WOODBRIDGE >> When it comes to the teams to beat in the CIAC Class L tournament, teams that immediately come to mind each season are Greenwich, Ridgefield, McMahon, Staples, Fairfield Prep, Glastonbury and Simsbury.
This season, it becomes even more challenging with Darien moving from Class M to L.
And oh yeah, there is Amity.
If confidence, motivation, hard work and talent mean anything, the Spartans will be another top challenger in the Class L tournament this season, Last season, the Spartans (15-5, 13-3 SCC) surprised some people by advancing to the Class L semifinals for the first time in program history.
Amity had wins over McMahon and New Milford before losing to Staples 8-6 in the semifinals.
“Our team strength last year was in the midfield, we were extremely talented and very deep at the position,” Amity coach Brandon Pepe said. “It allowed us to play very fast in transition. We also had a large senior class and they were determined, every day, to work extremely hard and maximize their potential. In all honesty, we felt at the beginning of last season that we had the talent and potential to be the best team in the history of our program.”
Pepe said last season’s success is a huge motivator for his team in 2015.
“We want to continue to show how legitimate we have become as a lacrosse program in southern Connecticut,” Pepe said. “Our program is 15 years old, which is relatively young compared to some SCC (Southern Connecticut Conference) counterparts. Our youth lacrosse program is growing rapidly and supplying us with better lacrosse talent every year. We had so much fun as a team playing in, and winning, big games. We all are working hard to make sure we have another chance to experience that this season.”
Among the top players for the Spartans are attackmen Jake Milner and Brad Uscilla. Milner had seven goals in the 12-9 Class L quarterfinal win over New Milford last season. Uscilla was the team’s leading scorer with 41 goals.
Leading the midfielders are Matt DeLizio, Matt Attolino and Sean Grenier. DeLizio is the team’s best offensive threat at midfield, Attolino is the team’s workhorse in the transition game and Grenier is a defensive middie with the ability to shut down opposing players.
Leading the defenders are Kyle Luisi, Mike Pretlove, Matt Lockhart and Jesse Kwolek.
Milner, Attolino and goalie Evan Campbell, the team’s captains, believe the Spartans can have the same success in 2015 that it had a season ago.
“We are a different team this season, having lost 17 seniors from last year,” Milner said. “But we have a solid group of starters coming back this season as well as a bunch of talented underclassmen looking to step up and make an impact. We also have a great group of coaches who are teaching us and helping us get better day in and day out. With confidence and hard work, I think we can have similar, if not greater success than last season.”
Attolino and Campbell agree with Milner. Attolino said that during the preseason, the team has shown a lot of promise with a lot of talent on the defensive side. Campbell said although the team lost a lot of seniors from last season, the team is actually better in a lot of positions and younger players are ready to step up and prove themselves.
And then there is the motivation factor.
“We are definitely using last year as motivation,” Milner said. “Early in the season, coach Pepe asked us all to think about what motivates us and use that motivation to get better each and every day.
“We all felt that last season was the biggest motivation for us, both the successes and failures. We are not only determined to once again reach the level of success that we had last year, but to also avenge our semifinal loss and go on to the state championship game this season.”
Other factors have Pepe and the captains upbeat about this season, including underclassmen, first-year players and a new assistant coach expected to make an immediate impact.
Sophomore Cory Sachs is the team’s faceoff specialist, senior Ben DiMauro will help fill the void of the midfielders lost to graduation, junior Mike DeVito has developed into a solid defender, and juniors Mike Cavanaugh and Sam King will make an impact in the transition game at midfield.
Pepe’s new assistant coach, Danny Cain, is responsible for running the offense. Cain was a two-time all-conference midfielder at Endicott College.
“Danny brings tremendous lacrosse knowledge to our team,” Pepe said “He’s been impressive.”
While the captains see defense as the team’s strength, Pepe believes the team has strength in several phases of the game.
“Our strength starts with tremendous leadership from our three captains,” Pepe said. “They are great role models, great students and amazing kids. Early on the strength lies with our defense where we have a lot of talent and experience back.
“Our goalie Evan Campbell is a three-year starter. He is really a stud who keeps us together defensively. He has been great this preseason and I expect big things from him this year. We’re also more talented at every position outside of the midfield compared to last season.”
The Spartans’ captains said the deep run in the Class L last season has all the players motivated in 2015.
“The captains all touch on this all the time,” Pepe said. “High school lacrosse in Connecticut offers some of the best teams nationwide. Fairfield Prep, Darien, Greenwich and Ridgefield are some of the best teams in the country and they’re loaded with Division I (college) talent. We want to compete with these teams.
“We are very motivated to make another run in the CIAC tournament and to have a similarly positive experience to last season. Although we have a new cast of characters in 2015, we have the talent to have another great year.”