By Desirée Keegan
Head coach Al Bertolone is known for telling his team that all it needs is “five seconds of focus.”
These crucial moments of clarity are needed when his Mount Sinai girls’ lacrosse team is fighting for possession during the draw, but this weekend, his team had a lot more to offer than just five seconds. The Mustangs dominated their semifinal and state final opponents to end the weekend taking home the program’s third straight Class C state title.
During a 16-1 rout of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in the semifinals, senior Rayna Sabella controlled the circle, winning 17 of 19 draws and scoring three goals off of her possession wins June 9 at SUNY Cortland.
“It’s all mental game — if you have the attitude from the very beginning that you are going to dominate every aspect of the field, and you try your absolute hardest, there’s no doubt you will be unstoppable,” Sabella said. “I just had to keep telling myself that this draw was mine, and that there was nothing stopping me. I knew it was a big part of the game and it was going to be one of the determining factors of the outcome.”
She was also quick to share credit for the title with her teammates.
“Winning the draws was something Emma [Tyrrell], Jenny [Markey] and I knew we had to focus on the entire game,” Sabella added of her teammates, who were relentless on the edge of the circle, waiting to grab a ground ball. “We could not let our guard down.”
Her teammates noted the 5-foot, 3-inch midfielder’s talents speak louder than her small stature.
“In my opinion, Rayna is the best girl to pick for the draw,” senior Leah Nonnenmann said. “At any given moment she’s ready for anything. No matter how much taller the girl is than her, she always comes up with the ball.”
Junior Meaghan Tyrrell, Emma’s older sister, had four goals and two assists, and senior Veronica Venezia and junior Camryn Harloff each chipped in two goals for Mount Sinai, which had a 23-10 shot advantage.
The Mustangs opened on an 8-0 run before Sydney Plemenik scored the lone goal for Burnt Hills (12-8). Three goals from Tyrrell in the second half punctuated another 8-0 run for the final result.
Meaghan Tyrrell followed up her showing with five goals and three assists during the Mustangs’ 15-4 win over Honeoye Falls-Lima in the state championship victory June 10. Each of the team’s eight seniors also made contributions while turning in a 10-1 run to blow open the game.
Generally a defense-first team, Mount Sinai (18-2), which outscored its foes 31-5 over the two days upstate, benefitted from an offense that was both relentless and efficient. The Mustangs scored 15 times on 18 shots on goal, showcasing their shooters’ accuracy.
“We play our best offense when we work together and settle into a set offense — moving the ball quick and looking for the perfect shot,” Tyrrell said. “I think this weekend we were able to do all those things successfully to help us score.”
She was also quick to put the focus back on her teammates despite her own performance.
“It’s great to know that the team has faith in me to get them the ball so they can pass or shoot, but they move so well cutting and setting up screens, so they really make it easier for me,” she said. “Being on the field is great because you know you’re doing your part whether it be finishing, passing or winning draws. It feels so great to know I helped my team win another state championship.”
The title is not only the third straight for the Mustangs, but the fourth in the last five years.
“We let no one in our heads, we just played our own game and stay locked in the whole time,” said Nonnenmann, who finished the weekend with three goals and two assists, two goals coming in the finals. “We stay calm, we let everyone get settled, and when we feel we’re ready to attack, we go.”
The Mustangs can also strike quickly though, as Nonnenmann intercepted a goalkeeper’s pass and sent a shot sailing into the netting, and Sabella, who notched three goals and two assists over Honeoye Falls-Lima, scored a quick goal after coming down the alley on a draw win to put the Mustangs up 12-3.
For a Mount Sinai program that previously felt overlooked, it’s safe to say other teams can no longer look past a budding dynasty.
“There’s no better feeling than proving people wrong,” Nonnenmann said. “Since 2015 people thought Mount Sinai was going to fall off the map. Every year we’re the underdogs, but always coming up with the win. I’ve never seen a team more steely-eyed than us. We all play our hardest until the very last whistle, and we’re determined to do great things. I hope next year people don’t give Mount Sinai the short end of the stick, because we mean business when we step out onto the field.”
Sabella also looked to the future shortly after securing the state crown.
“The Mount Sinai legacy is not over yet,” she said. “And it won’t be any time soon.”