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.”