Valley Stream District boys’ lacrosse coach Dan Achatz is looking for more production from the offense this spring while a rebuilt defense gets up to speed. The team is coming off a five-win 2013 campaign and once again faces a highly challenging Conference A schedule.
“Last year we were young at midfield and attack,” Achatz said. “We stayed competitive, but scoring was a struggle at times. With more experience on offense, we’re looking for progress.”
In the season opener March 21, Valley Stream created plenty of scoring chances but didn’t finish particularly well, Achatz said, in a 6-4 loss to Glen Cove at Firemen’s Field. Midfielder Matt Heitman found the net twice, while attackers Malik Talbert and Rory Carey also scored.
Achatz is counting on the experience and leadership of seniors Heitman, Chris Roberts and Ryan Milano from Central High School to make a difference. With new rules designed to speed the game, forcing personnel changes on the fly as opposed to stoppages in play, the midfield area takes on greater importance. “Those guys gained a lot of experience last year,” Achatz said. “We’re looking for that leadership to show on the field and help the younger players along.”
Roberts is a big and physical athlete. He was an impactful two-way starter for the football team this past fall. Heitman has taken an aggressive approach in the offensive zone, and Milano is an equally solid player at both ends of the field, Achatz said. Blake Benitez, a junior at North, is a developing talent at long pole middie. He brings speed and a left-handed stick.
Up front, Talbert, a senior at Central and a three-year starter, can be a dangerous dodger on the right side. He helps run the offense with Carey, who orchestrates from behind the cage. “Malik is good in traffic,” Achatz said of Talbert. “He can catch and finish.” Carey, who led the team in assists a year ago, is a sophomore at North. “He’s quick with great vision,” Achatz said. “A lot of what we do will go through Rory. He can also shoot from either side.”
Last year’s leading scorer on the JV squad, Rob Nardella, a junior at Central, is the other starting attack. He has a good combination of size and muscle, Achatz said, and can be a factor in the crease. “Rob moves well and knows how to get open,” Achatz noted.
The starting defense and goaltender are new. Senior Kevin Koza, out of South, takes over between the pipes after serving as last year’s backup. He made 11 saves in the opener against Glen Cove. “He reacts well and has great clearing skills,” Achatz said.
Junior Joe Kempton leads the defensive unit and will get the toughest assignment every game, Achatz said. He started at long pole middie in 2013. Senior Dan Hickey, from Central, has size and speed and moves to the back after spending last year at midfield. Senior Anthony Cestaro, from South, brings size and toughness.