and foresight helped ignite an explosion in the number of opportunities available to Huntington’s student-athletes, and his planning and commitment to the athletes of the community continues to benefit countless Blue Devils each year.

Tim Mattiace plays lacrosse in his Blue Devils uniform this past season. Photo by Darin Reed
Tim Mattiace plays lacrosse in his Blue Devils uniform this past season. Photo by Darin Reed

A trendsetter in the area of sports program innovation, Deren played a leading role in a long list of initiatives that have become an essential part of the district’s cherished traditions.

Although he died more than 15 years ago, Deren’s influence is still widely felt in Huntington’s classrooms and gyms and on its fields.

At this year’s 47th Blue Devils senior athletic awards banquet, which Deren created in 1969 to recognize and honor seniors who have participated in athletics, Binghamton University-bound Tim Mattiace was presented with a $1,000 scholarship and handsome plaque in honor of the longtime district athletic director.

“My dad believed that students who participated in athletics would have the most success in their careers and relationships,” Deren’s daughter, Georgia McCarthy, who now fills the same position her father once did, said. She was joined for the award presentation by her sons, John and Kenny.

The Deren scholarship recognizes athletes who have consistently showed dedication to their academic and athletic programs and are determined to complete a college education while participating in athletes.

Mattiace is headed to Binghamton University on a scholarship to play lacrosse. One of the top members academically of the class of 2015, the student-athlete has been a mainstay of the Blue Devils program for many years. He tallied seven goals and 11 assists and was a member of the team’s strong defense this spring, scooping up dozens of ground balls.

“It’s a true honor coming from Kenny, John and Mrs. McCarthy, to receive this award and everything it stands for,” Mattiace said. “Mr. Deren was an amazing man and I can only hope to accomplish as much as he did some day.”

Mattiace captained the Blue Devils’ football and lacrosse teams, winning post-season recognition in both sports. He was a First Team All-Division player on the gridiron last fall and All-Division and All-County in lacrosse this spring.

Ray Deren, Huntington’s athletic director for two decades. Photo from Huntington athletics
Ray Deren, Huntington’s athletic director for two decades. Photo from Huntington athletics

The athlete was named Suffolk County League III’s Defensive Player of the Year for his outstanding play as a long stick midfielder, and he earned a spot on the Brine All-American team that won the national championship and went on to beat Canada for the Brogden Cup.

The Huntington Lacrosse Alumni Association presented Mattiace with a large plaque earlier this spring for being a “player who exemplifies the spirit and tradition of Huntington High School lacrosse.”

“I will be working as a junior manager at Lacrosse Unlimited of Huntington; playing in the Shootouts for Soldiers tournament, the Cantiague men’s lacrosse league with kids from around the Island and the Greenport lacrosse tournament; doing plenty of fishing; and working out to prepare for Binghamton University men’s lacrosse,” Mattiace about his summer plan.

During Deren’s tenure, the number of athletic teams sponsored by the district skyrocketed from 28 to 70 and the program was seen as a model by districts across New York. A true visionary, he identified the need for a full-time athletic trainer — a first for a Long Island high school — writing the job description for the position.

Throughout his tenure, he pushed for improvements to the district’s athletic programs and sports facilities.

Deren passed away on Feb. 28, 1999, but his memory lives on through the memorial scholarship presented annually in his honor by his family.

“Our student-athletes are obligated to work well with others on a daily basis in some of the most unique situations,” McCarthy told the crowd at the senior banquet. “You all have a strong work ethic, can problem solve, be unselfish and manage your time wisely because of your experiences in Huntington. These are just a few of the skills that are second nature and will help you live happy and successful lives. This banquet is all about you, who have put so much time and energy into this strong program, rich with traditions.”

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Max Scandale maintains possession with an opponent on his hip in a game this season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

The Port Jefferson boys’ lacrosse team capped off its inaugural season with some prestigious individual and team honors.

Three players, Max Scandale, Brian Mark and Connor Fitterer, were selected as members to the League IV All-League team.

Scandale also made the All-County team, and Mark was selected as the League IV “Rookie of the Year.”

As a team, the Royals were the recipient of the “Crosse Award,” for which a team is nominated by the Suffolk County Lacrosse Coaches Association as being the most improved squad from the beginning to the end of the season.

“I really could not be more proud of what this team accomplished this past season,” Port Jefferson head coach Taylor Forstell said. “Being a first-year varsity lacrosse program in Suffolk County is hard enough. To make it to the playoffs in our first season is a true testament of this program’s growth and progression.”

Senior Jake Myhre was also recognized by the Port Jefferson Village Lacrosse Association as being the first recipient of the “Stick With A Goal” scholarship at the annual Booster Club Dinner.

This scholarship, a $1,000 prize, recognizes a college-bound senior for their hard work, dedication and commitment to their team.

“When approached about this scholarship, I knew right away we had a perfect match,” Forstell. “Jake is a three-sport athlete that commits countless hours to improving his craft in all three sports. It has been an honor to coach him the past three years and we all wish him the best of luck next year at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Looking ahead, Forstell is excited for the next season with his athletes.

“Our journey has just begun,” he said. “We look forward to continued success in the coming years through hard work and commitment to the lacrosse family.”

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Lacrosse standout will take his talents to the next level

Middle Country's Zach Harned changes direction to move around an East Islip player in a game this past season. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

When Middle Country’s Zach Harned headed to the locker room following his final career high school game, a 17-1 first-round loss to the No. 1-seeded Northport, the senior attack could take solace in the fact that his lacrosse career would not end that afternoon.

Harned will continue playing when he attends the University of Tampa this fall, competing for the Spartans at the Division II level. The Middle Country captain said he has had his eye on Tampa for some time.

“Ever since I was in tenth grade I had my eye on Tampa because I knew they were an upcoming team who was going to competitively compete at the Division II level,” he said. “Once I talked to the coaches and got to know them it made everything so much easier. I feel I could grow even more as a player there and hopefully help them compete for a national championship.”

The 2015 All-County selectee’s achievements go beyond the playing field. Harned was named an Academic All-American and was awarded the Eric Sopracasa Memorial Scholarship, awarded to an athlete who “through determination and character serves as a role model and inspiration to fellow athletes.” The scholarship is given in memory of Sopracasa, who died after being struck in the chest by a lacrosse ball during practice in 1999.

“He’s the epitome of a Middle Country athlete,” athletic director Joseph Mercado said of Harned. “He’s a hard worker and truly dedicated in everything he does on and off the field.”

Middle Country boys’ lacrosse head coach Ken Budd echoed Mercado’s sentiments.

“He plays bigger than he is,” Budd said. “He’s not very big in stature, but definitely presents himself bigger on the field. He’s a two-year captain; he’s a leader on and off the field. He definitely draws the best defensemen, he’s our quarterback on offense and we’re definitely going to miss him.”

This is the second Harned in as many years to move on to collegiate lacrosse. Zach’s brother Dylan recently completed his freshman season as a member of the LIU Post lacrosse program.

“Dylan set a good example for his brother to follow,” Budd said. “Having back-to-back years of Harneds is a good thing. It’s a blessing.”

Zach Harned maintains possession for Middle Country. File photo by Bill Landon
Zach Harned maintains possession for Middle Country. File photo by Bill Landon

Harned will play for NCAA lacrosse Division II’s winningest coach, Rory Whipple. Having previous coaching stints at Clarkson University, Hartwick College, Bryant University and University of South Florida, dating back to 1980, Whipple became the Spartans’ first head coach in 2012. Through the program’s first four years of existence, Whipple has led Tampa to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons.

Whipple has high praise for Harned as both an athlete and a student.

“We’re really excited about him,” he said. “I like his character. We try to recruit kids of strong character that are strong in the classroom. He’s got great athletic ability and he’s got a great work ethic. I think he’ll be a strong Division II player for us.”

Middle Country lacrosse already has strong ties to the Tampa lacrosse program. Assistant coach Mike Massari, who played for Whipple at Hartwick in 1998, facilitated the recruiting efforts for Harned.

This will mark Tampa’s second recruit from Middle Country. Face-off specialist Trevor Calleja, who just completed his final season with the Spartans, said Harned is going to love it.

“Playing for coach Whipple was awesome,” he said. “Although he was very tough on the field, off the field he was very funny. I’ll never forget my time at Tampa and would go back and do it all again.”

It might not be long until Harned makes an impact on the Spartans squad, as Whipple said that there is a strong possibility that the Middle Country standout could start right away.

Harned’s mother, Marie, said she is thrilled for her son.

“He’s wanted this since tenth grade,” she said. “He can’t wait to go. We’re just so proud of him.”

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Middle Country's Jamie Ortega gets a shot past the goalkeeper. File photo by Bill Landon

The Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team is ranked No. 6 in the nation, according to LaxPower.

The Mad Dogs finished the season with an undefeated 14-0 mark in Division I, and only lost one game the entire year, ending with an 18-1 record.

The girls made it past the semifinal roadblock it hit last season, but fell to the same team that eliminated them, West Islip, in the Suffolk County Class A finals.

Senior midfielder and attack Nikki Ortega led the team with 64 goals and 64 assists for 128 points, and her younger sister Jamie followed close behind, with 113 points off 78 goals and 25 assists.

Nikki Ortega led Suffolk County in points, while her younger sister was fifth in the standings.

Other Long island teams also found spots in the Top 10 of the national rankings. Mount Sinai is in the No. 3 spot, while Manhasset is right behind Middle Country, in seventh.

Middle Country also ranks second behind No. 1 Mount Sinai in the East regional ratings, according to LaxPower.

While the Mad Dogs will graduate six seniors this month, many of the core offensive threats will be returning to the nationally-ranked team next season.