MAHOPAC, N.Y. – Most senior members of the Mahopac High School lacrosse team have been playing their sport since somewhere around kindergarten or first grade, and every one of them is devastated about the possibility of missing their entire senior spring school season—sports and all.
But they’re keeping things in perspective, and they’re hanging on to hope.
“I understand this is a very serious situation and people’s health and safety need to come first,” said Derek Grassia, a second-year attacker. “But it’s only mid-April, so I’m being as optimistic as possible in believing we will have some type of season, even if it is only a few games.”
Tommy Elliott, team captain, is also staying optimistic.
“I try to look at everything with a glass half-full mentality,” said Elliott, a fourth-year midfielder. “Even though it might be hard to be positive about it, we have to. All of us spring athletes… because of the sport we love.”
Zach Esteves, fourth-year midfielder and team captain, remembers when the reality of the situation hit him.
“It left me a little teary eyed,” he said. “My whole life I’ve been waiting to be able to get that diploma and win a section championship… and it can all be taken away.”
The seniors understand that health is everyone’s top concern, but they still are wrestling with the idea of losing the spring.
“I knew our season could be in danger when I saw the Ivy League and the NESCAC canceled their seasons,” said Aidan Martin, third-year defender and team captain. “At first I was upset that our season could be jeopardized. But ultimately, everybody’s safety and well-being is the key concern.”
The team went through all stages of grief.
“My first thoughts were denial,” said third-year attacker/midfielder Andrew Dazi. “I didn’t even believe that it would be possible for us to lose something that we worked so hard for, and it’s really difficult to face the reality that we might not be able to play our senior season.”
First-year coach Jon Bota and his players—including 15 returning seniors—had set the bar high for this spring. They lost in the sectional semis last year, so reaching the final—and having a shot at a title—was the goal.
And while every Indian desperately wants to play, what impresses Bota most is their mindset.
“Our seniors have done an incredible job of understanding what’s happening,” Bota said. “As heartbroken as they are, they have a strong mindset, and understand what’s happening. They’re showing some incredible character traits. It’s been pretty impressive.”
Bota, a 2011 Mahopac High School grad who was a captain and All-Section attacker on the Indians’ last Section 1 champion (that year), described his team as “antsy and nervous.”
“They’re all waiting,” he said. “Some are optimistic, and some are torn… But we’re all trying to maintain hope. Everyone’s training, and if we get an opportunity, we’ll be ready.”
Second-year midfielder and faceoff specialist, Cooper Betancourt, described the Mahopac Indian mindset.
“There is only one goal in our locker room every year,” he said, “and that’s to win a section title. Nothing else is expected. Every time you put Mahopac across your chest. It would be a big disappointment for us as a group of seniors, and as a team, to not finish what we’re capable of.”
Third-year attacker Matthew Riley echoed every one of his teammates when he said not getting to play with this group of friends for their final spring would be a tough pill to swallow.
“I’m most disappointed to miss the feeling and excitement of the games, and the memories, the laughs with my team,” Riley said. “I won’t ever get to play with the same teammates I have now… they’re like brothers to me.”
Jack Carey, third-year middie, said, “I think what I would miss most is just having fun playing the game that I love with my friends. The hardest part of this whole situation is not being able to finish out my senior year - both in the classroom and on the lacrosse field.”
Second-year midfielder Ethan Caldarella is one of many spring athletes who had no plans to play in college.
“We had a skilled team with great chemistry,” Caldarella said. “I believe we could have done something very special this year. The hardest part is accepting that I may never play the sport of lacrosse again. I had no plans to play in college, so my senior season was my last chance to really take it all in and go out on the field every day with my friends and give it my all.”
The same goes for the Steven Straub, second-year midfielder.
“This was supposed to be my final season,” Straub said. “That’s the hardest part; I don’t have a next year.”
Straub said the uncertainty has also been tough on the students.
“The other hard part about this situation is we don’t know when it’s going to end,” he said. “We don’t know if we’re going to have a season. Everything’s kind of up in the air.”
In speaking with the seniors, one of the most common threads is the fact that they miss each other—a lot.
“I think I miss the stuff off the field more than the actual games themselves,” said Mike Kertelits, third-year defender. “The bus rides, team dinners, and overall brotherhood.”
Thomas O’Brien, second-year midfielder, said, “I’m most disappointed to potentially miss the memories I could have made along the way that I would cherish forever. I had hopes to win the section championship and go on to win states with my lifelong friends. I’d do anything to be back on the field with my friends one last time.”
All the players are learning about themselves, and their community, as this “pause” continues.
“I’m finding some lessons throughout this pandemic,” said Tommy Cammarata, third-year goalie. “Nothing should be taken for granted, and the essential workers in my community I’m especially thankful for during these times.”
Some players said the situation has forced them to develop positive habits and routines.
“It has really changed me for the better,” Betancourt said. “I’ve been working hard on my body, getting myself ready to play at the college level. My trainers have been reaching out giving me tons of workout advice and nutrition plans. I’ve also learned how to adapt to online schooling, and I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my family—something i don’t usually get the chance to do.”
Martin has also tried to find the silver linings.
“Not only have I learned to value every second on the lacrosse field, but my respect for health care providers has grown immensely,” Martin said. “Especially for my mom, a physical therapist at Putnam Hospital Center.”
Grassia said he has developed a new perspective.
“It helped me see that with everything going on, all the things I once ‘cared’ about, I don’t as much anymore,” Grassia said. “The things that matter to me are my family and friends’ safety, and health above all. And I hope to spend as much time with them as possible, because I’ve learned that nothing is a given.”
Carey echoed his teammate’s sentiment.
“This experience has made me realize the importance of friends, family and all the essential workers helping out our country,” Carey added. “I’m coming to realize the importance of appreciating the little things in life.”
Kertelits said players feel a debt to the community.
“This experience has absolutely changed me and the way I look at things,” he said. “I’m so grateful for the Mahopac lacrosse program, the Mahopac community as a whole. I just wish our lacrosse team had the chance to repay everyone who has helped us along the way, and put a product on the field that our town would be proud of.”
Every player had visions of championships dancing in their heads, dreams they still hang on to—for now, anyway. But for every spring athlete who still remains hopeful, the dream is the same: To play one more time with their longtime friends.
“Truly I just want to be able to get back on the field again for however long that may be,” Kertelits said.
Dazi added, “The perfect script for me would be having a shortened season, making a run, and eventually beating Mamaroneck in the section championship.”
Cadarella’s dream scenario is: “Getting out on the field as soon as possible and finishing out the season with a section championship.”
O’Brien took it a step further.
“Winning the section, regional, and state championship,” he said. “There would not be a better feeling in the world than throwing my gloves 100 feet in the air and dog-piling on the goalie after a state title win.”
Cammarata put it in perspective in a different way.
“My perfect script would be my team and community overcoming this pandemic, and going back to normalcy to then play a lacrosse season, and take home hardware,” he said.
Indians varsity lacrosse seniors are: Matt Riley, Derek Grassia, Andrew Dazi, Aidan Martin, Mike Kertelits, Ian Hamilton, Tommy Elliott, Zach Esteves, Jack Carey, Tommy O’Brien, Ethan Caldarella, Steven Straub, Cooper Betancourt, Tyler Roa, Tommy Cammarata.
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