YORKTOWN HEIGHTS – Even now, Casey Duff can vividly remember how last year’s sectional final against league rival Somers went down.
With time ticking down in regulation and the score tied at 9-9, she was called for shooting space while defending Somers’ Gabby Rosenzweig, awarding a free position with 4.2 seconds left.
Rosenzweig promptly buried the 8-meter attempt as time expired, sending Duff and her teammates to a third straight year of heartbreak in the sectional final.
“You don’t always agree with the refs, but that’s their job and they make the call,” Duff said. “I handle most calls pretty well – that’s probably the worst I’ve ever reacted.”
That play simply gave Duff more motivation to work on her game over the summer. With Yorktown finally winning a sectional title this year and making it all the way to the Class B state final, it is safe to say the hard work was all worth it.
The senior midfielder did everything for Yorktown this season. Duff had 75 goals and 16 assists, those numbers part of the reason she is the Journal News/lohud.com Westchester/Putnam Player of the Year.
“My mental game definitely improved,” she said. “That was a big part of why we were able to do so well this season, not just my mental game, but our entire team and coaches. We were all on the same page.”
Despite having their projected starting goalie leave the team before the start of the season, and also playing a tough schedule and losing against the likes of Connecticut powers Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich, as well as nationally ranked Bayport-Blue Point, the Huskers felt confident they would end their five-year sectional title drought.
“We did have those tough losses, but they made us a better team. We were definitely prepared for one-goal games, definitely prepared for overtime, definitely prepared to keep a lead and fight back if we had a deficit,” Duff said. “All those tough games prepared us way better than any easy games could have. Even though our record wasn’t as good as it usually is, I’m grateful. It couldn’t have worked out a better way.”
Duff, who as a midfielder was relied upon to both score and defend, did both of those at a high level, as well as coming up big in the clutch.
Like against North Rockland, when she scored consecutive goals on individual efforts in the second half to secure a big win.
Or like in the regional final against Niskayuna, when she picked up a ground ball and fed Katie Comerford for the overtime winner.
Or like in the state semifinal against Watertown, when she scored the winning goal in overtime on an individual effort, for what coincidentally was also career goal No. 200.
While she didn’t go looking for the big moments, she certainly didn’t shy away from them.
“I welcome the pressure. I like it, I don’t mind it either way,” Duff said. “Everyone was just as important: the big people, the small people, the people that don’t get to play as much. I enjoy being the go-to, but everyone has the moments, everyone is just as important as everyone else.”
It seems odd now, but Duff wasn’t originally a lacrosse player growing up.
“I was really a soccer person,” she said. “I played soccer every day for 12 years, not exaggerating.”
But lacrosse was the family sport, and after watching her older brother Ryan and cousin Alex Poritzky play when she was a kid, she wanted to join in.
She got her start in the third grade, and eventually decided to pursue the sport more seriously after the end of her freshman year.
“Lacrosse was the complete opposite of soccer – you don’t use your feet. When soccer was over, I’d go to lacrosse and it would be kind of like a break, it was like the fun sport, the sport I played with all my friends,” Duff said. “It wasn’t as serious as soccer at the time, so when I played lacrosse, it was always about just having as much fun as you could. I think that’s why I fell in love with it.”
Despite not being able to play lacrosse in eighth grade, due to missing a tryout that conflicted with a soccer tournament, she made Yorktown’s varsity as a freshman. After suffering a shoulder injury during the season that required surgery, she was able to showcase herself to several college coaches in the summer after her sophomore year.
She caught the attention of Syracuse, the school to which she eventually decided to commit.
I just loved (Syracuse), I just loved the program; when you go up there, it’s an awesome environment they create, an environment like no other,” Duff said. “I was up there for a camp when I was looking at the school. It’s the Nike Cup. It’s a giant tournament, I would never expect anyone to even talk to me from the team. But they were like ‘do this, this will help you do better on the draw and do better on your shot,’ so they were so helpful with teaching. It created an awesome environment.”
While Duff will head upstate next season to continue her lacrosse career, she was able to go out on a high note: with her teammates, having the time of her life up at Cortland at the state championships.
And also, continuing Yorktown’s winning tradition.
“They said that you will make the best memories of your life, and I probably did,” Duff said of the trip. “It’s a great tradition that we have here, I know I’ll be back when I’m not playing. Everyone loves it, and everyone comes back and makes it a family. It really is just a family.”
The rest of the Journal News/lohud.com all-county first team:
Katie Comerford, Yorktown: The senior attack will graduate as one of the best off-ball cutters in Yorktown’s history, and also as one of the most clutch. In the postseason, she scored big overtime goals against Somers and Niskayuna. Signed to play at Villanova next year, the two-time All-American finished the season with 87 goals and 23 assists.
Micheline DiNardo, Rye: The backbone of a Garnets defense that allowed only 7.16 goals per game, the senior goalie averaged nine saves a game and helped lead her team to the sectional semifinals. The two-time All-American, who also averaged three interceptions per game, will play at Georgetown next year.
Lilly Grass, Bronxville: The most dangerous player in the Broncos’ deep offense, the senior attack scored a team-high 68 goals to go with 30 assists. The Michigan-bound Grass, who graduated as the program’s all-time leading scorer with career totals of 227 goals and 114 assists, also leaves as a two-time All-American.
Carli Mager, Yorktown: The top defender for a team that made it to the state final, Mager routinely led a Huskers defensive unit that had success against fellow top Section 1 schools North Rockland, Bronxville and Somers. The Ohio State-bound junior also was a key piece in the team’s transition game in the midfield.
Sammy Mueller, Hackley: The engine that drove Hackley back to an NYSAIS title this year, the senior midfielder solidified her spot as the best player in the program’s history. She finished the season with 110 goals and 38 assists. Signed to play at Virginia next season, Mueller finished her varsity career with a program-record 289 goals.
Gabby Rosenzweig, Somers: A defender her freshman year, Rosenzweig graduates as one of the top all-around players in the section. The senior midfielder and two-time All-American, who scored a game-winning buzzer-beater in the 2015 sectional final, finished the season with 62 goals and 36 assists and will continue her career at Penn next year.
Livy Rosenzweig, Somers: One of the most imposing offensive players in the state, the junior attack used her skill and athleticism to rack up 73 goals and 48 assists on her way to All-America honors. Committed to play at Loyola, she’ll be especially leaned on next year with the graduation of older sister Gabby.
Ellie Walsh, Bronxville: The flashy, highly skilled midfielder did a little bit of everything for the Broncos, finishing the season with 43 goals and 43 assists. The junior, who is committed to play at Cornell, was also honored as an All-American.
Paige Werlau, North Salem: Despite North Salem being the second-smallest school in all of Section 1 girls lacrosse, the Tigers have been one of the top Class C teams the past couple of years thanks in large part to Werlau. Signed to play at Albany next year, the senior finished the season with 77 goals and 21 assists and leaves as North Salem’s all-time leader in career goals (220) and points (279).
Lindsay West, Fox Lane: With 69 goals and 18 assists this season, the senior midfielder finished her career with 235 goals. Committed to play at Colgate next year, West was at her best in Fox Lane’s 6-5 upset win over Suffern in the sectional quarterfinals, scoring four goals, including the winner.
Second team all-county:
Allie Arcidiacono, Somers: While Somers is known for its high-paced offense, Arcidiacono was one of the key pieces on the other side of the ball for the Tuskers. The senior defender, who will play at Louisville next year, played a big role in helping Somers limit opponents to 7.37 goals per game.
Katie Bradbury, Lakeland/Panas: With 67 goals and nine assists this season, the senior midfielder was the best offensive player for a relatively young Rebels squad. Bradbury, who finished her high school career with 210 goals, will play at Catholic University next year.
Lauren Craft, Brewster: One of the top underclassmen in the area, the sophomore midfielder led a resurgent Brewster squad with a team-high 59 goals to go with 20 assists. Committed to play at Penn State, Craft also led Brewster with 66 draw-control wins.
Rilea Fusco, Yorktown: Yorktown’s top playmaker finished the season with 36 goals and 67 assists, with one of her assists coming on the game-winning goal in the sectional final against Somers. The junior attack, who is committed to Syracuse, will be one of the team’s top returners next year.
Olivia Jensen, Bronxville: In her first year at Bronxville, the junior attack fit perfectly into the Broncos’ offense, finishing the season with 44 goals and 56 assists. Committed to Cornell, Jensen was also the team’s primary draw-taker, winning 108 draw controls.
Ali Korin, Mahopac: The senior midfielder was Mahopac’s top scorer, finishing the season with 57 goals and 21 assists. Signed to play at Vermont, Korin also came up big in the clutch this year, scoring the overtime winner in a regular-season game against Fox Lane and also assisting on the game-winning goal against Scarsdale in the sectional semifinals.
Talia Land, Mamaroneck: Called the rock of the team by Mamaroneck head coach Rocky Lividini, Land was a stabilizing influence on a young Tigers squad, at times often acting looking more like a defender rather than a goalie with her forays outside of the crease. The Amherst-bound Land was the key reason the Tigers allowed only 7.41 goals per game this season.
Jilly Mehlman, Scarsdale: One of the fastest players in the section, the junior midfielder was a Swiss-army knife for the Raiders. The team’s top scorer finished with 56 goals, 31 assists, 45 ground balls and 44 draw controls.
Taylor Regan, Rye Country Day: With Julia Massaro having graduated, Regan effortlessly slid into the role as the Wildcats’ go-to, everything scorer this season. The junior midfielder, who is committed to Virginia, passed the 200-goal and 100-assist milestones this season.
Ashley Stilo, Yorktown: One of Yorktown’s top defensive players, the senior midfielder was able to put up 13 goals and seven assists despite a more reserved role on the offense. She is signed to play at Virginia next year.
Mason Warble, Bronxville: Despite battling an injury during the latter part of the season, the junior midfielder remained one of Bronxville’s top all-around players, finishing with 38 goals and 12 assists. Committed to Brown, Warble also picked up 43 ground balls and had 17 caused turnovers.
Sadie Albert, So., MF, Harvey; Allie Berkery, So., MF, Bronxville; Emma Coleman, Jr., D, Scarsdale; Raphaella DaSilva, So., MF, Valhalla; Nicole DiFabio, Sr., A, Pleasantville; Maggie Dymes, Jr., MF, Croton-Harmon; Beth Finley, Jr., MF, Bronxville; Amanda Hartzell, Jr., A/MF, Rye; Alyssa Kirby, Sr., D, Mahopac; Caileigh Lampersberger, Sr., D, Yorktown; Izzy LaRocca, Sr., MF, Somers; Mary Kate Lonegan, Sr., MF, Brewster; Brie Losito, So., MF, Harrison; Carlyn Mucci, Jr., A, Lakeland/Panas; Gianna New, So., MF, Fox Lane; Kali Peeples, MF, Sr., White Plains; Mackenzie Porter, So., G, Hen Hud; Michelle Seger, A, Jr., Yorktown; Julianna Sullivan, Sr., MF, Ursuline; Mallory Toolan, A, Sr.,, Irvington; Madi Warne, So., MF, Holy Child;
Coach of the year: Jocelyn Grafstein, Ursuline. Despite working with a underclassmen-heavy roster, Grafstein helped engineer one of the biggest turn-arounds in Section 1 this season. taking a squad that went 5-11 last year to a 12-6 record this year.