Nowadays, the Mattituck/Southold girls lacrosse players can chuckle at the memory. Once upon a time, though — not all that long ago, really — the Tuckers lost a lot. Wins were hard to come by for the developing team as it struggled to find its way. So when one of the players spoke about how nice it would be to win a state championship one day, laughter would follow, as if to say, it’s never going to happen.
Or is it?
A first state title can now be viewed as a real possibility for Mattituck. Heck, the Tuckers fell two wins shy of one last year. That was the greatest season in the team’s history, with Mattituck earning its first Suffolk County and Long Island titles before falling to Bronxville, 13-7, in a New York State Class D semifinal.
“Here we are last year making history and winning the Long Island [championship] and then going to the states,” senior defender Alex Beebe said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Well, partially. A bigger dream remains. The Tuckers want to finish on top of the state.
“I think it shows what we’re capable of, but it hasn’t taken away the hunger we have to keep going because we haven’t gotten a state title yet, so for us that’s not good enough,” said senior midfielder Chelsea Marlborough.
Can the Tuckers top that in this, their ninth varsity season?
Well, many of the pieces are in place. The team returns 21 players, losing only one player who played on last year’s team. Also back is 100 percent of its scoring offense and the bulk of a defense that ranked second in Suffolk. Nine Tuckers have committed verbally or with their signatures to play in college, said coach Matt Maloney.
Even the team’s demanding schedule can be seen as a plus. While facing top teams may not be flattering to the win-loss record, it is good preparation for the rigors presented in the playoffs.
So, the talent is there, as is the chemistry.
Maloney believes the team has more depth than it did a year ago. “In some areas, definitely,” he said. “In some areas, we’re still trying to improve from last year.”
After its humble beginnings, back when players were still learning the intricacies of stick skills and strategy, Mattituck made gradual progress. By the time Maloney took over the program four years ago after coaching in East Hampton, he had material to work with.
“I saw the potential because I knew what I was walking into, a really good core group, kids that were hungry and kids that hated to lose,” he said.
In Maloney’s time in charge, losses have become far less frequent as Mattituck has shown it can compete with bigger, more established programs. With a 12-5 win at East Islip Tuesday night, his four-year record with the Tuckers is 45-19 (.703). The team is 8-3, 6-3 in Suffolk Division II.
How did the Tuckers reach this level?
“I think it’s a lot of hard work and dedication,” DiGregorio said. “It’s not one year of great success. It’s a whole bunch of years built up and a whole bunch of hours in the gym … that have all come together to make this so good.”
Maloney said the players and their families deserve credit. “They’ve done everything that I’ve asked,” he said. “They’ve believed in me. They bought into what I tried to bring here. I said ‘I’ a couple of times. It’s become a ‘we’ thing. It’s become the girls playing year-round, not just in the spring season. You know, travel programs, clinics, prospect camps and girls aspiring to play in college has really pushed the program to the next level.”
The end product has been a team game played by intelligent players, who think on the run.
“They’re able to work through a lot of things on the field,” Maloney said. “Their lacrosse IQ is so high that they know what to do in a lot of situations, which usually means less yelling from me.”
Another contributing factor, players say, is the tight bond they share. Marlborough, for instance, doesn’t have a sister among her two siblings, but on the team she has 20 of them.
“I love that I’m playing with my best friends,” she said. “I didn’t grow up with sisters. I’m a middle child with two brothers, so to be able to come onto a team and feel that I have sisters is the best. It is so fun. There’s not a day that I don’t laugh.”
Riley Hoeg, a junior who can play attack or midfield, said: “We’re very open with each other and if we have a problem with each other, we’ll be OK to go up and talk to them and like talk it out.”
The team, built to win now, is aiming high. Last year’s success may have been a confidence boost for Mattituck, but the Tuckers know they cannot get ahead of themselves. It’s a process, and overconfidence can be a dangerous thing.
“Personally, I think it might have gotten into our heads a little bit,” DiGregorio said. “I think we need to step back and realize that it was hard getting [to the state semifinals] and we still have a lot of work to put in, so hopefully we can stay humble about it and just keep working as hard as we did last year to get there.”
So, what are Mattituck’s expectations?
“I think it’s to go to states and maybe come out with a state title, and I feel that we are working very hard toward that,” said Beebe.
Has she thought about what that would feel like?
She answered, “Every day.”
These days no one laughs at talk of a state championship.
Photo caption: Another run at a state championship is a real possibility for Mattituck/Southold, a state Class D semifinalist last year. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)