Sports

Mercer Island overwhelms New York teams during spring break

By Zach Smart

Special to the Mercer Island Reporter

Kick-starting their fourth spring break trip to New York, the Mercer Island boys lacrosse team reeled off a momentum-rolling 5-0 scoring spurt, en route to a 7-3 win over Section I/New York State foe Mahopac last Wednesday.

Matthew Shields deposited two goals during the scoring surge, including back-to-back scores with 7:40 remaining in the third stanza and then 10:52 to go in the fourth.

The Islanders played methodically throughout. Their motion offense was predicated on sharing the wealth, spreading the length of the field and creating open looks.

The downtempo, set-up style took Mahopac, which tends to push a frenetic attack, out of its rhythm.

“I think this win gives us a good morale boost,” said Mercer Island coach Ian O’Hearn of the team’s first win in New York. The Islanders dropped all their contests during the previous year’s trip, something that the team wanted to fix this time around.

O’Hearn played at Division-I SUNY Albany and is familiar with the New York style of play.

“It’s a faster pace,” said O’Hearn. “There’s better stick skills and better competition. New York is the mecca for lacrosse. There’s only 49 high school teams in Washington. After the first three, there’s a big drop in the level of competition. So it’s good to get some better competition. I want the kids to experience the New York lacrosse culture and get a taste of it.”

While the Mercer Island team may shift its gaze toward the state championship, where the Islanders fell short last season, teams such as Mahopac and Lakeland/Panas look to hang with perennial powerhouses Yorktown and John Jay-Cross River in Section I.

Schools such as Yorktown traditionally churn out Division I talent, holding the upper hand on Putnam/Westchester County teams before playing teams from the lacrosse hotbed of Long Island in the state tournament.

Mahopac raced to a 1-0 lead right off the bat, as John Brandofino scored an unassisted goal one minute, 22 seconds into the game. It was essentially some serenity before the storm.

The opportunities were there for Mahopac, but the Indians couldn’t capitalize. Their offense was out of whack and they failed to fend off defensive pressure.

A stockpile of penalties additionally derailed the Indians.

“We couldn’t hit the case,” said Mahopac coach Dave Haddeland, whose team went 10-8 in 2009, though they dropped four of their last six games.

“We have to finish when we are able to. I think what killed us was our penalties and just dumb decisions. The last four days have been tough [with inclement weather], but I’m not going to make any excuses.”

O’Hearn, who started the traditional East Coast trip four years ago with former teammate and Lakeland/Panas coach Jim Lindsay, was satisfied with the depth that the Islanders displayed.

“We just have a lot of athletic kids,” said O’Hearn. “The kids just had a basic knowledge of what we were looking at. In the end, we were a lot deeper.”

The Islanders trailed, 2-1, after Mahopac’s Kevin Carey scooped up a ground ball and quickly converted it into a goal.

Mercer Island quickly erased the deficit. While Mahopac’s defensive energy sagged and their frustration compounded with penalties, Mercer Island established a commanding lead after scoring five consecutive goals.

Mercer Island capped off the spurt when Colton Knebel knifed through a pair of defenders and scored on a rip from 15 yards out. Jon Wettack and Shields each netted three goals apiece. Wettack added an assist. Hap Giraud collected a game-high eight saves.

On April 1, it was Mercer Island’s strength in numbers that led to an 8-6 defeat of Lakeland-Panas.

Relative balance in the stat book, coupled with Giraud’s 10 saves, helped stave off Lakeland/Panas’ (a program which combines Lakeland and Walter Panas High School, of Shrub Oak and Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., respectively) souped-up, fast break style.

After a sweep of the Westchester-Putnam County area, Mercer Island proved that their methodical style is a force to be reckoned with.

“They took both teams out of their rhythm,” said Putnam County lacrosse guru Ray Gallagher, who writes games for The Record Review in Bedford, N.Y. “It was just that they were so persistent in their attack. They’re a well-conditioned core, and they bought into what they wanted to do from the get-go. They may be out-of-towners, in a state where the sport is still evolving, but they left their stamp here.”

The Islanders went on to beat Guilderland, 12-5, on Friday, April 2, before traveling home. The Islanders improved to 9-0 on the season.

Zach Smart is a freelance sports writer from New York. His work has appeared in a number of sources: SLAM, BOUNCE, ESPN True Hoop and SNY. His work is featured at www.zsmart.blogspot.com.

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