A day of firsts for Chatham

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

MADISON — There’s always something special about being first in anything. The 2013 edition of the Chatham lacrosse team will always be remembered as a team that went where no Cougars’ squad had gone before – to the Morris County Tournament final.

Christof Strunc scored four times and Sam Carson and Thomas Guida registered hat tricks in Chatham’s historic 12-4 victory over Mountain Lakes in the first game of a tournament doubleheader on the turf at Madison High School on Saturday.

The win marks the first time in the 26-year history of the program that the Cougars have advanced to the title game. Chatham (14-3) actually began as a co-op lacrosse program between sister-schools Chatham Borough and Chatham Township before the schools merged into Chatham High in 1990. Chatham will face Delbarton in Tuesday night’s championship game at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The win also marks the first time that the Chatham boys varsity lacrosse program has beaten Mountain Lakes in school history.

165 bl mctsemiOne of many Chatham celebrations on Saturday during their win against Mountain Lakes. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We came into the year with two goals: to beat Mountain Lakes a team we’ve never beaten and getting into the county finals,’’ Chatham defenseman Will Weichert said.

“It’s huge,’’ Chatham attackman Sam Carson said. “There have been so many great teams that have gone through Chatham. To be the first to make it to the county final and beat Mountain Lakes, it’s definitely a great feeling.’’

Christian Cuccinello scored two goals and Mike Sammarro and Chris Sammarro each registered a goal for the second-seeded and defending champion Lakers (10-4).

Like many great victories, the inspiration for the victory stemmed from the seeds of a defeat. It was only two years ago in the MCT semifinals that the Lakers edged the Cougars 8-7 on a buzzer-beater by the Lakers’ Jon Broome. The seniors, who were sophomores then, still taste the bitterness of the loss.

“I think it did (affect us) a little bit,’’ Carson said. “Especially me, being a younger kid (then) I came out with the jitters. I was a little nervous. Being a senior and having an experience playing in a big game like this, it helped me calm down and just play our game and I think the other seniors they felt the same.’’

Many of this year’s Cougars are experienced in breaking records. Last year Chatham won the Group II title, its first group state title.

“Last year we had our first win against Delbarton ever and that really carried us through the season,’’ Chatham’s Thomas Guida said. “When we (finished) we always thought back to how we were playing then. We just want to get far this year, too.’’

122 bl mctsemiChatham defender Dan Winschuh keeps his stick on Mountain Lakes’s standout Mike Sammarro. (Photo by Mark Kitchin).

Carson scored two of his goals in the first quarter to help Chatham to a 4-1 margin. The third-seeded Cougars built its advantage to 8-2 by halftime and never allowed defending champion Mountain Lakes back into the contest.

Chatham is at the top of its game. Close defenders, Weichert, Owen Hewes, Dan Winschuh, Chris Peters, Nick Hall and defensive middies Conor Sardini and Steven Lynch are technically solid players that work well as a team. On Saturday they were determined to stop the Lakers’ standout Mike Sammarro.

“Going into it we needed to take care of their No. 1,’’ Weichert said. “I don’t know his name but he’s a hell of a player. He’s a lefty so we knew he was going to come down the alley. … We knew if we controlled the ball like we did, we couldn’t be beat.’’

The Chatham offense has been steady, efficient and shows improvement with every outing. Guida and Carson have always been known for their quickness and athleticism. The emergence of Strunc is just another weapon in their goal-scoring arsenal.

“There isn’t one person that’s going to make it,’’ Guida said. “It’s a team effort. Cris has been taking a lot of pressure off of Dave (Gill) and also the midfield and it has just been a question of letting them play. Sam takes the pressure off everyone by doing his thing so it’s been going well.’’

132 bl mctsemiMountain Lakes’ Christian Cuccinello got the goal but ended up flat on his back. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

The winning efforts of face-off midfelder Trip Connors, gives the offense a steady supply of scoring opportunities and the defense plenty of rest.

“Trip’s been doing a lot this year,’’ Guida said. “Every time he does well, we do well. We thrive off that. If we can get the face-off back, we don’t worry. If we let up a goal or something, we know the ball is going to be coming back to us.’’

There would be no late game dramatics on Saturday. Every time Mountain Lakes scored, Chatham responded. Up 2-1, the Cougars received back-to-back scores by Guida at 2:01 and Carson with 36 seconds left to make it a 4-1 game at the end of the first quarter.

“We came out to a quick start,’’ Guida said. “Everyone was shooting well today. In warm-ups it looked good and it just carried over.’’

It was Carson’s second goal that gave Chatham a big lift, because it came off a deflection.

“I think what really happens with us (sometimes) is when the first few things didn’t go our way we kind of get down on ourselves,’’ Guida said. “Once that rebound went right to Sam we knew that today was going to be a good day.’’

153 bl mctsemi

Chatham face-off specialist Trip Connors keeps his eye on the ball during a winning draw. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Cuccinello was falling backwards when he scored his unassisted goal at 8:33 of the second quarter to make it a 4-2 game but then Chatham caught fire. In a 3-minute span a pair of goals by Strunc and scores by Guida and Gill made it 8-2 going into halftime. The Cougars would eventually build the margin to 11-2 before the Lakers got a couple back. Now that Chatham has finally reached an MCT final, the next step is to win one. The Cougars have won their last nine games and look capable of achieving another first.

“Instead of pushing everything, we’ve been letting the game come to us,’’ Carson said. “We got nice spacing on offense. Everyone kind of knows their role. We’re just working really well with each other now.’’

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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