From a Scarsdale perspective, the lacrosse coaching sidelines at John Jay High School have a familiar look to them. Scarsdale teachers and former coaches Stacey Wierl, Jeremy Guski and Sean O’Rourke helped lead the John Jay girls and boys to the New York State finals this spring.
“Obviously you’ve got some pretty special athletes if you’ve got your girls and boys playing in the state finals,” Guski said.
Wierl is the head coach for the girls for the second year, while Guski and O’Rourke worked their way from coaching the John Jay rec level to being on the varsity staff after leaving the Scarsdale program in 2011.
Wierl, who lives in Katonah, was volunteering with John Jay’s youth program and was a volunteer assistant for the 2017 varsity season when there was an interim head coach. The team lost to Yorktown in the Section 1 quarterfinals that spring.
“I really got to know the girls and had a great appreciation and admiration for the program, youth through varsity, and I decided to come on as the varsity head coach last year,” Wierl said.
The next spring, Wierl was hired as the head coach and she’s now 2 for 2 in leading the Indians to Section 1 titles.
Prior to moving to Katonah, Wierl, who teaches K-5 physical education and is the health coordinator for the elementary schools in Scarsdale, had her three boys in the Scarsdale ice hockey and lacrosse youth programs. She was a board member and coach with both organizations and prior to that, after coming to Scarsdale in 2002, she coached the modified girls lacrosse team at Scarsdale Middle School for six years. In addition, she coached crew and was on Jim Mancuso’s varsity ice hockey staff when there were girls playing for the team. This past winter she helped lead the charge for Hudson Valley Girls Ice Hockey varsity program in Westchester and Rockland counties. Wierl also had previous coaching experience in Colorado.
Of getting involved with John Jay, Wierl said it happened “organically.”
“With my children being young I had an opportunity to give back to the game at the youth level,” she said. “I was really enjoying the volunteer role and supporting the growth of the game in the community that we lived in when we moved up to Katonah. When I was asked about my interest level in coming on as an assistant with the varsity level in 2017, I just forgot truly how much I forgot coaching at that level.
“I truly enjoyed being back on the varsity sideline and most importantly working so closely with the kids, the families and the athletic department. It was clearly time to take the opportunity to become the varsity head coach.”
Wierl has been coaching for two years with Claire Yergeau and Liz Ferrara, the former varsity head coach, and they brought on field hockey coach Debbie Walsh this year.
The team made the semifinals last year, falling to Brighton. “It was new and exciting and somewhat overwhelming and now having had that experience of last season we had a lot of confidence going in this year,” Wierl said.
With a tough 11-8 loss to Cold Spring in the Class C finals this spring, John Jay is still searching for its first state title in the sport. “We set a goal as a team to get back on that Coach bus and get back up to Cortland,” Wierl said.
That mission was accomplished and then some with an appearance in the finals and an 18-5 record. If the team can take one more step, that title could finally be coming back to John Jay next spring.
“It’s an incredible amount of talent and the numbers that are coming out of our youth program into our modified, JV and varsity programs is the greatest success is the work of the youth program,” Wierl said. “They’ve created a positive and enthusiastic mindset around girls lacrosse in our community. The hard work of those volunteer coaches to get the kids to play at a high level of skill has been a true success to where we are. Our coaching staff needed to provide a foundation and some consistency in what the girls were learning and the culture of our program and establishing a sense of real community within our team. That’s what our coaching staff has been able to accomplish.”
The boys are also back-to-back Section 1 champs, having topped rival Yorktown in the finals this year.
“It’s fun that both the boys and girls have back-to-back championships,” Wierl said. “It’s an incredible celebration for John Jay athletics as a whole and specifically our lacrosse community. When you look at John Jay’s number of sectional titles even men’s hockey has gone back to back and proudly my son Mattingly was part of that this past year as a freshman.”
On the boys side
O’Rourke was the head coach of the Scarsdale boys from 2005 to 2011. Over that time, the Raiders were 61-64, with the biggest season in 2007 when Scarsdale was 14-4 and won a league title behind All-Section player Jordan Bloom. Guski was by O’Rourke’s side for 5 of 7 seasons where they coached other top players like Nick DiFalco, Phil DiFalco, John Felix, Brian Bauersfeld and Connor Wolfe.
“Watching those kids develop over time I feel like we had some really good seasons when Jeremy and I were coaching together,” O’Rourke said. “We had some up and down times, but overall I felt like they grew a lot as a program and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the kids were working harder in the summer and the offseason. We saw that transfer onto the field.”
O’Rourke and Guski knew each other through friends and adult leagues prior to coaching and working together at Greenacres Elementary School. Once they teamed up they considered themselves co-coaches with O’Rourke focusing on the defense, Guski the offense, though most of all they were friends on and off the field.
O’Rourke was an All-American goalie at Nazareth College. Guski was an All-American at Mahopac High School, where he won a state title senior year, and an All-American at UMass.
When they left the Scarsdale sidelines due to growing families and other personal reasons after the 2011 season, they didn’t intend on getting back into coaching during the school year any time soon, just continuing with Prime Time Lacrosse in the summers. Guski was the first to bite, however, as he was asked to take over the middle school youth team up at John Jay. It was a situation where it wasn’t every day and he could control the schedule, so he took on the challenge from varsity head coach Tim Schurr.
“We thought it was going to be a break, but with John Jay we knew the head coach pretty well because we played with him and he wanted us to do the eighth grade, something less involved in terms of time,” Guski said.
They still work with the youth program, and when Guski was named the assistant varsity coach five or six years ago O’Rourke took over the middle school program. They knew what was missing at varsity was a goalie coach and finally brought O’Rourke into the mix along with Prime Time founder Nick Daniello two seasons ago.
“The staff that we’ve built at John Jay, in my opinion, is second to none,” Guski said. “We hit all the different angles you need. We’ve got Tim Schurr, our head coach, who is our fearless leader, who is more of a quiet game when he’s coaching. He was a World Team captain. And he’s old school. They respond to that, but at times they made a little but more of a new school guy or something different that twists things up a bit. Sometimes they get that from me where I’ll be hard on them, but sometimes you fall back on certain things.”
The practices are where the championships are won. “We run that practice like a college practice,” O’Rourke said. “It’s almost like you’re coaching a college team. We managed to have a staff now that really touches on every position. There’s a lot of individual attention. Jeremy and I both played in college and it feels like we run a college practice. And we all just get along so well.”
What has been special for Guski and O’Rourke is that they have coached the current varsity players since they were in elementary school.
“You get to skip that whole getting to know them and they know what you’re preaching,” Guski said. “They’re already drinking the Kool-Aid. They’re already involved. They know what we expect.”
The 2018 team that reached the state semifinals might have had more individual talent with more Division 1-bound players, but this year the team put it together to show depth and heart despite injuries to key players.
“I joke around there’s only one lacrosse ball,” Guski said. “Everyone can’t have a ball. We need to share it. This year we had a couple of studs, but everyone had a role and you just have to share it. The kids just bought in and as a result what we did as a team is probably better than what we did last year.”
John Jay lost to Garden City last year in the state semis and this year beat Manhasset in the semifinals 11-10 after being down 10-7. “We knew what they had coming in, we had a game plan, we executed the game plan,” Guski said. “We went down 10-7 end of the third quarter. We told the kids not to lose faith. We came back to beat them.”
In the Class B state finals, John Jay lost 9-7 to Victor, which has won 5 of 6 titles, finishing 20-3.
“We graduated 17 seniors last year,” O’Rourke said. “We as coaches didn’t think we were going to get this far, but it shows you when you have kids that buy in how that plays into the team. When things start moving in the right direction it keeps building and building and building. After a while it all made sense when we started beating some of those big Long Island teams.”
As proud as Guski and O’Rourke are of their current program, they take great pride in seeing what’s going on in Scarsdale. Both coaches are not surprised at what James Synowiez and John Felix have done turning Scarsdale into a contender the last few years. They coached Felix at Scarsdale and, along with then-athletic director Mike Menna, hired Synowiez as the freshman coach. They also coach together at Prime Time.
“We’re so psyched for Synowiez,” O’Rourke said. “And John Felix is one of the greatest players that ever played for me here. It’s cool to see them doing well here.”