By Michael J. Lewis
Several times a week, at the end of a long practice, their coach would instruct the players to stand on the end line of the lacrosse field, and make them run.
Nobody wanted to run. Of course, nobody wanted to run, they’d already been practicing for a while. So there was some grumbling and annoyed glances shot at each other. But the Manhasset girls lacrosse team trusted Meg Clarke implicitly; heck, she’d known some of these kids since they were in second grade and just learning the sport.
Clarke would gather this wildly-talented group of teenagers and walk in front of them, and one by one, she’d get into their faces and ask a simple question, loudly:
“Where do you want to be on June 11?”
The answer always came back the same, whether it was shouted or whispered; grunted or said smilingly:
“States! States! States!”
That was the only goal, the only place to be on June 11 and still call the season a success.
Well, on June 11, the Manhasset girls lacrosse team ended up where their coach wanted them to be: Champions of New York state.
After a moderately-difficult 20-10 Class C semifinal win a day before, the Indians absolutely obliterated their opponents, Honoeye Falls-Lima in the championship game, 17-2.
After Lima scored the game’s first goal, Manhasset dominated to an unfathomable degree in a state title game, which is supposed to match the two best teams.
Caitlin Barrett had four goals, Ashley Newman had three, and season-leading scorer Alexis Morton had two as the Indians won their fourth title in school history and first since 2018.
“We would be annoyed and tired and wondering what the point was, and she’d remind us what we were working for,” said senior Christina Petras. “She coached us with poise and passion all year, and she instilled confidence in all of us. We were very confident on Saturday because of all the work she and the other coaches put into us.”
Manhasset, which had only a few moments of worry over the two games, when Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake rallied for a 9-9 tie in the semis, was more than a collection of talent this season.
They were a senior-led group that was balanced, with a strong four-headed defensive squad led by Petras, Despina Giannakopoulos, Alex Schneider and Alex Maliagros, and offensive stars like Barrett (headed to Duke) and Morton, off to Richmond in the fall.
“I can’t say enough about our defense; to hold a team to two goals in a state championship game is unreal,” Clarke said. “When we had that slow start, and they scored first, the kids on the bench told me that every time we allow the first goal, we win. So that relaxed us a little bit.”
Morton, the vocal leader on the team whose words spill out as frequently and as fast as the many goals she scores, said she “blanked out” near the end of the game when she realized victory was assured.
“I knew we had a great team, and our last five games of the year were our best five games of the year,” she said. “The last few minutes were amazing when it finally hit me that we were going to win. It’s still hitting me, two days later, that we won and the season is over. It’s so amazing.”
For Clarke, who was promoted to head coach in 2018 after the school board’s controversial dismissal of popular former coach Danielle Gallagher, the win wasn’t so much validation as it was a joy for the kids she’d seen grow up.
“I think I started crying with about 12 minutes to go after an Alexis goal when it really hit me that we were going to win,” Clarke said.
“I told you (before the semis) that it would be the most magical feeling in the world to win with this group, who I’ve known for so long, and it really is magical,” Clarke said. “These kids just did something they’re going to cherish for the rest of their lives. I told them the night before the final at dinner, ‘put your phones down and just have conversations with each other. Because this is the last time you’re going to all be together before a game.
“It was so special to see these kids accomplish something this big.”