It sure smells sweet; Northport’s Roses wins 500th game

It sure smells sweet; Northport’s Roses wins 500th game

By Steven Zaitz

It was the latest in a long history of 500 wins — and probably the sweetest.

The situation surrounding the Northport girls lacrosse team’s semifinal victory over Commack last Friday was like an old-fashioned Hollywood thriller with lots of subplots and a twisty, edge-of-your-seat happy ending — but when the credits rolled there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

In an exhilarating, 8-7 win that came down to the very last Commack possession, the Lady Tigers booked a trip to the Suffolk County finals for the seventh year in a row and in doing so, earned the 500th career win for legendary coach Carol Rainson-Rose, who with her husband Al Rose at her side, has coached every game in Northport girls lacrosse history.

Five-hundred wins is quite the number and is unofficially the most by any high school lacrosse coach in the United States. Embedded in that legacy, are two New York State titles, seven Long Island crowns, 15 Suffolk County championships and hundreds of girls who have benefitted from both the lacrosse and life lessons the Roses have bestowed upon them.

After the game, emotional Tiger players gave their coach a bouquet of yellow and purple roses and golden mylar balloons in the shape of the number 500. As an entourage of camera phones and well-wishers followed her around, Carol was moved to tears.  

The balloons, flowers and fanfare were all a nice touch on her big win, but the greatest gift on this day was being able to share the occasion with her coaching and life partner, Al Rose.

“This win was one of the greatest moments of my career,” Carol said.  “I wanted Al to be able to celebrate this milestone. He has coached all 500 games with me, and we started this program together in 1990. He loves these girls and enjoys spending every day with them. Whether he is pacing the sideline or hanging in the corner and watching, his presence is always felt.”

Last summer, Al had surgery to remove a brain tumor. At the time, the news of this was not widespread around campus but the surgery was considered a “success”. When Al rolled onto the Northport campus at practice time in a wheelchair at the start of the 2023-24 school year after word had finally gotten out, students, coaches, and parents from every Northport team stopped what they were doing. En masse, they formed a receiving line that started at the big blue rock near the football field and snaked around the running track.

Al didn’t say much that day and just flashed his signature smile, which was perceived by those who greeted him, as perhaps a sign that he was on his way back to them. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with the dreaded glioblastoma; an aggressive, spindle-like brain tumor that is ultra-resistant to traditional forms of cancer treatment and rarely allows for good outcomes.

Despite this horrible situation, there was Al a few months later, at his wife’s side at the start of 2024 lacrosse season, patrolling the Lady Tiger sidelines in their opening game against Huntington – the school that this coaching duo beat to win their first county championship in 1996. 

“Every day and every game I thank God that he is still able to be here,” Carol said.

The players feel the same.

“Man Rose (Al) is like a ray of sunshine, and I speak for everyone on the team that we are grateful every day that he is here,” said senior captain and midfielder Christina Lauro. “He is so supportive, has such a kind heart and he inspires us so much because he shows us how strong a person can be. He has taught us all to live our lives to the fullest, and every girl on this team plays her heart out for him.”

As they did in this battle to reach the county final against Commack.

With the score tied at 4-4 late in the second quarter, sophomore attacking winger Kaleigh Howard, who has seen more playing time as the season has progressed, bolted around from behind the net and snapped off a sharp-angle shot as she was being knocked to turf by a pair of Commack defenders. The shot beat Lady Cougar goal-keeper Olivia Bezmalinovic on the short side to give Northport a 5-4 lead.

“I saw an opening to go in and drive to the net,” said Howard, who is also the starting varsity soccer goalkeeper. “When I shot the ball and I saw it touch the net, it was like a dream.”

Carol was thrilled by Howard’s efforts not only in scoring that important goal, but how her demeanor inspires the team.

“Kaleigh’s goal was epic,” she said. “She fired up the entire team with that one as she got up off the ground and was so pumped. Her emotional celebration was motivational.”

Attacker Kate Atkinson, who is also a sophomore, but has already amassed 124 goals playing for the Roses, scored to open the second half and give Northport a 6-5 lead and freshman Riley Cash, who had three goals in the game, made a nifty high-low fake to beat Bezmalinovic for a two-goal lead. Ashley Arizonas, who came off the bench for the Lady Cougars, trimmed the Northport lead to one with less than a minute left before the fourth quarter. 

With the score 7-6, Lauro made a play that will not show up on the scoresheet. 

Three minutes into the fourth, Lauro, like a ball-hawking football safety, sprinted 20 yards across the field to make a clean interception of a Commack outlet pass. It was a play rarely seen in a lacrosse game, as ball control is so precious a commodity and long passes like the one Lauro intercepted, are usually made with extreme caution – especially at such a critical time in the game

“I was angry that we had just lost possession and I was determined to get it back,” said the Binghamton-bound Lauro. “It was really important because we kept the ball for a good amount of time after that play.” The repossession by Northport ate up three minutes of clock and it climaxed with Atkinson’s second goal of the game. 

But Commack wasn’t just going to be a willing participant in Northport’s fairytale ending, especially on their home turf. Amelia Brite scored to make it 8-7 with four minutes to play and Commack was looking for more.

With a minute left in regulation, Commack scooped up a loose ball and was circling Northport goal-keeper Charlotte Cuneo’s net. Seconds ticked down as Commack winger Aubrey Maurer came out from behind the net, checked by Northport defender Mary Breckling – Maurer found midfielder Michaela Burke, who was about 12 yards away from the goalmouth to Cuneo’s right. Breckling switched to cover Burke, but not soon enough to prevent Burke from firing an unmolested shot. Cuneo came out to cut off the angle and Burke’s shot glanced off the goal post and rolled into the awaiting stick of Northport defender Emma Greenberg. 

The Roses earned their 500th win. Send in the balloons.

“It was crazy. I didn’t really know what happened or where the ball ended up,” said Cuneo, who made 12 saves for Northport. “I’m so excited for my team and my coaches. Coach Rose deserves everything that comes to her. She works so hard to get us to this point and we couldn’t have done it without her.”

And she couldn’t have done it without her partner for the last 35 years. 

“Our whole team has embraced the ‘Fight Like Al’ mentality,” Carol said. “The girls wear red bows in their hair for him. The community has been amazing in supporting us in this journey and I was just overwhelmed with joy that he could be a part of this celebration. Al is a warrior and a fighter and so are these young ladies.”

Lauro and her mates knew this day was bigger than just the outcome of the game.

“Being associated with Coach Rose is an experience many wish they could have,” Lauro said. “Being on this team for four years has taught me so much about confidence and team play. We all knew that the game was about more than just us as players, and with all that has gone on, we knew we could not let this season end without us getting both of them their 500th win.”

On Friday, against top-ranked Ward Melville, the Roses and the Tigers together, go for the first of their next 500 – against their fiercest rival and number one ranked team in Suffolk, the Ward Melville Lady Patriots.

Al Rose is already looking forward to it.

“I am just so happy that the girls played their hearts out, defeated Commack and brought us back to the county championship game,” he said. “I knew they could do this because the girls on this team are warriors.”

They learned from the best. They fight like Al.

 

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