The Monroe Township High School boys’ lacrosse team has two dynamic senior leaders in Anthony Abreu and Mike Cavallo.
But the rest of the squad is filled with young players, and they showed their youth early in the season.
On April 6 at Chatham High School, Monroe lost to the Cougars, 12-2. It was a jarring, resounding defeat for a Falcons team that expected to compete for championships in 2019.
It also revealed a larger issue: the Falcons weren’t working hard enough on a daily basis. The game happened on a Saturday, so on the following Monday, April 8, after practice, Monroe coach Joe Yannone gathered his players in the locker room.
“I said, ‘We’re either going to be a champion or not, but this is what we need to do,'” Yannone said. “‘Support our teammates, focus at practice and stop being selfish.'”
“With so many sophomores, we lost our focus,” Yannone added.
The players got the message and applied it the following day, April 9, in a 20-4 road victory over Lawrence High School. Then they did it again, and again, and again, in practices and in games.
And that’s how talented teams start to win. Monroe is 6-1 since the Chatham defeat. On April 23 at East Brunswick High School, Monroe earned its first championship of the spring, taking the Greater Middlesex Conference regular-season crown with a 7-2 victory over the host Bears.
“Everybody had to focus on being a championship team,” Yannone said. “And everybody got back on the same page.”
“We’ve been figuring it out and it’s been coming together,” said senior defenseman Isaac Hernandez.
Abreu and Cavallo were doing their thing all along. The duo has combined for 38 goals and 37 assists this season. Abreu leads the Falcons in goals with 23 and Cavallo leads the club in assists with the same amount. Cavallo also registered two goals and two assists in the GMC title victory over East Brunswick.
“They were pulling their weight,” Yannone said. “It was about the younger guys getting on the same page.”
In recent weeks, they have done just that.
Sophomore Matt Dorian is second on the team with 19 goals. The midfielder has benefitted from playing with Abreu and Cavallo, who always make the extra pass and set him up for goals. But to Dorian’s credit, he has not been afraid to crash the offensive third and rip shots.
He fired in three goals in the GMC championship triumph.
“He’s able to score because we have him in the right system,” Yannone said. “Guys are in the right spots to help them play at their best.”
The same logic applies to Dorian’s fellow midfielders, Connor Gabilanes, Zach Seppi and Jamie Tepe. Gabilanes has emerged into a strong offensive creator, with eight goals and eight assists. Seppi and Tepe are Yannone’s new face off specialists.
“Connor is a good dodger with a great shot, but he also looks to make the extra pass,” the coach said. “And between Zach and Jamie, they play such important roles. Sometimes we overlook how important they are.”
The young players have developed quickly because Yannone and his staff are devoting more practice time, about 30-40 minutes each day, to stick skills. As a result, the Falcons are playing faster but turning the ball over less.
It’s a recipe for success come playoff time. At 8-3 with three games left in the regular season, Monroe is in a strong position to earn high seeds for the tournaments to come, especially the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament.
“We’re creating a lot of chances,” Yannone said. “We just need to finish our shots.”
“Hopefully we can make a state run. That’s our main goal after winning the GMC,” said Monroe junior goalie Josh Estavillo. “We feel like we have the right players.”