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Natalie Langella

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.”

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Girls’ lacrosse players will compete at the Division I level next year

Northport's Katie Cook defends against a Bay Shore player. File photo by Desirée Keegan

By Clayton Collier

It’s not often that an individual high school team gets multiple athletes to commit to college programs.

The fact that Northport girls’ lacrosse will send seven athletes to play at the collegiate level this fall is impressive enough, but longtime head coach Carol Rose said this isn’t out of the norm.

“Typically almost all my seniors go on to play lacrosse in college at the next level; very few do not,” Rose said. “Six girls is about the average per year, and we already have five other kids committed.”

Heather Engellis competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Heather Engellis competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

This year, the team exceeded the average.

Kristen Brunoforte, Heather Engellis, Victoria D’Amato, Gabbi Labuskes, Emily Yoo, Amy Breitfeller and Katie Cook will be playing at Jacksonville University, the University of Oregon, the State University of New York at Cortland, The Naval Academy, Binghamton University, Wesleyan University and SUNY Geneseo, respectively.

Five rising seniors have also already committed, as Courtney Orella, Ryan Columbus and Noelle Peragine who have verbally committed to Villanova University, Fairfield University, and Georgetown University, respectively, and Kelly Jacobsen and Natalie Langella will attend Bryant University.

Labuskes, an All-County attack who has already started with the Naval Academy, said Northport gave her the skills necessary both as an athlete and as a leader.

“Overall, I think it pushed me to better myself as an athlete, a friend and a person,” she said. “I have taken all the lessons learned and carried them with me. Many of which I have been able to use here at the Naval Academy, and will continue to use and be grateful for for the rest of my life.”

Heather Engellis competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Heather Engellis competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Engellis, an All-League attack, said she didn’t start playing lacrosse until the past few years, and wasn’t sure the sport was for her until being convinced by Rose.

“I improved significantly thanks to Coach Rose,” she said. “She actually was the one who persuaded me to play, and looking back, I cannot thank her enough. She’s taught me everything from the basics to all the technical stick work and beyond.”

Rose, who also coaches the Long Island Yellow Jackets, started the Northport program in 1990 with her husband, Alton. Throughout the entirety of the program’s history, the couple has coached together.

“We are best friends and love watching film together and discussing all aspects of the team together,” Rose said of working with her husband. “He is great defensively and we complement each other well, since I am more offensive orientated.”

Brunoforte, an All-League goalie, said she enjoys the husband-and-wife coaching dynamic. Though entirely coincidental, her new coaching staff at Jacksonville is also a married couple.

Gabbi Labuskes competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Gabbi Labuskes competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“I feel like when coaches and assistant coaches are close it makes teaching the game a lot easier,” she said. “They complement each other, especially in the sense that they usually teach two different sides to the game.”

In addition to Brunoforte, Engellis and Labuskes, the loss of an All-County midfielder in D’Amato, All-League attack in Yoo and key defenders in Cook and Breitfeller to graduation, would be quite the hit for any program to immediately recover from on paper. At Northport, however, it’s next woman up.

“There is a lot of potential for next year,” D’Amato said. “They have a lot of talented girls.”

Despite all the comments and kind words for Rose, she said it’s due to her athletes’ own hard work.

“They dedicate a lot of time to their sport year-round and showcase themselves to college coaches throughout the country,” Rose said. “We give them a lot of opportunities for exposure and they take advantage of it.”

Northport's Olivia Carner dumps the ball into the cage over the Bay Shore goalkeeper’s stick. Photo by Desirée Keegan

These Tigers are showing their teeth.

The Northport girls’ lacrosse team capped off the regular season with a six-game winning streak, holding Bay Shore scoreless through the first half Tuesday and trampling the Marauders 13-4, to prove they’re not a team to take lightly in the playoffs.

“I thought they played with confidence,” Northport head coach Carol Rose said. “We played aggressive on defense, fairly patient on offense and we were able to execute some of these fast-break opportunities that we had and not have any letdown in the second half like we had in the past two games. Maintaining the momentum was good.”

Northport senior attack Gabbi Labuskes put the team’s first point on the board after a foul call, and from there the team kept the ball rolling, scoring four more unanswered goals — with Labuskes scoring the last one — to take a 5-0 lead into the halftime break.

Northport's Gabbi Labuskes moves the ball across the field past two Bay Shore players. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Northport’s Gabbi Labuskes moves the ball across the field past two Bay Shore players. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I think a big part of our win was going to be who won the first draw of the game; who came out 100 percent,” Labuskes said. “Moving the ball up the field was probably our biggest help throughout the game because we were able to transition the ball with half-field passes really quick and get it over the defense’s head. I think that played a really big factor.”

The senior attack scored the opening goal of the second half after she bulled her way up the middle and lobbed the ball overhead for her hat trick goal.

Northport junior midfielder Natalie Langella was next to score, followed by eighth-grade midfielder Olivia Carner, who dumped the ball in top center over the goalkeeper’s stick for her second goal of the game.

“They felt good about themselves and I think that that was key, especially when we were losing draw controls” Rose said of her team’s ability to score. “I think we only won four out of 18 draws. That’s not so good. To be able to come out on top with a 13-4 win and lose all the draws is pretty amazing. It also shows a great defensive effort.”

Northport junior attack Courtney Orella whipped one past the keeper next, and with 11:36 left to play, Bay Shore finally put a point on the scoreboard to avoid the shutout.

Labuskes took over on the draw and helped her team win possession, and on the next scoring play, two of Northport’s youngest players connected for a goal. Carner dished the ball in front of the net to seventh-grade attack Danielle Pavinelli, who scored for a 10-1 advantage.

Bay Shore tacked on another goal when an opponent beat out Northport eighth-grade goalkeeper Claire Morris. Labuskes followed with her fourth goal of the game, after clashing with two Bay Shore defenders and shooting over a cluster of defenders while sliding into the turf, and Bay Shore scored again to bring the score to 11-3.

“I think the defense has come a long way,” Rose said of her team. “They’ve been experimenting with three or four different types of defenses and they’re finally comfortable with a couple of them.”

Labuskes scored her fifth goal of the game off an assist by senior midfielder and co-captain Victoria D’Amato. After a Bay Shore goal, Pavinelli tallied the final goal of the game on a bounce shot with 23 seconds left on the clock.

Heading into playoffs, Rose would like to see her team focus on winning more draws and limiting the turnovers, but she’s confident in her Tigers, who finished the regular season 12-4 overall with an 11-3 mark in Division I.

“We only had three loses in the regular season — they were close, and I think it’s anybody’s game,” Rose said of heading into the postseason. “Whoever plays with the most head, heart and hustle will come out on top.”

The No. 3-seeded Tigers will face off against the winner of Saturday’s No. 6 Ward Melville versus No. 11 Half Hollow Hills game at home on Tuesday, May 19. The opening draw is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Like her coach, Labuskes is sure her team has what it takes to make a run this postseason.

“It feels deserved,” Labuskes said of the win. “I think this team can do whatever we want it to do. I think we have the potential to go all the way if we want to put the work in and if we want it that bad.”