04/09/2019 9:45 AM
This is a daily recap of how Team 91 boys are doing in their high school varsity games. Click here to submit high-resolution only action photos without watermarks, and mention who the photo should be credited to. Follow Team 91 on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Like many of its predecessors at Team 91, it’s easy to look at the 2024 Wolfpack team and assume that it enjoys the success that it does because of the talent on the team.
Make no mistake about it, there’s plenty of talent there, even in an area as competitive as Long Island. While the Wolfpack has added some talent as the team got older, coach Jeff Aiello has had the bulk of the team together since the players were in second grade, and it’s a major reason as to why the team is as close-knit as it is.
“Our motto is, ‘One Pack, One Goal,’ and we really embody the team concept,” Aiello said. “As long as we stick together and play solid team lacrosse, the sky’s the limit.”
It sure looked that way this weekend at the World Series of Youth Lacrosse North qualifier. Led by a stingy defense that only yielded nine goals in six games and a team-focused offense, the Wolfpack went a perfect 6-0, including an 8-2 win over local rival Legacy in the championship game, to cement a berth in the prestigious World Series on Monday-Thursday, July 1-4, in Denver (Colo.).
“It’s awesome,” Aiello said. “Being (at the WSYL in Denver) last year with my older son, JJ, it’s an unbelievable experience for the kids. They’re treated like professional athletes and the tournament does so much for them. They make it a fun atmosphere and they bring in top-rated officials. The tournament has a ton of giveaways, and of course, you get to play on ESPN2 with new uniforms if you’re fortunate enough to make the championship game.”
The Wolfpack, which looks to become the third Team 91 team to win the WSYL after the ’20 Crush (2015) and ’23 Bandits (2018), outscored opponents 55-9 in six games and rounded into form throughout the tournament. There isn’t a more competitive qualifier than the North, which brings teams in from New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Aiello knew that his team would see great competition from local teams, and there was also a sense of unknown with the out-of-area teams.
“There are so many good teams in the qualifier and we always battle with Legacy, Express and Igloo,” Aiello said. “Then you bring in teams like Prime Time and Eclipse, who we’ve played before, but they’re still relative unknowns. We followed the same model as last year and rolled with the team we already had, and it paid off.”
Convincing round-robin wins over Express North (7-1), Predators (11-1) and LI Outlaws (12-1), as well as a quarterfinal win over True Blue (8-2) didn’t make Aiello as comfortable as you might imagine. A 9-2 win over Prime Time in the semifinals, though, gave him an idea that the team had a good chance to win.
“I didn’t think that we played great the first day and we were a little sloppy,” Aiello said. “We played a really great game against Prime Time, though. We had a gameplan and we stuck to it, and I think the entire team relaxed. Brian Spallina has been a great addition to the coaching staff, and he was the one who got them ready to go. Our guys were relaxed when we walked into the championship game, and I think that they realized that if they played their game, nobody could stop them.”
“I can’t overstate how much of an impact Brian Spallina has had since joining our coaching staff, Aiello said. “He’s been instrumental in helping our team get to the next level, and our players notice it, too. After the tournament, I asked my son, Danny, what the biggest offseason change was, and he said that it was without a doubt that it was adding Coach Spallina to our staff.”
They did it the Wolfpack way, too. Aiello estimated that roughly 90 percent of the team’s goals were assisted tallies, and everything in coordinator’s Mike Luce’s offense is predicated on a team-first approach. That’s a direct result of all of the training that the players put in in the offseason, and it’s gratifying to see the work get rewarded.
“Part of the success that we’ve had with all of the 91 teams is that it doesn’t happen in two or three practices,” Aiello said. “It’s a product of countless hours of individual training and team practices throughout the year. That’s our formula for success."
Hard to argue with the results.