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Matt Grillo

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Patriots’ high-powered offense dominates West Genesee 15-2 for second straight state title

Ward Melville's boys lacrosse team toppled state rival West Genesee for the Patriots' second straight state title. Photo from Twitter

Ryan Pallonetti wasn’t missing the game this time, and he made his presence known.

The Ward Melville senior scored three goals in the Patriots’ 15-2 win over West Genesee for the school’s second straight state title June 9. He’d missed all last year and half his sophomore season with a knee injury.

“We’re unselfish, move the ball well and take smart shots, always looking for the extra pass to get the easy goal.”

— Matt Grillo

“Ryan’s an incredible player,” said classmate Zach Hobbes of Pallonetti, who scored the first two goals and assisted on the third to get the game going. “It was great seeing him play the way he did today since he didn’t get the opportunity to last year.”

A familiar yet different narrative developed in this season’s finale compared to last. Ward Melville had eked out a 10-9 win against Pittsford after scoring six straight, the final coming in overtime. Matt Grillo scored the final two goals of the game, which was on his birthday, and rose to the occasion once more this time around. The senior (four goals, one assist) went on another scoring run to propel his team this year, finding the net three straight times in the third to help extend Ward Melville’s halftime advantage from eight goals to 12.

The lopsided result in the final was out of the ordinary, although it followed the Patriots’ landslide victory in the state semifinal, an 18-2 win over Niskayuna.

West Genesee has won 15 state championships, the most in New York history, under head coach Mike Messere, the nation’s all-time leader in career victories with 846. Ward Melville, ranked No. 1 in the country by Inside Lacrosse, split six previous championship-game matchups with West Genesee, the last in 2013, a 16-4 victory under former legendary head coach Mike Hoppey. Current head coach Jay Negus won his first last year.

“Ryan’s an incredible player. It was great seeing him play the way he did.”

— Zach Hobbes

“I have to credit my defense for getting me ready for every game,” said Grillo, who ranks sixth in the county in scoring with 70 goals and 16 assists. “Even in practice, it’s the best defense I’ll have to face all year. They played amazing as usual to hold a very good team to just two goals. On the offensive end, jumping out to an early lead is something we’ve tried to consistently do all season. To see us execute like we did on our biggest stage is something really special.”

The Patriots defense made multiple stops to give Ward Melville plenty of opportunities in transition. Hobbes and junior Malachy McAvoy each racked up two goals and four others added goals.

“It took a lot of stress out of the game knowing that we maintained a lead all four quarters,” Hobbes said. “When you build a lead that early in a game it gives the team a lot of confidence, and we have a lot of experience in playoff games. It’s an unreal feeling winning back-to-back championships — it’s something every team works for every season, and we were able to do it twice — especially winning it with my best friends. We’ve worked for this moment.”

“I have to credit my defense for getting me ready for every game. Even in practice, it’s the best defense I’ll have to face all year.”

— Matt Grillo

Grillo credited Ward Melville’s unique bond as helping the boys claim the program’s 10th state title and third in the last six years. The Patriots became just the second school to reach the double-digit title mark. It was Ward Melville’s 15th trip to the finals.

“It really helps with our dynamic,” he said of his bond with his teammates. “We had everyone contributing. We’re unselfish, move the ball well and take smart shots, always looking for the extra pass to get the easy goal.”

Grillo said his younger self dreamed of playing for Ward Melville, recalling standing on the sidelines beaming, hoping he’d one day take the place of the athletes he was watching with eyes wide open.

“I always give it my all in every practice, every game,” Grillo said. “So many great players have come through this program and built it up to what it is now, and it’s an amazing feeling knowing we were able to continue the Ward Melville lacrosse legacy. This has been a ride I’ll never forget.”

The senior added after each success and milestone that he and Hobbes would look at each other and say: “our younger selves would be proud of what we accomplished.”

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Matt Grillo scores twice, Dylan Pallonetti and Liam Davenport add a goal and an assist each in Patriots' 19th Long Island championship title win

By Bill Landon

The competition to become Class A’s Long Island champion came down to a battle for the ground balls, and as Ward Melville’s defense scooped them up, with it, came the title.

Long-stick midfielder Ethan Larson grabbed five ground balls and long-stick midfielder Pat O’Neill had three in the Patriots’ 8-5 win against Massapequa at Hofstra University June 2. Defenseman Alex Mazzone took hold of two grounders and caused two turnovers. All were crucial given Massapequa (17-2) won 11 of 17 faceoffs.

Being up by just a single goal to start the second half isn’t something the Patriots are used to, minus their one-goal loss to Half Hollows Hills East April 18. Senior Matt Grillo (two goals) said he thought the team was on edge given the unfamiliarity with being in a tight game after halftime, but said one of O’Neill’s possessions gave Ward Melville the spark it needed to ignite a string of scores.

O’Neill grabbed a ground-ball win on the opening faceoff 11 seconds into the second half, darted in on Massapequa goalie Mike Venezia, who shined with 14 saves, made a stick fake and scored. The junior’s goal gave Ward Melville a 3-1 lead.

“That really gave us the energy [we needed], fired us up,” Grillo said.  “We were tired, and the sun was getting the best of us, but we hydrated, we stretched, we just got our legs loose and we came out hot. We just didn’t turn back from there.”

Liam Davenport beat Venezia with a bouncer off a feed from Dylan Pallonetti to give Ward Melville a 4-1 lead with 10:33 left in the third, but Venezia robbed Pallonetti and Grillo from close range that quarter and made a stunner of a save on Grillo early in the fourth to keep the game close.

Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus tipped his hat to Venezia, who held the Patriots to 8-for-40 on shooting.

Ryan Pallonetti, Dylan’s older brother, scored to bring the game to 7-4 with 7:14 left, but again Massapequa had an answer. Venezia initially made the stop on Dylan Pallonetti’s shot, but when he spun his stick to try to trigger a fast break, he inadvertently flicked the ball back into the box.

“To be quite honest we were real sloppy in the first half on both ends,” Negus said. “We were missing some ground balls on the defensive end, but in the second half we made the adjustment. They really attacked the ground balls — I thought our poles did an excellent job then keeping their heads up and working to move in transition. Even the short-stick guys did a great job at picking up the ground balls — they were running all over and on a hot day like this, you can wear another team out. We like to play fast.”

Ward Melville will face Section II’s Niskayuna at Adelphi University in the state semifinals Wednesday, June 6 at 6:30 p.m.

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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s boys lacrosse team swallowed a bitter pill April 18 when the Patriots suffered their only loss of the season, 7-6, loss to Half Hollow Hills East. The No. 1-seeded Patriots had their chance to avenge that loss going up against the No. 3 Thunderbirds in the Class A county championship Wednesday, and did so in convincing fashion.

Behind junior Dylan Pallonetti’s five goals, Ward Melville won 14-5 at Islip High School May 30.

“We remembered that feeling when we lost to them — we weren’t going to let that happen again,” Pallonetti said. “We came out with some fire, put some goals in and never really let them take the game away. For now, we’ll practice hard, study Massapequa and keep the train rolling.”

Ward Melville (18-1) will face Massapequa (17-1) in the Long Island championship at 12:30 p.m. June 2 at Hofstra University.

Pallonetti said finding out that Ward Melville moved up to No. 1 in the nation, according to Inside Lacrosse, gave the Patriots a little extra juice.

It gave him some extra motivation, too, scoring a hat trick in the first half to turn a 5-4 first quarter advantage into a 7-4 halftime lead.

Half Hollow Hills East’s Mike Gomez found the back of the cage early in the third to close within two, but it was as close as the Thunderbirds would come the rest of the way. Ward Melville goalkeeper Collin Krieg (5 saves) said even with a nine-goal lead you can never get too comfortable in the game of lacrosse.

“Obviously we came out with more intensity today thinking we [shouldn’t have lost to them] in the first place,” Krieg said. “Yeah, we were ahead by nine, but to be honest you never know — that team can easily put up a bunch of points. I never like to count my chickens before they hatch.”

Having a potent Patriots offense on the other side of the field though didn’t hurt.

Eight different Ward Melville players scored, five finding the cage over a 4:30 span in the first quarter alone for a 5-1 lead before Half Hollow Hills East responded with three straight. Senior Matt Grillo added three on the day and seniors Zach Hobbes and Michael Giaquinto tacked on a goal and an assist apiece.

Ward Melville, which has now outscored opponents 204-75 this season, bring home the school’s third straight county crown and 26th overall in 40 appearances in the title game.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game — they played us hard the first time — but tonight we wanted revenge,” Grillo said. “It’s always nice to get another win, add some more hardware to the Ward Melville legacy.”

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By Bill Landon

A strong dose of Dylan Pallonetti is just what the doctor ordered.

With his No. 1-seeed Ward Melville boys lacrosse team down 2-0 in the first quarter, the junior scored three straight for a lead his Patriots would not let go of, and capped off the game with another three to seal the deal in a 14-8 Class A semifinal win over No. 5 Connetquot May 24.

Pallonetti ended with a game-high nine goals and one assist on the evening at Islip High School.

“We came out a little slow, but we started moving the ball well in the second half when we figured out their zone,” Pallonetti said. “And we scored some goals.”

He said his team will take the momentum built in this game and transfer it on to the next. Ward Melville faces No. 3 Half Hollow Hills East at Islip High School in the Class A title game May 30 at 7 p.m.

“We’ll have a couple days of practice,” Pallonetti said. “We’ll practice hard, go hard and just keep going.”

Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus said the team didn’t change its game plan when facing the Thunderbirds and will treat Wednesday’s game against the Colts the same way.

“We were a little impatient at first, but we came back to our game plan,” Negus said, noting playmakers on the field, especially on the defensive end, that made some of Pallonetti’s goals possible. “Ethan Larson, Frank Ciniglio, Alex Mazzone and Collin Krieg played well and Patty O’Neill made some unbelievable takeaways that sparked some transition goals.”

Seniors Matt Grillo (two goal, two assists), Zach Hobbes (two goals) and Lucas Flynn (one goal) also found the back of cage for Ward Melville. Senior Ryan Pallonetti, Dylan’s older brother, added an assist.

Ward Melville (16-1 overall, 13-1 in Division I) will look to avenge its only loss of the season. The Patriots fell to Hills East, 7-6, even after scoring three straight goals with 55 seconds left to close what was a 7-3 gap. Ward Melville is vying for its third straight county crown.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us against Hills East,” Negus said. “So we’re going to dig in the next couple of days and be prepared.”

This version has been updated to correct the amount of goals that Pallonetti scored.

Malachy McAvoy adds four goals and two assists, Michael Giaquinto goes 20-for-20 on faceoffs

A Northport defender gets trips trying to keep up with Matt Grillo as he races around the goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Each player brings something to the table for Ward Melville, be it Michael Giaquinto’s crafty faceoff wins, Dylan Pallonetti’s swift assists or Ethan Larson’s physical defense. Matt Grillo brought the scoring for the Patriots Tuesday, using his speed and athleticism to put away six goals in the first half of Ward Melville’s 19-5 home win against Northport.

Dylan Pallonetti fires at the cage and scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The senior was quick to share the credit.

“Our offense played great today,” said Grillo, as 10 different players got on the scoreboard. “Everyone was moving together, which opened up lanes for me and I was able to capitalize.”

But a performance like he had is something the attack has been working hard for. After senior Malachy McAvoy (four goals, two assists) got things going with back-to-back scores, Grillo put away three straight goals in just 1:37 of game time.

The first came off a flick from Pallonetti. Grillo grabbed the ball for mere milliseconds before rocketing the ball into the netting from 10 yards out. His third goal came when he was caught off guard by a shifting defender, found a diagonal lane toward the right side of the cage and fired over his shoulder and behind his back while he raced past it.

Michael Giaquinto dashes into Northport’s zone after winning a face-off. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I always try to have a quick, smooth transition from when I receive the ball to when I release it,” Grillo said. “It helps to make what I’m going to do less predictable. I always love to shoot from all different angles and areas of the field. It makes me more dangerous as an offensive player, and I’ve practiced these different shots many times over the years in order to be able to execute them during a game.”

Head coach Jay Negus said his captain’s capabilities don’t surprise him.

“I expect that from him,” Negus said. “He practices hard and spends a lot of time with his stick.”

Pallonetti (two goals, four assists), who helped on McAvoy’s hat trick goal that put Ward Melville (10-1) up 8-0 to end the first quarter, scored what would end up being the game-winning goal at the 3:32 mark of the first quarter.

“We have built a very strong connection,” Grillo said of working with his junior teammate. “We are always looking for each other — helping each other get good looks. Today he did a very good job of keeping his eyes up and moving in, once he drew the slide, which really helped our offense out.”

Liam Davenport maintains possession as he crosses midfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Giaquinto was 20-for-20 on faceoffs, winning possessions early that grew to be crucial when the Patriots’ bench players stepped in to compete in the second half, up 15-0.

“I’ve been real impressed the last three games with how they’ve come out firing right away, been consistent, and that’s something we’ve been preaching to them constantly,” Negus said. “It took us a little while, and it took a loss [7-6 at Half Hollow Hills East April 18] to be a good learning lesson. I was really happy with how we got to the ground balls, the unselfish play and how we were locking it down defensively. Collin [Krieg, seven saves] was great in goal as well as the poles around him. All the guys are putting in hard work and it shows on different days, which is a good thing, but we’ve got to keep pushing to get better because we’re not satisfied with where we’re at right now. We just have to keep getting better every day.”

Ward Melville hosts Sachem North May 4 at 4:15 p.m. before traveling to Smithtown East May 8 at 4:30 p.m. The Patriots wrap up the regular season with a May 10 contest at Riverhead at 4:15 p.m.

Teammates Dylan Pallonetti, Matt Grillo and Dominic Pryor swarm Eddie Munoz in celebration of one of his three straight goals that put Ward Melville back in the game. Photo from Matt Grillo

It was a special game the Patriots, or anyone who follows the program, won’t soon forget.

Matt Grilllo hoists up the state championship plaque after scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals on his birthday June 10. Photo from Matt Grillo

In a come-from-behind rally, the Ward Melville boys lacrosse team scored six straight goals — five during regulation and one in sudden death overtime — to claim the program’s first Class A state championship title since 2013 with a 10-9 win over Pittsford. In the final minute of regulation, senior Eddie Munoz scored three straight, and Matt Grillo tied it, then scored the game-winner on a solo dodge from behind the cage with one second left in overtime, during the June 10 game at St. John Fisher College.

It was the ninth state title for Ward Melville (20-2), which finished the 2017 season on a 15-game win streak, and the first for head coach Jay Negus, who took over the program when Mike Hoppey retired following the 2013 title. Hall of Fame coach Joe Cuozzo won the first seven.

“We’ve joked around all year long saying we’re the ‘comeback kids’ because we had a great second-half performance in each game we played, but that was a little too close for me,” Negus said, laughing. “We do what we have to do. Eddie [Munoz] is our emotional senior leader and he took over the game, he took over the locker room. He has the ability to rally and lead people to a place you can’t get to yourself. He got us to where we needed to be.”

For Grillo, who was also celebrating his birthday, those last minutes made for a dramatic day with extreme swings of emotion.

“This is the best birthday present I could ask for,” he said. “It went from the worst birthday of my life to the best birthday of my life within 53 seconds.”

Eddie Munoz and Matt Grillo celebrate Ward Melville’s come-from-behind win over PIttsford for the Class A state championship title. Photo from Matt Grillo

Ward Melville was trailing 9-4 with 3:43 left to play when Grillo received a pass from senior Liam Davenport to close the gap. Junior faceoff specialist Michael Giaquinto, who won 19 of 22 faceoffs, won the ensuing battle at the ‘X,” and every one thereafter down the stretch.

“At that point, there was no margin for error,” Giaquinto said. “I knew I had to win them all.”

With 1:01 remaining, after already having a shot saved at the 1:29 mark and following a Patriots timeout call, Munoz began his hat trick streak over a 34.4 second span.

“My teammates made great plays, and I felt, being a captain, that I owed my teammates a service,” Munoz said. “I told them I wasn’t going to let them lose.”

He scored his first goal on a sidearm shot, tallied a man-up goal on a feed from Grillo after a Pittsford slash call with 34 seconds left, and after a Giaquinto faceoff win and pass down the alley, scored his third 7.4 seconds later, to pull the Patriots within one, 9-8.

“The goals were all reacting to the situation,” Munoz said. “It was the heat of the moment and I saw my chances and took them. It feels amazing to pull through for my team, but I give all the credit to my teammates for supporting me all year and for setting up those plays.”

He agreed with his head coach, who said his Patriots never counted themselves out, having preached all season about never giving up, and knowing Ward Melville has always been more of a second-half team.

Matt Grillo hugs his family following the victory. Photo from Matt Grillo

“It was honestly scary, I was a little nervous at first, but we stayed poised, kept our composure and played hard until the final whistle,” Munoz said, “And now we’re champions, so it paid off.”

Giaquinto kept the ball rolling with another faceoff win, and after one errant shot, Grillo got open and converted a pass from senior Andrew Lockhart to tie the game with just eight seconds left.

Lockhart said they were running his play — called “22 Pop” for his jersey number and eventual position shift.

“I popped, they collapsed,” he said. “I dropped it off to Grillo, who of course finished it. It’s something we’ve done all season. But without Mike Giaquinto, we would have lost the game. Faceoffs never get credit, but that kid put the team on his back.”

Early in overtime, after a long Ward Melville possession, goalkeeper Gavin Catalano (11 saves) made a stop on Munoz and the Panthers (19-2) headed the other way. They had a clean look, but Ward Melville’s senior goalkeeper Perry Cassidy made his best and most important save to give Ward Melville the ball one more time. Munoz shot it wide, putting the ball in Grillo’s stick on the restart.

“In the moment, I wasn’t thinking,” Grillo said. “Coach called a play, and I didn’t think there was enough time for it. I saw that there was no slide, and I got to the cage and finished. It was the most amazing moment of my life. So many emotions were running through my mind at that moment. It’s something that I will never forget.”

Ward Melville’s boys lacrosse team scored six striaght goals to pull away witha 10-9 overtime win over Pittsford for the program’s first state championship since 2013. Photo from Matt Grillo

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Patriots power through Massapequa for second straight Long Island title

Call him Perry the protector.

In the final three minutes of the third quarter, with Ward Melville’s boys’ lacrosse team up 5-4 over Nassau County champion Massapequa, Perry Cassidy made three saves, and opened the fourth quarter with another, before his team scored three goals in three minutes en route to an 8-5 Class A Long Island championship victory. The Long Island championship win for Ward Melville was its second straight and 18th in program history.

“I was trying to do anything to keep our team in it,” said Cassidy of his back-to-back-to-back saves on the left corner to end the third. He made 10 stops in the win. “I didn’t want to go home not being able to play with my brothers again.”

At the 6:14 mark of the stanza, senior Andrew Lockhart put the Patriots ahead for the first time, 5-4, when he cut to the crease and received a backdoor pass from sophomore Dylan Pallonetti.

“We talked about it,” Pallonetti said of connecting with Lockhart. “We said we were going to watch each other on the crease, and back-doored them two times, and got them.”

Pallonetti also assisted on Lockhart’s game-tying behind-the-back goal at the 6:38 mark of the second quarter, to knot things up 3-3.

“I love playing with Dylan, he’s a great player and we have great chemistry,” Lockhart said. “He did all the work — gave me the ball where he knew I could shoot and score.”

Up to that point, Ward Melville had been playing catch up, with Pallonetti and senior Zach Hobbes (three goals) scoring the first two goals to tie the game at 2-2 to end the first quarter. Hobbes had another tying goal with 9:21 left in the first half, to make the score 4-all.

Ward Melville knew it was only a matter of time before a high-powered Massapequa offense would make another move. But Cassidy was up to the task.

“I always have the best shooters trying to score on me during warm-ups,” Cassidy said. “I felt good.”

He said the sideline chants and cheers motivated him to keep protecting the cage, along with the motivation to remain on the playoff ride for as long as possible. Lockhart said it was the saves that fueled a three-goal run from the 10-minute to six-minute mark of the fourth, with the game-winner coming off the first of those goals, from senior Liam Davenport with 9:41 left to play.

“Perry stood on his head like he’s been doing all season,” Lockhart said. “He kept us in the game, which got us pumped for our second-half run.”

He added that for him, being able to put on the practice pinnie on Monday was all the motivation he needed.

“All of us seniors have been talking about this moment since we were kids,” Lockhart said. “And we’re dictating the terms to our opponents.”

Ward Melville will prepare for the Class A state semifinals at the University at Albany June 7 at 4 p.m. But Cassidy said the team doesn’t need a run-through.

“We’re ready,” he said.

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Dylan Pallonetti moves the ball around the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville’s boys’ lacrosse team suffered a stinging defeat to end their season- opening four-game winning streak against rival Chaminade April 8, dropping the tough nonleague battle 7-5.

“We didn’t play as best as we could against Chaminade,” senior attack Jack Purdy said, adding that despite the Patriots’ 9-5 bounce-back win over West Islip April 10, to increase the team’s League I win streak to five, more work still needs to be done. “We’re still trying to look for the best game possible. We’re still looking to fire on all cylinders on defense, offense and faceoffs.”

Zach Hobbes challenges a West Islip defender as he moves the ball toward the net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

In the first half of the win over West Islip, junior attack Matt Grillo had his fingerprints all over the game. He scored the first goal of the game, assisted senior midfielder Eddie Munoz on the next, and found the back of the cage off a feed from sophomore attack Dylan Pallonetti later.

“We prepared by watching film on West Islip and looking for their plays and certain techniques they use on the field, and how to counter those techniques,” Munoz said of his team’s readiness. “But it was so close in the first half.”

West Islip came back to tie it, 3-3, but Grillo scored an unassisted goal for a hat trick with three seconds left in the first half.

“I think both of our faceoff guys did very well and so did our goalie,” Munoz said. “I think as a whole we played for each other and gave great effort.”

Matt Grillo and Dom Pryor celebrate a goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville came out firing from the opening minutes of the second half, and at the 10:51 mark, a Perry Cassidy save, one of the senior’s 10 for the game, sparked junior midfielder Zach Hobbes’ unassisted goal. He bulled his way up the middle between two defenders to the front of the cage to extend the lead. Minutes later, Pallonetti scooped up a Grillo rebound and gave his team a 6-3 advantage. Cassidy ended the quarter with a save to preserve the third-quarter shutout.

“It felt good to dominate a little bit,” Munoz said of the second half.

Senior midfielder Dominic Pryor was next to get on the scoreboard. Catching West Islip off guard, he saw the open lane, and instead of passing, made his way toward the cage and fired away.

“It was great to seal the win in the second half against a team that’s more than capable of coming back when they are down,” Pryor said. “My team was able to focus on possessions in the second half, and overall playing team offense and defense, not relying on any individual. The chemistry this team has is very special and I think that will continue and grow throughout the year.”

Purdy had a hand on the next two goals, assisting Pallonetti, who had an open look after Purdy skipped passing to the middleman.

Jack Purdy passes from behind the goal to Dylan Pallonetti, who scores on the skip pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I knew he was open,” Purdy said of Pallonetti. “He did a good job of reading the defense and getting in the right position. I gave it to him, and he took a good shot to the top left.”

Despite West Islip finally breaking through in the second half, with back-to-back goals with four minutes remaining, Purdy helped stabilize the game. He passed from behind the cage to Munoz at the front of the net for the final goal of the game.

“Eddie Munoz made a good shot right in front of the crease that saved me,” Purdy said. “It wasn’t the best pass, but a good goal.”

The senior attack said he hopes his team can continue to work on coming out strong, to be able to keep a new streak running through the remainder of the season.

“We need to step it up a little bit in the first half,” Purdy said. “We let up a few goals that we shouldn’t have, and we need to hold onto the ball better on offense, move it around and get better shots. We try to get out and score, put a bunch of goals in, dodge hard and look for the open seams in the defense. Coach said when we play to our best abilities we can win any given game on the schedule.”

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