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Natalia Lynch

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Kayla Kosubinsky races to the ground ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Smithtown West girls’ lacrosse team walked onto the Dowling Sports Complex field Tuesday donning shirts that said “one team, one fight.”

Although senior midfielder Natalia Lynch stole the show by scoring six goals, it’s what her team had been through all season that made the season special.

Natalia Lynch grabs possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Natalia Lynch grabs possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Bulls never made it to the Suffolk County finals, and although they were the No. 1 seed with a near perfect record, they were overlooked. Smithtown West battled a tough No. 3-seed West Islip team — the only opponent the Bulls lost to in the regular season — and remained neck-and-neck to the end, when the more experienced team battled back to come out on top, 9-8.

“It was amazing — they played phenomenal all season,” Smithtown West head coach Carie Bodo said of the run her girls had. “We played them much better than we did the first time we beat them. We knew, as much as we were the No. 1 seed, that we were the underdogs because they’ve already been here four years in a row. They know how to play this game.”

Lynch tallied a hat trick in the first half with her second goal off an assist from her best friend and longtime teammate Mackenzie Heldberg.

Jessica English defends against a West Islip attack. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Jessica English defends against a West Islip attack. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s been unreal since first grade, playing with someone as amazing as she is — it definitely made the game easier,” Heldberg said of Lynch. “We just had a special connection on the field that not everyone else has and she’s made me so successful and brings out the best lacrosse player in me.”

Also scoring for the Bulls in the first half were junior midfielder Kayla Kosubinsky and junior attack Chelsea Witteck. Senior converted-goalkeeper Marissa D’Amico made big stops between the pipes to keep the score 5-5 at the end of the first half.

“We did what we thought we needed to do,” Bodo said. “We covered certain people. We knew that if we played them tight, they’d be forced to make tough shots and miss the cage because we swarm them so good, so the defense did an amazing job. We had opportunities at the end to come up with the goal, but we just didn’t come up with it.”

Lynch gained possession off the draw, like she had done all night, to open the second half, and after passing it to Heldberg, received a feed from her friend in front of the cage and dumped in her fourth goal of the game.

Chelsea Witteck leads the team in celebration of her goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Chelsea Witteck leads the team in celebration of her goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

D’Amico made back-to-back saves after a West Islip goal to maintain the stalemate, and on a diving play, Lynch fired her fifth goal of the game. She won possession off the next draw, but wouldn’t impact the play again after being sidelined for two minutes, with 2:21 left to play.

“She played an amazing game,” Bodo said of Lynch. “It was a killer, she got that penalty at the end. She played a great game.”

Witteck netted her second goal of the game off an assist from Heldberg, for the only other score of the second half, to put the team up 8-6 with 7:03 left in the game, but West Islip rallied back with three unanswered goals for the 9-8 lead with 1:24 left to play. The Lions raced up and down the field until time expired to seal the victory.

“I’m super proud of them,” Bodo said of her team. “For us it was a win. We were ranked No. 3 in the preseason and Newsday didn’t even rank us, MSG Varsity doesn’t ever give us anything, so no one thought we would do anything. For us, we did it for ourselves. We didn’t do it for Newsday’s publicity or MSG Varsity’s publicity; we worked hard all season to prove it to ourselves.”

The players said they were proud of how far they’ve come.

Mackenzie Heldberg charges toward the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mackenzie Heldberg charges toward the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“The loss hurt a lot, but for a team who never got much credit for anything we did — just making it to counties and playing a hell of a game against a team as talented as West Islip, there is nothing to hold our heads down for,” Heldberg said. “Coming here and experiencing this for the first time in Smithtown West girls lacrosse history was truly something amazing and something to be proud of.”

Although she, Lynch and D’Amico, along with three other senior nonstarters will be leaving the team, Bodo is excited for the future now that the Bulls are starting to move in the right direction and continues to make playoff strides each season. Kosubinsky said that after all of the doubt, Smithtown West lacrosse showed what it’s really made of.

“I know I’ve never seen Smithtown West girls lacrosse play with so much heart, and even with a loss, I’ve never been so proud of my team,” Kosubinsky said. “We had an amazing season and every single person contributed to that. Tonight we walked off the field with our heads held high because we know we played our hearts out.”

Middle Country’s Christine Gironda races Smithtown West’s Natalie Lynch for the ground ball off the draw in the Mad Dogs’ 17-13 win over the Bulls on May 8. With the win, Middle Country goes undefeated in regular season play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team has made history, finishing a perfect season Friday with a 17-13 win over Smithtown West, to go undefeated for the first time in district history.

“The girls played awesome today, and honestly, at practice yesterday, we didn’t even talk about being undefeated,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “These girls are smart, great lacrosse players. I don’t do much but steer the ship. Now we’re back to 0-0, and let the playoffs begin.”

Middle Country’s Nikki Ortega gains possession of the ball in the Mad Dogs’ zone, in her team’s 17-13 win over Smithtown West on May 8. With the win, Middle Country finished the regular season undefeated at 16-0, with a 14-0 mark in Division I. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Middle Country’s Nikki Ortega gains possession of the ball in the Mad Dogs’ zone, in her team’s 17-13 win over Smithtown West on May 8. With the win, Middle Country finished the regular season undefeated at 16-0, with a 14-0 mark in Division I. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The victory places the team first in Division I.

The Mad Dogs were off to a strong start as usual, lighting up the scoreboard and rattling off seven unanswered goals before Smithtown West midfielder Mackenzie Heldberg, a junior, put the Bulls’ first point on the board. Each team scored four more goals in the first half, to bring the score to 11-5 heading into the break.

“Every game we’re growing, we’re coming together and our chemistry is amazing on and off the field,” senior midfielder and attack Nikki Ortega said. “We’re best friends off the field, and it really shows when we play on the field. I’m so proud of the team, and it’s really all come together.”

Ortega got the ball rolling in the second half after senior goalkeeper Ashley Miller made a big save. Ortega passed the ball to classmate Allison DiPaola, who knocked a shot in early for the 12-5 advantage.

Senior midfielder Christine Gironda continued to aid the Mad Dogs in gaining possession off the draw, which helped her team continue to score and maintain its lead.

“Momentum is everything in this game, and winning the draws gave us so much more momentum and really put us up,” Ortega said.

Ortega continued a series of strong assists when she passed the ball to her younger sister, Jamie, a sophomore midfielder, and Miller followed with two saves to keep the Bulls at bay.

Middle Country’s Amanda Masullo squeezes between Smithtown West’s Kalya Kosubinsky and Katie Aldrich as she moves the ball up the field in the Mad Dogs’ 17-13 win over the Bulls on May 8. With the win, Middle Country goes undefeated in regular season play. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Middle Country’s Amanda Masullo squeezes between Smithtown West’s Kalya Kosubinsky and Katie Aldrich as she moves the ball up the field in the Mad Dogs’ 17-13 win over the Bulls on May 8. With the win, Middle Country goes undefeated in regular season play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“That’s not how they play — they were definitely intimidated, without a doubt,” Smithtown West head coach Carie Bodo said of her team. “I think they put so much pressure on themselves, but in the second half, they were pissed, and they came out and played, and we outscored [Middle Country] in the second half.”

It took a little while for the Bulls to find their groove, and after Nikki Ortega scored off an assist from her younger sister to make the score 16-6 with 15:45 left to play, Smithtown West came back to score five unanswered goals — two by sophomore midfielder Kayla Kosubinsky — and force Middle Country to call a timeout.

“I think in the second half we really stepped it up,” Kosubinsky said. “I think we needed to figure out what we needed to do quicker in the game before there wasn’t much time left, but these girls are amazing and every person has their own role on this team and I think we all work so good together.”

The Mad Dogs regrouped in their huddle.

“This’ll show how much you want it,” Nikki Ortega said to her team. “If we want it, we’ll win.”

Jamie Ortega dished the ball to DiPaola for her hat trick goal, and although the Bulls tacked on two more to end the scoring for the game, Miller made two more stops, leaving the Mad Dogs with an undefeated season at 16-0 with a 14-0 mark in conference play.

Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega shoots the ball over a swarm of Smithtown West players in her team’s 17-13 win over the Bulls on May 8. With the win, the Mad Dogs finished the regular season undefeated at 16-0, with a 14-0 mark in Division I. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega shoots the ball over a swarm of Smithtown West players in her team’s 17-13 win over the Bulls on May 8. With the win, the Mad Dogs finished the regular season undefeated at 16-0, with a 14-0 mark in Division I. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Once you have your first save down you have the adrenaline to keep going,” Miller said. “We all try to stay positive and we don’t get down on each other, but bring each other up. I feel like we have good motion going on, and we’re going to keep it going.”

Nikki Ortega finished the game with four goals and five assists, while Jamie Ortega also finished with nine points, off five goals and four assists. Behind DiPaola’s hat trick was sophomore Ava Barry and eighth-grader Sophie Alois with two goals. Sophomore midfielder Amanda Masullo tacked on a goal and an assist, and her twin sister Rachel rounded out the scoring with an assist, while Miller finished with a game-high eight saves.

“It’s something I never dreamed of ever doing,” Nikki Ortega said of going undefeated. “Although it puts a lot of pressure on us for playoffs, it’s the most incredible feeling.”

She feels her team still needs to work on being more composed, especially when its opponent applies pressure and comes back in a game. However, she thinks her team has what it takes to go further than its semifinal appearance last season.

“We have to keep our heads up,” she said. “Every game I play like it’s my last. This is how I’d want to end my season and my career at Middle Country. I think if there was any year that we could go all the way, it’s this year.”