On The Road Again
On Monday, April 22 I woke up, had breakfast, grabbed my bag, hopped in my car and drove 11.5 hours to Long Island, N.Y. with the goal to watch the Loyola Academy (Ill.) play three of the best teams in the country: Chaminade (N.Y.), St. Anthony's (N.Y.), and Garden City (N.Y.).
My wife is from West Islip, N.Y. and grew up entrenched in the sport. She passed the passion on to me. I’ve been hearing how great Long Island lacrosse is for 23 years.
I’ve watched many games on the Island, and she’s not wrong. I’m a proud Chicagoan, born-and-bred and in my blood is a dislike for anything East Coast, especially New York. My goal for lacrosse in the Midwest is to become good enough to compete with programs from New York, Baltimore, New Jersey and beyond. The Midwest isn’t there yet, but they are trying.
Loyola is one of the top teams in the Midwest year-in-year-out. They are fortunate to travel and compete against the best. Last year they went 5-1 on their East Coast trip, including a victory over nationally-ranked Victor (N.Y.).
The team already played a series of games on the East Coast this season, starting with a trip to the Baltimore area and played Bullis (Md.), Georgetown Prep (Md.), and Calvert Hall (Md.) in March. They went 0-3 on that trip but were competitive. Loyola Academy Head Coach Rob Snyder got his younger players a lot of playing time on that trip. That is why he does this, so his players can experience what it’s like to play the best. To be the best, you have to play the best.
Behind the Scenes
Before I recap the games, I have to talk about the reception I received from the coaching staffs. I don’t like to be intrusive to coaches. They have a job to do and don’t need the likes of me coming around. I started at Chaminade, as legendary a school as it gets. A friend of mine who played there back in the 1980s connected me with the coaching staff, the same ones who coached him, which is incredible.
Coach Stephen Leghart from Chaminade met me in front of the school and took me to the stadium. He told me about the history of Chaminade. The culture, the values, the pride in taking boys and turning them into men. I could tell how much it meant to him because it was moving to me. I was introduced to legendary Head Coach Jack Moran who has been coaching at Chaminade since 1979. The amount of players’ lives he has impacted is incredible. I was a little intimidated to meet him. He was as gracious a man as I’ve ever met. He was so inviting, asking if I wanted to stay on the field to watch or if there was anything else I needed.
I decided to watch from the press box, as I like to get that view- especially when I live tweet the games. While sitting in the press box, I was joined by Kathy Moran, Coach Moran's wife. What a treat that was. She went through the roster telling me stories about each of the players, their brothers that played before them, and the history of Chaminade and the Moran family. This was much more than just a lacrosse team, this is literally a family affair.
When the game ended and Coach Moran was giving a post-game talk, I just stood on the field watching, noticing that there was no one else on the field except the team and me. Everyone else was outside the fence. Now I was feeling self-conscious that I was invading their space. When the talk ended, both Coach Moran and Coach Leghart came to me to ask if I wanted to talk to any players or anything else that I needed.
I got a picture of my player of the game and was ready to leave, as I was definitely overstaying my welcome. Coach Moran came back over to talk about the culture they build, the players they want, how much the education they receive at Chaminade is the most important thing. They also told me how they have read my articles and appreciated that I was helping bring more attention to the sport in the Midwest and that anything they could do to help, they would be happy too. Later that evening I received a text from Coach Leghart passing along the phone numbers of Coach Keith Wieczorek from St. Anthony’s and Coach Steve Finnell from Garden City and he had let them know I was coming. That is going above and beyond, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated it.
On Day 2 and I arrived at St. Anthony’s. I’m always early because I like to see how the teams arrive and warm up. St Anthony’s is different from Chaminade. It's bigger, co-ed, but just as storied. I admit, when I got there, I was a bit lost, as it is a big complex. The coaching staff saw me, introduced themselves, and proceeded to take me on a tour of the school. Telling me about their history. This was all before the game. I actually walked to the field with the coaches - I may be wrong, but I don’t think that is the standard treatment. Coach Wieczorek, like Coach Moran, told me he appreciated what I was doing in helping grow the sport and whatever he could do to help, let him know.
That night Coach Finnell and I texted back-and-forth. I met him an hour before the game where we talked about his outlook on his team and how it compared to his past championship teams. He also had a roster sheet made up for me. As I said, I couldn’t believe the access I was given. I half-jokingly said to a couple parents that I feel more welcomed on Long Island than I do from coaches from the Midwest. I know I would not have had this treatment if it wasn’t for Coach Leghart. He definitely paved the way for this behind-the-scenes look at some of the best programs in the country.
I also have to thank Mark Berutich for making that introduction. Mark, as a former Chaminade and Cornell lacrosse player, understands what I’m trying to accomplish in the Midwest. He also calls Indianapolis home, and with his experience and expertise, I will be leaning heavily on him for advice and guidance.
Speaking of behind the scenes, Snyder basically had me in his back pocket the whole time. He told me what he thought about after each game, what it meant to the team and the reason they do this. He saw me standing at every venue, waiting for their arrival and greeted me with a smile. I know he was thinking that I must be nuts to make the trip to see these games, but I think it’s essential to be at games that are important to highlight the Midwest. I show up to show that I am serious about this. It gives me credibility when I take my time to celebrate this game I enjoy so much. I’m only just getting started.
The reason I went was to watch the games, so let’s get into it.
I know pregame warm-ups don’t mean anything, but it can show some focus issues. Loyola was sharp in warmups, and Chaminade seemed a little sloppy. The game started and I could tell my observation was right. Chaminade came out a little slow, and Loyola had a spring in their step. This is still Chaminade I’m talking about, and I don’t care who you are if you get careless they will make you pay. That’s all it took. Just a bobble of the ball and Chaminade pounced.
Chris Kavanaugh got the first goal of the game. This is where the experience of playing fierce competition every day comes in handy. Chaminade started to focus. I could sense it. They started rolling on offense, but the continued great play this season of Loyola goalie Dom Urukalo kept them in the game. Loyola made some vigorous attempts on goal, but Chaminade also has a very talented goalkeeper in Notre Dame-bound Liam Entenmann. The first quarter had strong goalie play and end-to-end action until Matt Major scored for the Flyers giving them a 2-0 lead. Kavanaugh got his second goal of the game to bring the first quarter to an end.
The second quarter started, and Chaminade woke up. They dominated possessions, but Urukalo made great saves to keep Loyola in it. Until Michael O’Connell broke through to give Chaminade a 4-0 lead. That was it, a Loyola turnover and great passing led to Matt Majors second goal of the game 5-0. Another possession for the Flyers and some genuinely excellent passing from Kavanaugh to Michael Lynch to make it 6-0. Now the Flyers were humming. The off-ball movement, the passing, the spacing was brilliant. Lynch scored his second and pushed the score to 7-0. Three more Chaminade goals one from Kevin Kutten and two from Ben Bonafede made the halftime score 10-0. It wasn’t a power offense, it was surgical and smooth. Death by a thousand cuts. One minute it was 3-0, then 10-0. It just happened.
Things Loyola was used to doing were more difficult now. Mistakes they could get away with against lesser talent were magnified against Chaminade.
The second half started, and Chaminade picked up right where they left off. Lynch picked up his third goal of the game, and Michael O’Connell picked up his third making it 12-0. Finally, Loyola got on the board with a goal from Patrick Cronin. I started watching the Loyola bench to see if the body language was changing. It wasn’t. They were still into it. My fear was Loyola would give up, but they didn’t come all this way to quit.
David Creo scored, and Lynch notched his fourth of the game. Loyola’s Mikey Feuer added another goal for the Ramblers as the third quarter ended 14-2. The fourth quarter I found to be the most important for Loyola. Snyder started to play his younger kids to give them an experience they could not get anywhere else. Great to see some freshman out there competing. Riley Coughlin scored for Chaminade to make it 15-2. Loyola still not quitting, added another on a Kaden Keller goal 15-3. Pierangelo Bunda-Riva finished the scoring making it a 16-3 final.
A very classy move happened, they played a fifth quarter. To get everyone playing time. I’m not sure if that is standard practice, but I really appreciated it. As I said at halftime if you can call scoring 16 goals quiet, this was it. It was just businesslike. Everyone is where they are supposed to be, and the goals are just scored. It was a pleasure to watch.
A parent came up to me afterward and asked if I felt like I wasted my time driving all this way to see this outcome. I replied, absolutely not. To make the next step in a team’s evolution, you have to leave your comfort zone, take on the trials and tribulations of growth, this is that. I awarded my LaxRecords Player of the Game to Lynch for his four-goal performance, but that whole team works like one. It’s textbook. The word that comes to mind is synchronicity.
Game 2 was the next day at 10 a.m., which gave Loyola Academy no time to dwell on the previous day’s loss. They were playing the St. Anthony’s, whose only loss this year was to Chaminade. St. Anthony's may have one of the most famous lacrosse players on the planet in Brennan O’Neill. I saw him play when he was 11 and smaller. Now he is fully grown, huge and a transcendent talent. Kids will be telling stories about playing against him.
The game started quickly for Loyola. A big Mick Burden face-off win and Loyola took possession. If they were intimidated or overwhelmed they didn’t show it. Crisp ball movement and a more aggressive offense led to Loyola Freshman Connor DiTommaso getting the first goal of the game. The next possession though set the tone for the game. Whereas Chaminade was smooth and surgical, St Anthony’s was more of a sledgehammer. Loyola made one mistake, and they were swarmed. It looked like an animal attack. I know they’ve never seen anything like that.
The Friars were relentless in everything they did. On offense, they got the ball to O’Neill. I’ve heard him compared to Zion Williamson and I don’t think that’s a stretch.
I was interested to see how they would play defense on him. I was shocked when I saw they were going to put one player on him, d-middie Jack Burke. I’m a massive fan of Burke. Tough as nails, football player, took three years off of lacrosse, came back his senior year and will be playing for the Naval Academy next spring. But O'Neill may be more than he could handle. Burke tried his best, but O’Neill isn’t just a big body. He is athletic and skilled too.
The other thing I wanted to see was how Loyola would react when he got the ball. It was like I thought. Everyone watched him. Except for Burke who tried his best to keep him in front of him. He wasn’t going to be stopped and scored on what I could only describe as a left-handed dunk. He threw the ball down over Urukalo. It was crazy. I don’t know if that goal lifted the Friars or demoralized the Ramblers, but O’Neill scored again to make it 2-1.
Then sort of an offensive onslaught - four straight St. Anthony's goals: two by Jake Bonomi, one each for Robert McGee and Dylan D’Agostino until a Loyola Mikey Feuer goal stopped the bleeding to end the first quarter with a score of 6-2.
The second quarter was all St. Anthony's, or more to the point all Jake Bonomi. He scored the first three goals of the quarter and him five for the game. McGee added his second and James Osorio added one to get the game to halftime. With St. Anthony leading 11-2.
The second half started with a St Anthony's goal by Aidan Danenza. O’Neill followed with his third of the game. Loyola answered with goals from Kaden Keller and Timmy Hackett, but O’Neill added his fourth and Bonomi his sixth. Johnnie Rebuth ended the third quarter with another St. Anthony's goal.
During the fourth quarter, Loyola again put in some of their younger players as did St. Anthony’s. Loyola scored the final three goals of the game, one each for Patrick Cronin, Najee Taylor, and Bennett Chow. Like the day before, the teams played a fifth period to get everyone playing time.
My LaxRecords Player of the Game of the game was Bonomi with six goals. This young man is a threat from everywhere. People may focus on O’Neill, but if you forget about Bonomi, he will make you pay. People like to talk about O’Neill’s size and power, but not as many talks about his playmaking ability, his passing, and teamwork. It was a joy to see him in person. One player who didn’t score, but caught my eye all game was midfielder Andrew McAdorey (2021). He has lightning speed, vision, and off-ball movement. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. No doubt he will be another in the long line of greats to come through St. Anthonys.
Garden City is the defending 2018 Long Island, Nassau County, and Class B State Champion. The first thing I noticed about the Trojans was their size. They look like their football team was playing lacrosse. This was a day Loyola got to sleep in a bit, as it was a 1 p.m. start. They had been through the wringer the last two days playing the best on the Island, and this game would be no different.
I could tell right away that Loyola wasn’t feeling as overwhelmed as the previous two days. Maybe they were getting used to that kind of talent. That is such a big thing. You could be the most talented team there is, but if you aren’t challenged, you atrophy. This is a big problem for Midwest lacrosse. There isn’t enough top-notch talent in each state to keep the teams sharp. In the Midwest, as a whole, there is. If there was a way to have the top teams play in a regional A league, where they are competing against the best in the region, then they could more adequately handle the adversity when playing the best out east.
This game started out tough. Both teams were taking turns going up-and-down the field. Similar to Chaminade, the goalies came out to impress. Urukalo for Loyola was his usual self, and Garden City’s Eric Mueller wasn’t going to be shown up on his home field.
The first goal of the game came from Garden City’s Gavin Pappas. More Eric Mueller saves, and a stifling Trojan defense kept Loyola off the board. Will Puccio scored against Urukalo to make it 2-0 Garden City. James Basile was the next to score for Garden City.
I can’t say this enough - this game was closer than you can tell in reading about it. Loyola controlled the ball for long stretches, but just couldn’t get it past Mueller or that defense, and Garden City made Loyola pay for any mistakes, which led to another Basile goal. That kid has passion in his game, I’d like to see more of his play, he was imposing. The first quarter ended with a 4-0 Garden City lead.
The second quarter started with a goal from Trevor Yeboah-Kodie who has an absolute cannon for a shot in addition to being imposing, big and fast. Every time Loyola tried to get going on offense Mueller stepped up. Down the other end, Urukalo was up to the task. It was great end-to-end goalie play for a bit until Yeboah-Kodie scored his second. Finally, at the end of the second quarter, Loyola got one by Mueller on a goal by Freshman Connor DiTomasso.
The second half started, and it was more of the same. Mueller save, Urukalo save. That is until Basile netted his third of the game, putting Garden City up 7-1. It was Yeboah-Kodie’s turn to get his third. If I’m a parent of a goalie and I saw Yeboah-Kodie’s shot, there would be no way I could watch the game. I’d have to leave the stadium. Joe Scattareggia scored the final goal of the third, making it 9-1.
The fourth quarter started like the first did with a Pappas goal, his second of the game. Christian Byrne and Ryan Connolly added one each for Garden City to bring the score to 12-1. Ned Seaman scored for Loyola next making it 12-2. Jack Downy scored the last time for Garden City, and Chow scored last for Loyola, ending the game 13-3 for Garden City and Loyola 0-3 on the Long Island trip.
There was no extra quarter this game. I think everyone was ready to get going. I did not name a LaxRecords Player of the Game in this one. But there are some notable standouts I want to acknowledge.
For Garden City, Mueller was very impressive as was the whole defensive line, they make it tough to get in close. Basile plays with an edge that I love to see. If Yeboah-Kodie continues to develop his game, he may be the next big thing in lacrosse. Faceoff man Justin Coppola is a weapon at the dot.
For Loyola, Urukalo, Connor DiTomasso, Jack Burke Mikey Feuer, Kaden Keller all stood out. This team is trailblazers. Maybe not the outcome they’d hoped for, but they went for it. They can only get better from this.
I had a blast. I got to see some of the best high school lacrosse talents in the country. I got to see old friends I haven’t seen in some time. I made some new friends, spent time with my in-laws and my niece and godson. The only downside was the three hours it took to get out of New York!
So, whatever Midwest team is thinking about taking this kind of trip, let me know. I’ll pack a bag.