Maybe it’s not a dynasty quite yet — and who knows what that means these days? — but West Islip’s recent accomplishments are certainly hard to ignore.
The Lions won their fifth straight Suffolk County title this spring, then added their third New York Class A championship in four years to firmly establish the program as one of the nation’s elite. The Lions finished with a 22-1 record and were realistically just seven seconds away from a perfect campaign.
Led by 19 seniors and eight returning starters, West Islip began the season with some lofty expectations. Coach Scott Craig knew that great things were possible, but so was great disappointment.
“There was a lot of hype surrounding our team, but these guys hadn’t accomplished anything yet,” explained Craig. “The thing that was going to trip us up was our own egos.”
After an 11-0 start, the only stumble of the year came in a midseason overtime loss to rival Ward Melville, which scored an unlikely game-tying goal with seven seconds left in regulation. Most observers, including both coaches, agreed that West Islip let one slip away.
“We blew it in some respects,” said Craig.
To their credit, the players quickly regrouped following that game. They handled the pressure that comes with being the favorite and produced a dominating season, capped by a 10-5 win over Orchard Park in the state final.
The championship run also afforded West Islip a second chance against Melville four weeks after the initial loss. The Lions easily avenged their only loss with a decisive 9-5 victory in the Suffolk County championship game.
“It was probably a good thing that we lost to Melville the first time,” said senior defenseman Mike McCormack. “It gave us a little more focus and passion to win the state championship.”
McCormack (Yale) and fellow senior Scott Mattera (Cortland State) anchored a defense that mercilessly throttled opponents and hit its peak following the midseason loss.
The Lions were equally impressive on offense. Paced by junior Nicky Galasso, Newsday’s Player of the Year who led all of Long Island with 136 points, they scored in double-figures in every game except the two against Ward Melville.
Craig is proud of his team’s response to the challenge he issued in the wake of the first Melville game.
“It’s not about the opponent,” he told them. “It’s about you. Every day, you either get better or you get worse.”
Looking back now, the option they chose is pretty clear. In our opinion, there was nobody better in 2009.