A furious second-half rally prevented Wantagh from claiming its first boys’ lacrosse county title in 17 years and closed the career of a head coach who brought the program to championship heights.
The Warriors led top-seeded Cold Spring Harbor by four goals in the Class C finals late in the third quarter May 30 before the three-time defending state champions awoke to end Wantagh’s season with eight of the game’s final 11 tallies. Following Wantagh’s heartbreaking 10-9 loss at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, longtime head coach John Cuiffo informed his team he’d be stepping away from the sideline.
“It would have been a storybook ending, but it wasn’t meant to be,” said Cuiffo, who led the Wantagh program from 1988 to 2006 and then returned as head coach in 2013.
Cuiffo’s final game at the helm featured plenty of drama with Aris Goldschmidts completing Cold Spring Harbor’s four-goal, second half comeback with 43 seconds left that moved the Seahawks (16-1) into the Long Island Class C title game. Cold Spring Harbor then won the ensuing faceoff and ran out the clock to end Wantagh’s bid at its first county title since the 2001 team captured a state championship.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how we competed,” said Cuiffo, who was an assistant coach the last time Wantagh reached the county finals in 2012. “Cold Spring Harbor probably had more talent than us, but not in terms of heart.”
Wantagh raced out to a 6-2 lead thanks to a 5-0 run that began with an Ethan Insinga score and was capped by a Tom Rohan goal with 3:56 left in the third quarter. Cold Spring Harbor quickly clawed back with four straight goals before sophomore Nick Tereskey answered the bell with two straight scores to make it 8-6 Wantagh near midway point of the fourth quarter.
“Nick played a great game,” said Cuiffo of Tereskey, who scored four goals on the day including a shot with one second left before halftime that gave Wantagh a 3-2 lead .
Cold Spring Harbor, which defeated Wantagh 8-5 on May 4, once again responded with its backs against the wall in registering three straight goals to take its first lead with 3:54 left. The Warriors still showed fight with Thomas von Bargen knotting the score at 9-9 on an unassisted goal with 2:14 left.
“Playing a close game with them the first time gave them a lot of confidence,” said Cuiffo, whose team proceeded to win four in a row en route to the county finals including a 12-8 semifinal victory against third-seeded Bethpage at Hofstra on May 25. “That loss really got them playing well.”
Cuiffo said next year he plans to follow his son’s senior year of college club lacrosse at South Carolina and then may return to the Wantagh program as an assistant coach in 2020. No matter what the future holds, Cuiffo will always cherish his three decades at Wantagh.
“We built something special here,” he said. “It was a great ride.”