By Tony Pinciaro – The LAKELAND varsity field hockey team usually takes control of a game with its quick-strike offense, erupting early and often against the opposition.
With a high-powered offense it is easy for Lakeland’s defense to get overlooked. However, Lakeland’s defense is as staunch as Lakeland’s offense is potent.
Lakeland showed just how outstanding its defense is as it propelled the Hornets to the 2016 New York State Class B title.
While Iroquois and Garden City somehow found a way to contain Lakeland’s offense in the 2016 state final four, it was the defense that lifted the Hornets to a pair of 1-0 victories. As a result, center back Mia Lennon was named the most valuable player.
Even though Lennon graduated, and is playing at Albany, the current quartet of Julia Papnicolaou, Julia Cummings, Brianna Madison and Kiera Wax, along with goalie. Cassie Halpin, have continued Lakeland’s stingy ways.
Lakeland has allowed only four goals this season. This does not bode well for SOMERS, who Lakeland hosted in a Section 1 Class B semifinal, last night (Monday). Lakeland (18-0), the top seed, will play the winner of No. 2 John Jay-Cross River-No. 3 Rye, in the championship game, Wednesday, 5 p.m., at Pace University in Pleasantville.
Lakeland defeated both Rye and John Jay-Cross River, 8-0, during the regular season defeated Somers, 3-0, despite playing poorly, according to Coach Sharon Sarsen.
Somers took care of business against Byram Hills in the opening round, but not without a tongue-lashing from the powers that be. The Tuskers clearly needed better focus if they are to contend with Lakeland.
“I think that our defense has the best communication and that helps us be successful because it always puts us in the right place to win the ball,” center mid Kelsey McCrudden said. “Last year, Mia winning the MVP at the state final four was amazing. Our defense doesn’t get the recognition it deserves because the offense gets all of the recognition.”
The often-used sports’ cliché states that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. Lakeland is following the defense’s lead.
Papanicolaou, who played sweeper last year, is the center back with Julia Cummings at sweeper. Madison and Wax play on the right and left side.
“We all work really hard to keep the ball out of our defensive end,” McCrudden said. “Our defense plays year-round so the four have gotten so close and comfortable working together that it has helped them gel really well.”
Along with being a shut-down unit, Papanicolaou, Cummings, Madison and Wax also excel at moving the ball up the field, quickly, which then ignites the offense.
Following a first-round bye, Lakeland faced district rival and eighth-seeded Panas in a quarterfinal game and came away with a 9-0 victory. It was Lakeland’s 14th shutout of the season.
Julianna Cappello, Jenna McCrudden and Papanicolaou each scored two goals. Cappello collected two assists and Kelsey McCrudden and Papanicolaou had one apiece. Alexa Ryan, Emily Kness and Kelsey McCrudden also had goals.
Prior to playing Lakeland, Panas opened sectional play with a 2-1 victory over ninth-seeded Edgemont in a first-round game. Taylor Reilly and Olivia Moyer, assisted by Danielle Merante, scored in the first half. Goalie Madison Maddocks made 11 saves.
PANAS finished the season with a 9-7-2 record and a third consecutive sectional trip and third straight year with a playoff win.
“I told the girls that I was proud of them for what we accomplished together, this season, and that they exceeded my expectations that I had set for them,” Panas coach Andrew Tripaldi said. “We started four sophomores with no previous varsity experience and a first-year goalie, and we were able to finish the season with an overall record of 9-7-2.”
Tripaldi will graduate six seniors, all of whom started with him when he became the coach.
“We will be graduating six seniors who had a big part of what we were able to accomplish this season, in particular, Danielle Merante,” Tripaldi said. “Danielle has had quite the field hockey career as she has scored 63 goals with 18 assists. What doesn’t show up in the stat sheet is how great of a teammate Danielle is, as she worked with the younger girls during the off-season and season, moved to a new position for her senior year all to put the team first.
“As her coach. I am proud of everything she has accomplished and thankful for all her hard work and dedication to the program. Danielle along with the five other seniors all started with me since my first day, as head coach and I want to thank them and wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.”
PUTNAM VALLEY qualified for the Section 1 Class C Championship and was seeded ninth. The Tigers drew eighth-seeded Albertus Magnus and came away with a 2-1 loss.
Putnam Valley coach Rebecca Gherardi said Albertus Magnus scored two goals in the first half, but junior Ciara McGinty scored with 7:24 remaining in the game.
“Even though they scored the two quick goals, it didn’t get us down and we kept plugging away,” Gerardi said. “Danielle Cunningham helped to keep the pressure on while we were on attack and she was also back on defense. The girls played hard and played to the last whistle. I am so proud of the season the girls had. With each year, our record improves. We graduate three seniors in Ava Espineira, Joanna Pelc and Taylor Simpson. These three girls contributed each differently and will be missed next year.”
Somers, seeded fourth in the Section 1 Class B Championships, opened with a win over No. 13 Byram Hills. The Tuskers went on to overcome No. 5 Nanuet, 3-2, as Erin Clark scored the 45 seconds remaining in the sudden-victory, 10-minute overtime period.