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Rayna Sabella

Class C finals victory is Mustangs' fourth in last five years

Rayna Sabella and Leah Nonnenmann celebrate the Mount Sinai girls lacrosse team's third straight Class C state championship win. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

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.

Rayna Sabella maintains possession off the draw. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

“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.

Meaghan Tyrrell evades defenders as she makes her way to the cage. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

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.

Leah Nonnenmann moves the ball across the field. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

“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.”

Mount Sinai’s girls lacrosse team’s 15-4 win over Honeoye Falls-Lima in a state championship-victory June 10 helped the Mustangs bring home the program’s fourth state title in the last five years. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

Mustangs threepeat as Class C crown-holders win 10-4 win over Wantagh

With a defensive unit like Mount Sinai’s, the girls’ lacrosse team knows it only needs a small cushion to rest easy. The Mustangs’ Class C Long Island championship game was a textbook example, as Hannah Van Middelem’s five stops sparked a potent offensive rush — led by Meaghan Tyrrell’s four goals and two assists — on the way to the team’s third straight Long Island crown. The feat was achieved with a 10-4 win over Wantagh June 4 at Adelphi University.

“I felt good because I know I have one of the best defenses in the country in front of me,” Van Middelem said. “And our offense really stepped up to help.”

The Mustangs’ defenders and offensive players see it a little differently.

Hannah Van Middelem makes a save. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

“She’s a great goalie,” sophomore Morgan Mitchell said of Van Middelem. “She picks us up. When she makes those big saves and gives us another chance with the ball, we get pumped.”

The senior goalkeeper’s first save of the game following an opening draw win by Wantagh led to Tyrell’s first goal, and the junior attack put Mount Sinai ahead 2-1 minutes later. Senior Veronica Venezia tied the game, 3-3, off a feed from Mitchell. Van Middelem made another save before Mitchell and Venezia — who finished with three goals — scored on assists from Tyrrell in the final two minutes of the first half, for a 6-3 Mustangs lead.

At the 23:05 mark of the second half, Van Middelem intercepted a Wantagh pass across the front of the cage, and deflected a shot with 10:10 left to play during a six-minute span of Warriors possession, until they lost the ball after an attacker stepped in the crease.

“Hannah is always there to make a stop,” senior defender Emily Vengilio said. “She’s the best. When we have a breakdown on defense, I wouldn’t want anyone else in goal.”

Tyrrell, who led the team with 57 goals and 35 assists during the 2017 season, good for sixth on Suffolk County’s points leaderboard, added two more unassisted shots as she circled around the left side of the goal to put Mount Sinai up 8-3.

“You’re trying to shake off the defenders and get open for your teammates,” the junior said. “It’s kind of cool.”

Meaghan Tyrrell moves the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Draw wins and ground ball pickups by senior Rayna Sabella and Tyrrell’s younger sister Emma also helped the team jump out to its lead midway through the second half.

“Once we got the ground balls it led to great offensive opportunities,” Meaghan Tyrrell said. “Whenever a goalie makes a big save in a big moment it’s an intensity increaser. Our defense played confidently, and it showed on the field.”

Mount Sinai head coach Al Bertolone noted the difficulty in achieving the back-to-back-to-back championships.

“I’m really proud of the kids — they dug in there and the culture here is built to last,” he said. “This is the group that’s been in the mix since 2014, so we’ve had a lot of these kids around creating and sustaining the culture.”

Bertolone said the key to the win was limiting the touches of Wantagh’s dynamic offense — highlighted by a quartet of scorers.

“We needed to get in and out of a lot of defenses depending on which one had the ball,” he said. “Defensively, I don’t know if Wantagh matched up with the things we were doing down there. Once we get the lead, with the defense that we have, we’re pretty good.”

Leah Nonnenmann races between Wantagh defenders. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Mitchell was also impressed with the defense, led by Vengilio, senior Haley Dillon and twin sisters Meaghan and Kirsten Scutaro, which has held opponents to 3.7 goals per game this season, including two shutouts in April.

“Our cuts, picks and screens were the best they’ve been all season,” Mitchell said. “This senior group, they mean the world to me, and I wanted their last year to be a special one.”

Leah Nonnenmann, who added two goals in the win, said she remembers losing in the county final game her freshman year, and the motivation she had to come back and change the result the following year.

“All I could think about was coming back next season and winning it all,” she said. “It wasn’t an easy ride — we had to work hard — and we continue to prove everyone wrong. We fought for the respect we deserve.”

That longtime mission was accomplished, according to Vengilio.

“It feels better than all the other ones,” she said of the win this season.

Tyrrell agreed: “Three LICs in a row — how much better can it get?”

The Mount Sinai girls’ lacrosse team outscored Wantagh, 10-4, for the Mustangs’ straight Long Island championship win. Photo by Desirée Keegan

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Mustangs win second consecutive Long Island title with 7-5 win over Cold Spring Harbor

Senior midfielder Erica Shea crouched along the sideline below the stands and whispered as she pulled up her hands to pray.

“Let’s go,” she shouted, after stepping out onto the field and clicking her stick against those of her teammates. “Can’t lose,” she and her team said as they exited the huddle before the start of the game.

Her prayers were answered or maybe not even needed, but either way she’s right — her Mount Sinai girls’ lacrosse team can’t lose. The Mustangs played a man down for the last 10 minutes of the game and, despite letting up three goals in that span, still came away with the Long Island Class C championship title with a 7-5 win over Cold Spring Harbor on June 5 at Stony Brook University.

The team proved that defense still wins championships.

“We’re always defense first,” head coach Al Bertolone said. “We have a very strong nonleague schedule — we were in a lot of tough games. Our kids learned how to play gritty and tough in these moments.”

Mount Sinai scored three goals to open the first half. Immediately following a Hannah Van Middelem save just minutes into the game, sophomore attack Camryn Harloff scored first after carrying the ball down the back side of the field for a goal. Senior midfielder Caroline Hoeg scored off a Shea feed minutes later, and junior attack and midfielder Leah Nonnenmann tacked on the third unassisted with 18:35 still left in the first half.

After a brief hiccup in which the senior goalkeeper let up a rare goal, senior attack and midfielder Meghan Walker dumped the ball in up front off a pass from Nonnenmann, after the junior couldn’t squeeze past defenders, pulled back and saw the open look for Walker.

Next, junior midfielder Rayna Sabella took the ball from the left side of the goal and passed it up to Harloff on the far right post. She sent the ball flying into the netting for a 5-1 advantage.

“We knew that [Cold Spring Harbor] wanted to come out and crush us because last year they lost to us in triple overtime,” Harloff said. “So we knew we had to come out stronger and have that intensity to beat them.”

Sabella added a free position goal to extend the lead to 6-2, but Cold Spring Harbor was able to pull apart the defense just for a brief moment to draw within 6-3 after a good goal.

“We game-planned pretty well — on defense we knew their personnel and we knew who we had to stay strong on at all times,” Sabella said. “Throughout this season we’ve been known as a ‘second-half team,’ so we knew in order to win we’d have to pick it up in the first half and keep that momentum throughout.”

Shea added to the offensive onslaught when she pressed against the defense and sent a buzzer-beating shot rocketing into the cage to end the half.

“We knew we had to give 100 percent the entire time because we knew they weren’t going to give us any let-ups,” she said. “We had to go full throttle.”

The second half started slower, and Mount Sinai found itself plagued with yellow cards, being down a player for two minutes at a time on several occasions through the 25 minutes. Cold Spring Harbor scored two goals but calm is contagious, according to Bertolone.

“We were poised and we pulled it out,” he said.

The Mount Sinai team had graduated a significant amount of talent following last year, and had its fair share of doubters heading into this season.

“No one thought we could do it, but we thought we could,” Harloff said. “We believed in ourselves. No one thought we would get here and it feels great to prove them all wrong.”