Smithtown West walks away from finals with empty hands but full hearts

Smithtown West walks away from finals with empty hands but full hearts

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Kayla Kosubinsky races to the ground ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Smithtown West girls’ lacrosse team walked onto the Dowling Sports Complex field Tuesday donning shirts that said “one team, one fight.”

Although senior midfielder Natalia Lynch stole the show by scoring six goals, it’s what her team had been through all season that made the season special.

Natalia Lynch grabs possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Natalia Lynch grabs possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Bulls never made it to the Suffolk County finals, and although they were the No. 1 seed with a near perfect record, they were overlooked. Smithtown West battled a tough No. 3-seed West Islip team — the only opponent the Bulls lost to in the regular season — and remained neck-and-neck to the end, when the more experienced team battled back to come out on top, 9-8.

“It was amazing — they played phenomenal all season,” Smithtown West head coach Carie Bodo said of the run her girls had. “We played them much better than we did the first time we beat them. We knew, as much as we were the No. 1 seed, that we were the underdogs because they’ve already been here four years in a row. They know how to play this game.”

Lynch tallied a hat trick in the first half with her second goal off an assist from her best friend and longtime teammate Mackenzie Heldberg.

Jessica English defends against a West Islip attack. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Jessica English defends against a West Islip attack. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s been unreal since first grade, playing with someone as amazing as she is — it definitely made the game easier,” Heldberg said of Lynch. “We just had a special connection on the field that not everyone else has and she’s made me so successful and brings out the best lacrosse player in me.”

Also scoring for the Bulls in the first half were junior midfielder Kayla Kosubinsky and junior attack Chelsea Witteck. Senior converted-goalkeeper Marissa D’Amico made big stops between the pipes to keep the score 5-5 at the end of the first half.

“We did what we thought we needed to do,” Bodo said. “We covered certain people. We knew that if we played them tight, they’d be forced to make tough shots and miss the cage because we swarm them so good, so the defense did an amazing job. We had opportunities at the end to come up with the goal, but we just didn’t come up with it.”

Lynch gained possession off the draw, like she had done all night, to open the second half, and after passing it to Heldberg, received a feed from her friend in front of the cage and dumped in her fourth goal of the game.

Chelsea Witteck leads the team in celebration of her goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Chelsea Witteck leads the team in celebration of her goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

D’Amico made back-to-back saves after a West Islip goal to maintain the stalemate, and on a diving play, Lynch fired her fifth goal of the game. She won possession off the next draw, but wouldn’t impact the play again after being sidelined for two minutes, with 2:21 left to play.

“She played an amazing game,” Bodo said of Lynch. “It was a killer, she got that penalty at the end. She played a great game.”

Witteck netted her second goal of the game off an assist from Heldberg, for the only other score of the second half, to put the team up 8-6 with 7:03 left in the game, but West Islip rallied back with three unanswered goals for the 9-8 lead with 1:24 left to play. The Lions raced up and down the field until time expired to seal the victory.

“I’m super proud of them,” Bodo said of her team. “For us it was a win. We were ranked No. 3 in the preseason and Newsday didn’t even rank us, MSG Varsity doesn’t ever give us anything, so no one thought we would do anything. For us, we did it for ourselves. We didn’t do it for Newsday’s publicity or MSG Varsity’s publicity; we worked hard all season to prove it to ourselves.”

The players said they were proud of how far they’ve come.

Mackenzie Heldberg charges toward the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mackenzie Heldberg charges toward the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“The loss hurt a lot, but for a team who never got much credit for anything we did — just making it to counties and playing a hell of a game against a team as talented as West Islip, there is nothing to hold our heads down for,” Heldberg said. “Coming here and experiencing this for the first time in Smithtown West girls lacrosse history was truly something amazing and something to be proud of.”

Although she, Lynch and D’Amico, along with three other senior nonstarters will be leaving the team, Bodo is excited for the future now that the Bulls are starting to move in the right direction and continues to make playoff strides each season. Kosubinsky said that after all of the doubt, Smithtown West lacrosse showed what it’s really made of.

“I know I’ve never seen Smithtown West girls lacrosse play with so much heart, and even with a loss, I’ve never been so proud of my team,” Kosubinsky said. “We had an amazing season and every single person contributed to that. Tonight we walked off the field with our heads held high because we know we played our hearts out.”