The Mineola Mustangs advanced to the Nassau County high school boys lacrosse championship Wednesday for the first time since 1961 after a decisive 11-5 victory against Locust Valley in the semifinals.
The Mustangs, the third seed, are slated to play first-seed Cold Spring Harbor — who bested Mineola 15-1 earlier this season — Tuesday at Hofstra University.
“We got crushed,” head coach Glenn Cocoman said of the Cold Spring Harbor game. “Since then we’ve made some adjustments and changed our scheme a little bit…[and] I think we’ve got a legitimate chance — we’re playing with a lot of purpose.”
Cocoman said beating Locust Valley, also beat Mineola in the regular season, to advance to the finals provided his team with confidence they could rally to upset Cold Spring Harbor in the finals.
“I think we’re playing with the most confidence that I’ve seen them play with,” he said. “Especially these seniors.”
One of the seniors, James Gerstner, said the key to victory Tuesday would be strong defense and limiting careless mistakes.
“We played pretty bad the first time around, just a lot of stupid mistakes,” he said. “I think we’re equal in skill level, and I think we just didn’t prove it…I’m definitely confident we can do anything at this point and beat Cold Spring.”
“Against Cold Spring, any mistake you make, it’s going to be a goal,” Cocoman said. “We need to limit our mistakes defensively. If we can do that, we’re going to be in the game.”
Gerstner, who committed to Stony Brook for lacrosse in the fall, is one-of-seven third-year varsity starters, who form the core of the team, Cocoman said.
“They’ve grown in the past years,” he said. “I’ve been coaching lacrosse for 20-plus years, and this is the third group like this that you just get a really special group — just the way they respond to coaching.”
Gerstner said the trust he has developed with the other seniors — both on and off the field — helped the Mustangs, who lost in the semis in each of the past two years, finally take that leap into the finals.
“The bond is really special. I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime things and I just love to come to practice with them everyday,” Gerstner said. “It’s not a bunch of me guys — we’re all looking for the other guy just trying to put the ball in the net.”
“Whenever I mess up, I know if I’m having a bad day, I can look at another guy and it will be his day,” he added.
Gerstner said the big difference this year is the Mustangs’ defense has “really stepped it up.”
“We tightened up. That’s what made us get to the finals,” he said. “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. I believe our offense got us in the playoffs the past two years, but our defense got us in the finals this year.”
If the Mustangs (14-3) win Tuesday, they would advance to the Long Island championships and would be three wins away from a state championship, Cocoman said.