Every spring, North Shore residents do not have to look far to watch the best lacrosse players in America oppose each other on the local high school and college levels of competition.
2018 Rocky Point High School graduate Petey LaSalla is one of the finest face-off men in America. He is currently a student-athlete at the University of Virginia, where he has recently won his second lacrosse National Championship in the last three years.
LaSalla is a hard-nosed young man that is referred as a throwback to many decades ago. Many of his former teachers and coaches marvel at LaSalla’s simplicity of being a grounded young man that resembles the tenacity of boxing champ Rocky Marciano.
A devoted athlete, LaSalla began playing football when he was five years old where he dominated through his ability to run the ball and to play linebacker. Years later, LaSalla was a two-time all county football player, and placed second in the voting for Joseph Cipp Award for the top running back in Suffolk County.
At Rocky Point, he holds this school’s offensive records in scoring 43 career touchdowns and 20 alone in 2017. This most valuable player was described by Coach Anthony DiLorenzo as having the “leadership and skills to push everyone to play at another level. If our team needed a big play, we called upon Petey. The opponent always understood that Petey was the cornerstone of this football team, and he was rarely stopped. Petey had one of the largest hearts ever to play at Rocky Point.”
In fifth grade, he played lacrosse through the Rocky Point Youth Program under John Kistner, where he first learned about this game. After his 7th grade lacrosse year, LaSalla played on the junior varsity team during his 8th and 9th grade seasons. During his sophomore season, LaSalla grew taller, lifted weights and sharpened his own skills.
During his earlier high school years, LaSalla’s face-off techniques were aided by 2010 Rocky Point High School graduate Tommy Kelly. Through the expertise of this Division I and professional lacrosse player, these lessons helped make this face-off man into one of the most feared in New York State, and LaSalla appreciated the knowledge of Kelly that taught him this difficult trade.
LaSalla became one of the best players in New York State, as he won 78% of his face-offs. It was later increased to 81% during his junior year, and as a senior, LaSalla gained 84% of the face-offs.
While many of these lacrosse specialists usually leave the field after winning a face-off, LaSalla rarely took a break against his opponents. Later, he was recruited by college coaches that watched his ability to be an all-around player, that won the bulk of his face-offs, scored goals, and control the tempo of a game.
By the time that he graduated, LaSalla excelled as a two-time All-American player, the first in school history, and was an all-state, county and league athlete. This Newsday First Team All Long Island player was heavily touted as the 94th top recruit and the 8th finest high school senior in America by Inside Lacrosse.
Rocky Point School District Athletic Director Charles Delargy recalled that LaSalla was “the most dominant face-off man that I had ever seen in my career. And most importantly, an even better person, from a wonderful family.”
Being from a long line of dominant lacrosse players that were on the Rocky Point teams since the early 1970s, LaSalla appreciated the guidance of his late coach Michael P. Bowler. It was the guidance of this long-time figure that pushed him into the right direction to reach his ability in high school and later in college.
Bowler had a unique connection to this family, as he also mentored LaSalla’s father, Peter, and his older brother, Nicholas, in lacrosse. LaSalla recalled that Bowler was “an outstanding coach, that helped me take this sport seriously and gain the work ethic that was necessary to become a dominant player. He supported me through the recruiting process and spoke with my coach at the University of Virginia. But most importantly, he taught me life lessons, that made me into a better person.”
The wife of this iconic lacrosse coach, Helene Bowler has seen a multitude of games and players from Rocky Point over the last 40 years. She recalled that her late-husband saw LaSalla as a “gifted and a driven player, that was extremely coachable, and motivated to improve his game. He always gives 100% in all of his endeavors and Petey was a capable student-athlete that is a special young man.”
When Bowler passed away in late November 2019, it was interesting to see LaSalla speak with his grandson John who was a mid-fielder that played for Duke University. These two young men were tied to Bowler through family and lacrosse, has a bond that was seen when John recently texted his grandmother that he was recently pleased to watch LaSalla achieve his second national title.
After his time at Rocky Point, LaSalla moved onto the University of Virginia. Right away, this was a strong fit for a Division I powerhouse that gained a driven athlete that expects to play against the finest rival teams in this country. It did not take long for this quiet kid from Miller Place to make his mark felt in Charlottesville.
For a brief time, LaSalla became the starting face-off man, as he took over this responsibility from a senior player that was injured. LaSalla eventually split time with this player and later started at this position during his first college season. And while LaSalla ascended to this notable role, he became good friends with this player that he replaced.
Even as one of the youngest players on the field, the grit of LaSalla was felt by Virginia and the opposition, as he took 60% of all face-off’s during his first year. At once, LaSalla showed his teammates the work ethic that made him famous at Rocky Point by dominating High Point, taking 73% of the face-offs during the quarterfinals against Maryland, and against John Bowler, he took 64% of the face-offs and scored a goal against Duke University.
During the National Championship game, LaSalla, faced-off against the formidable TD Irelan, and held his own by taking the ball 46% of the time during this game. In front of his family and friends of Will Smith, Damian Rivera, Jared DeRosa and Christopher Gordon, LaSalla scored two goals, and helped Virginia capture this national title.
The 2020 season quickly cut after three games due to COVID-19. Although Virginia was looking forward to defending its crown, the pandemic shut down sports in this country, and this team would have to wait until 2021.
During the interlude, LaSalla hit the weights and ran to stay in good shape. Through the second run to gain another National Championship, due to COVID, Virginia players were relaxed in their pursuit of remaining the best team in America.
LaSalla had his most productive game against the University of North Carolina, as he won 76% of the face-off’s, scored a goal, had an assist, and took every face-off later in the game. He was later recognized as the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week and was the face-off representative for a NCAA team of all-stars.
As a junior, LaSalla emerged as a team leader, where it was his goal to win over 60% of the face-off’s, against teams like North Carolina, Bryant and Georgetown. As LaSalla expects to be an active teammate on the field, he was often injured during this season. At West Point, he pulled his hamstring against Army, and while he dominated North Carolina, LaSalla sprained his ankle, and was unable to walk after this contest.
And during the second National Championship that LaSalla won, he scored a goal, and took a late face-off to preserve this close Virginia victory over Maryland. Armed with an immense drive to succeed, the reserved LaSalla was again pictured with the championship trophy.
Peter LaSalla Sr., marvels at the motivation of his son to succeed at the highest levels and believes that his boy “is always a humble player and the hardest worker on the field. He is prepared for his games and never think’s that he did enough to help his team. Petey has the heart of a lion.”
This student-athlete is one of the most grounded young men that you will ever meet, even before this interview took place, LaSalla spent the morning moving yards of mulch for his mother.
LaSalla who is one of the finest face-off men in this country, rarely ever mentions his own accomplishments. In high school, he was a member of the National and History Honors Society, the President of the Varsity Club, and a close son to his family.
Wearing a big smile and an iron will, LaSalla continues to make the North Shore proud of his amazing athletic accomplishments. You can bet that LaSalla will be at the center of Virginia’s efforts to retain their standing as the most talented team in the country, but his words will always be carried out by his positive character and positive athletic actions on the field during the most serious games.
Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.