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Nikki Ortega

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.”

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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Nikki Ortega maintains possession of the ball in USA’s semifinal game against England/ Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine

Nikki Ortega has earned a spot on the US Lacrosse All-World team.

This news made for a bittersweet Saturday, as Ortega, a former Middle Country girls’ lacrosse standout and incoming freshman at the University of Notre Dame, was part of the U.S. Under-19 women’s lacrosse national team that went undefeated before falling short in the finals of the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship, 9-8, to Canada.

“The experience was awesome and to be on that team is such an honor,” Ortega said. “It’s something that I’ll always remember, and it taught me so much about myself, and it’s made me so much of a better player over this past year that I learned so much more about the game of lacrosse.”

According to Kim Simons Tortolani, the U19 women’s head coach, more than 800 girls applied to be on the team. As part of the extensive process, regional tryouts were held beginning in August of last year, and the girls were dwindled down during several tryouts until the final team of 18 girls was chosen in January. Ortega was one of seven girls from New York to make the team. 

“The competition was really good and it was something I hadn’t really seen,” Ortega said of the tryout process. “To go up against great competition, especially once we had the team solidified, every practice we got better because all of the girls are so talented. They really challenged me.”

Simons Tortolani said Ortega made an impression early on in tryouts.

“Nikki is one of those players I can remember from the beginning being very strong and stood out amongst a lot of great players,” she said. “She is a very consistent player and played at a really high level from tryouts all the way through the tournament.”

Nikki Ortega reaches her stick out in an attempt to block. Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine
Nikki Ortega reaches her stick out in an attempt to block. Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine

The coach said the girls were put through a rigorous mental, physical and emotional tryout process, some of the stress being intentional, to see if the girls had what it took to be a part of the team.

“Nikki was able to manage and handle all of that, and that’s why she made it through the process,” she said. “We had some athletes who maybe, at times, were a little bit flashier, but were not nearly as consistent, and the thing about Nikki was that she quietly does what she needs to do on the offensive end.”

After the roster was solidified, the girls practiced for a few weekends before heading to Scotland to compete in the tournament.

The girls went undefeated at 5-0 through pool play, making them the No. 1 seed heading into the quarterfinals. During pool play, USA outscored its opponents by a combined score of 90-19.

In the team’s third game, Ortega had her breakout performance of the competition. In a 19-6 win over Australia, the attack scored six goals and added two assists, to be named the Player of the Match.

“She really just was unstoppable every time she touched the ball,” Simons Tortolani said. “She’s smart, she reads the game well, we had enough confidence in her to ask her to help start to run the offense, calling the plays and I think that’s because she has a calm, steady effect on the offensive end.”

USA came close to shutting out New Zealand in the quarterfinals, topping its opponent 18-1, and followed with a semifinal win over England, 20-4, before taking on Canada in the finals.

“The atmosphere the entire 10 days of the tournament was really exciting,” Ortega’s mother, Sue, said. “All of the parents of team USA were wearing red, white and blue and they were very excited and supportive for the girls. It’s an unbelievable feeling to see Nikki representing her country and being a contributor, and I’m just full of pride and proud of the player and the person she’s become.”

Team USA, which was vying for its fifth consecutive gold medal, lost in a close match that involved several ties and started off being a difficult matchup because of the weather. Ortega, who scored 19 goals and 10 assists over the course of the tournament, and had at least a hat trick in four of her seven games, said the team did not play like themselves.

“I personally think we were more talented and it just didn’t go our way,” she said. “The weather when we got out there was horrible and a lot of us couldn’t even catch, but lacrosse means so much to me and I had to give up so much to get to where I am, so to know it all paid off in the end really means a lot. I never dreamed of accomplishing all of these things.”

The team had outscored Canada 15-9 in pool play, but Simons Tortolani said she thinks part of the team’s downfall was that it’s competition wasn’t as tough as Canada’s was throughout the tournament.

“I think the team did come together and certainly improved, in retrospect, it probably would’ve been better for us if we had some more challenging games during the pool play,” she said. “But it was a great experience for all of us who were involved. Getting to know these girls and coaching players like Nikki is a privilege and an honor and the girls represented our country and our sport in a way that I’m truly proud of.”

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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.

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.”