March 26, 2009
By Amanda BremerNotre Dame Sports Information
Long Island is a 1,401 square mile hot bed of lacrosse. This small area of the country has produced several standout players. Five members of the current Irish squad hail from Long Island and bring with them a unique intensity that has been an integral part of their success at Notre Dame.
Senior Jillian Byers (Northport), junior Rachel Guerrera (Wantagh), sophomores Shaylyn Blaney (Stony Brook) and Kailene Abt (Huntington) and freshman Kristin DeRespiris (Locust Valley) call Long Island home.
One might wonder, “Why did Long Island become a hub of lacrosse?” Byers jokingly answers, “It’s in the water.”
Blaney said, “Long Island is a small, but big place. I’m from Suffolk County but I know girls from Nassau County who are good lacrosse players. You play with each other on travel teams and the competition drives you to be better. It’s a friendly rivalry between everyone.”
“It starts at a really young age now, too. Girls in elementary school have a league,” Guerrera added.
The popularity of the sport, the large number of players in the area, and the level of intensity have proved to be a magical combination. The high level of competition has prepared the girls for the collegiate level of play.
“I think growing up, playing the best of the best on your island, it prepares you for college. It’s an experience girls from other states just don’t have,” Byers said.
The girls agreed that different lacrosse hot beds are known for different styles of play, with Long Island having its own recognizable brand.
“At summer tournaments, you could tell which state played what kind of lacrosse,” Guerrera said.
Blaney added, “Long Island girls are really scrappy and gritty. We have a reputation of being physical girls, and doing anything to win. Virginia girls are really good with stick work.”
While stick work is important, speed fuels the game in every region in the country.
“Lacrosse has been called the fastest sport on two legs, with hockey being the fastest sport played on ice,” Blaney said.
Having played against one another in high school and with each other on different travel teams, these Irish teammates were very familiar with one another before attending Notre Dame.
“One time my school played Northport and my coach matched me up on Jill [Byers]. I’m not going to say I didn’t like Jill, but she was really hard to play against,” Guerrera noted.
There are many distinct rivalries on Long Island, including the competition between Suffolk and Nassau counties as well as between individual high schools for lacrosse superiority.
“These rivalries are going to be here forever. When I go back to my high school, I still feel that rivalry against them,” Blaney said.
While most of the rivalries are within leagues, some non-league games became critical to a season. This fueled excitement and brought out the competitive edge in many of the players.
“Kailene [Abt] and I played each other in non-league and it was always a huge game. It was a brawl every time. Whenever we beat them, it was a huge accomplishment,” Blaney said.
Blaney and Byers attended rival high schools in Suffolk County and had less than an amiable relationship. The girls explained how their high schools shared a huge rivalry, and that Ward Melville, Blaney’s alma mater, beat Byers’ team to advance to county playoffs and ended her senior season.
“I hated her in high school,” Byers said.
“I swore I would never play on a college team with Jill Byers. If she was going to a school, I wasn’t going to go there,” Blaney said.
Byers said, “When I go home, people ask, you play on a team with Shaylyn Blaney?”
Byers elaborated on the relationship, adding “It was more of a respect thing. I hated her, but I respected her because she was so good.”
The girls later mended their relationship after Byers graduated high school.
“We made up on my official visit to Notre Dame. It was over at that point,” Blaney said.
Byers added, “I really wanted her to come here because I knew how good she was.”
With a majority of the traditional lacrosse programs located on the East Coast, there were plenty of local options for these Long Island lacrosse stars. Notre Dame was able to lure them away, offering many other opportunities the girls sought.
Abt said, “I came here for academics and athletics. In the end, I knew I’d being doing more of the academics, so I wanted a challenge.”
While all the girls agreed with Abt about the need for an academic challenge, Blaney also expressed a need for tradition.
“Ever since I was little I wanted to come here. I didn’t come from a school with big tradition, and I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself,” Blaney said.
DeRespiris added, “I was deciding between a few schools, but when I came to visit Notre Dame during the school year I got the feeling and knew it was for me.”
The Long Island girls have shared personal and team success at Notre Dame. The Irish finished second in the BIG EAST in 2008 and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament. This season, the Irish have gotten off to a strong start with an 8-1 record and a top-10 ranking by the IWLCA and Inside Lacrosse magazine.
Earlier this season, Byers and Blaney were named to the Tewaaraton Trophy watchlist, awarded annually to the nation’s top player. Byers is Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer, passing Crysti Foote’s (’06) mark of 237 points earlier this season.
In 64 career games, Byers has scored 212 goals, 53 assists, won 128 draw controls, and recovered 69 groundballs. In just 28 career games, Blaney has scored 64 goals and 11 assists for 75 points, won 62 draw controls and recovered 41 ground balls. This one-two offensive punch gives the Irish one of the top scoring threats in the nation.
Abt has steadily improved her play; already surpassing her freshman year point totals (7 goals, 2 assists) early this season. Abt has recorded 18 goals and three assists for 21 points, along with recovering eight groundballs, making her another skilled offensive weapon for the Irish.
Guerrera is a vital part of the Irish defense. In 29 career games, Guerrera has recorded 36 groundballs and 24 caused turnovers. DeRespiris is a hardworking freshman who walked onto the team this season, joining Guerrera on the defense.
Having a core group of girls from Long Island has helped them adjust and thrive at Notre Dame. The support and familiarity with each other has been one of the keys to their success.
“I know the way they play. It makes me comfortable because I’m used to that style,” Byers said.
The girls, along with the rest of the squad look to continue last year’s success and build on it. It is clear, though, that the Long Island girls have been a special part of the team’s accomplishments. The girls’ trust and confidence in one another, as well as their highly competitive nature has willed them to win. On top of that, they seem to have something extra, that unique something that only Long Island brings.
To sum up it up in one word, it would surely be intensity.