Graydon Diamond was a gem for the Scarsdale boys lacrosse team Saturday night, June 12.
With his team trailing two-time defending Section 1 Class A champion Mamaroneck 3-0 in the sectional finals, the junior capped off the opening quarter with his team’s first goal of the game with 27 seconds left. Then, in the second period of sudden victory overtime, Diamond shined brightly once again as he scored the game-winning goal, giving the Raiders an 8-7 win and their first-ever Section 1 title in the sport.
Of course a lot had to happen in between those two goals — the game-winner actually completed the All-Section honorable mention’s hat trick — for the underdog Raiders, who relied on senior All-Section honorable mention Paul Lamonaca winning 12 of 14 face-offs, 18 saves from sophomore All-Section goalie Andrew Lehrman, a hat trick from All-League senior Jason Koch, clutch late first half goals by junior Matt Reyman and All-Section honorable mention freshman Jake Goldstein, stellar defense by a multitude of unsung heroes and some heads-up coaching and officiating by James Synowiez and John Felix.
With a team motto of “Together,” the Raiders certainly earned the win that way. In the regular season the No. 1 Tigers defeated the No. 3 Raiders 14-8, despite being tied at halftime, and the Raiders beat North Rockland in the semifinals 9-8 on a late goal by All-Section senior Ben Miller to reach the finals.
“We knew we could beat them,” Diamond said. “We knew we didn’t play our best the last time we faced off against them. We put in the work and it showed off today for the first section championship in Scarsdale history.
“It’s just amazing for the whole program, the coaches — everybody deserves it.”
Miller said the win was for everyone who was ever involved in the Scarsdale lacrosse program, but gave a special shoutout to the coaches.
“They mean so much to the program,” Miller said. “They’ve been with my senior class the entire time helping us get better each and every day. They mean so much. This is all for them. They’ve put in so much work and time. I’m just so happy for them and for this whole team. We all love each other so much and everybody deserves every single bit of this. And that includes the alumni and the seniors last year who didn’t get a season. It’s all about everybody who helped us build this culture we’ve got here.”
Winning a Section 1 boys lacrosse championship is difficult, to say the least. Scarsdale would know as it has been trying for decades without success … until now. In its fourth trip to the finals — the others coming way back in 1972, 1973 and 1985 — the Raiders finally broke through with a comeback win over their biggest all-sport rival.
After trailing 4-1, Scarsdale clawed back to tie the game, but never led until the game ended. With 1:55 left in the second four-minute overtime, Lehrman made his final save of the game, flung the ball to All-Section sophomore Colby Baldwin, who sprinted from midfield to about the 25-yard line and passed off to Diamond, who caught the ball and, a few yards from goalie Jack Fried, shot the ball just a few inches below the crossbar, sending the ball into the back of the cage and Fried onto his knees and eventually flat on the ground as the game ended. It took all of 10 seconds to get the ball from Lehrman’s stick to the back of Mamo’s net in a stunning upset.
In that moment the Raiders made history. As the Raiders sent gloves, sticks and helmets flying high into the Mamaroneck night sky, the student and alumni section, which was located somewhat behind Scarsdale’s bench behind a low fence, unsurprisingly stormed the field to join in the madness. “I have never seen that many kids at a Scarsdale lacrosse game,” Synowiez said.
Trailing 3-0 and 4-1 would have been too much to come back from for most past teams. Not Scarsdale in 2021.
“It’s hard in that moment,” Lamonaca said. “When you’re down 4-1 in the section championship game you’re thinking it’s going to be a repeat of how it happened in the regular season. You’ve just got to stick with the game plan and that’s what we did. I don’t think anyone got nervous. I don’t think anyone played scared. I think we stuck to everything Coach Synowiez was saying and that helped us persevere and win this game.”
Chipping away after refocusing and taking care of the ball better, Synowiez saw his team reach a new level in a situation where past teams might have unraveled. They also didn’t want the déjà vu of a tie to spiral the other way once again.
“At halftime we had the same conversation as when we were tied with Mamaroneck at the half the first time,” Synowiez said. “I said, ‘Guys, smiles off your faces — job’s not finished. We cannot be happy about this current situation. We have to go out there like they took something from you and earn the next 24 minutes.’ That turned into 30 minutes. It’s just incredible.”
When asked if everything went according to the script, Coach Synowiez joked, “It’s just how we drew it up.”
Among the words he used to describe his team’s effort in the finals were: “most heart,” “belief,” “togetherness” and “unselfishness.”
In addition to the “Together” mantra, every day of the season they took a line from Kobe Bryant, who said, “Job’s not finished.” It was all about the “unfinished business” and in the postgame huddle Synowiez could finally say, “Boys, smile … we finished the job.”
After a 10-0 start in the regular season, including the program’s first win against John Jay-Cross River since 1997, the Raiders lost three straight games to Briarcliff, Mamaroneck and Rye before winning in the final regular season game against North Rockland. The team credits the losing streak for propelling them to the title.
“If we were to have beaten Mamo [in the regular season] I don’t think this would have been the same outcome,” Lamonaca said. “Learning from our mistakes and not winning all those games helped us see our flaws. We were able to bounce back and have good practices after that in our lows of the three-game losing streak, while still being able to persevere, have great team chemistry, not play the blame game and it just worked out in the end. Every team needs to learn how to lose because it’s how you build success.”
The Raiders studied film and saw that in the regular season Mamo got “every single ground ball against us,” according to Lamonaca, who noted that Tiger Brady Auker really took the game over in that way and set up Mamo’s elite transition game.
“We were able to limit that and thus we were able to limit those goals,” Lamonaca said. “Being able to play six-on-six and have a settled defense you could see how well we played. You could see the chemistry we had out there.”
Lamonaca and Baldwin spent the season platooning taking face-offs. Baldwin won 3 of 5 in the finals, but down the stretch Synowiez went with his veteran, while Baldwin found plenty of other ways to contribute, including the game-winning assist.
While half the lacrosse team was playing football in the fall 2 season, which overlapped with the spring due to COVID-19, Lamonaca had made the difficult decision to focus on his offseason lacrosse training instead of playing football. While it was difficult seeing his friends having fun on the gridiron — and beating White Plains and Mamaroneck in back-to-back weeks — he knew he was making the right decision personally and for the lacrosse program. He was nearly flawless in the finals and for the season tallied an .814 winning percentage on the X after taking very few sophomore year behind the talented Andrew Greenspan.
“Missing out on that [football] experience for my final senior season is tough, but now I look back on it and it was the best decision of my life,” Lamonaca said. “I was training every single day. Those days got tough where everyone was playing football and having a great time and you’re working out by yourself wondering if we’re even going to have a season, or even make the playoffs, and then this happens and it’s a dream come true. A dream come true.”
Miller had nearly five times as many caused turnovers as his nearest teammate, bringing his vision from quarterbacking the football team and playing running back to the lacrosse field for his grand finale.
“Everybody on this team has given 100% the whole entire time,” he said. “We focused on playing for a full 48 minutes and we did that tonight, plus two extra periods. I’m just so proud of everybody on this team.”
Miller expects that culture to continue and hopes to see the team hoisting another championship plaque and banner next year so they can do the one thing this year’s team can’t, which is compete for a New York State title. While the team graduates 13 valuable seniors, the foundation is set from goal to defense to midfield to attack, with returning standouts that it’s hard not to be excited for what is to come.
“All these kids are going to come back next year and want more,” Miller said. “Right now everybody in the senior class has given 100% effort and I think that’s going to carry on throughout the rest of time. That’s what Scarsdale lacrosse is from now on.”
If there was one player Synowiez had to gush about after the game it was Lehrman. He was in line to be the third goalie on the program’s depth chart until two of the goalies headed to private schools. All of a sudden Lehrman found himself in the spotlight and was a major reason for the team’s 10-game winning streak to start the season. He played well beyond his own expectations and just kept getting better and more confident — even after the three-game losing streak — as the season went on.
“Andrew Lehrman, what can I say about that sophomore goalie standing on his head his first year of varsity lacrosse, just diving all over the net?” Synowiez said. “Just unbelievable. What a way to show up for that kid.”
And to see him play lights out after going down by three goals?
“He could have imploded, but that wasn’t him,” Synowiez said. “When I met him at the beginning of the year I was like, ‘Oh, this is the kid who is going to be our varsity goalie,’ and you looked at him and you talked to him and you saw his stoicism and his maturity as the season progressed, and his confidence increase just really led to this moment being possible.”
Lehrman’s performance is one Jason Koch will never forget. “He really showed up for us today,” he said. “He takes everything personally. In practice if he gets scored on it’s like he got scored on in a game. He has that competitive mindset. He knows the importance of his position and without him we would not have won today.”
In addition to many crossovers between lacrosse and football, many of the lax players are on the ice hockey team, which is also coached by Synowiez and Felix. Though football got a win over Mamo this year, over the past four lacrosse and hockey seasons this was the first win against the Tigers. In fact, the lone time the hockey or lacrosse teams beat Mamo since Synowiez and Felix have been coaching varsity together was their first year of lacrosse in 2017.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling of relief and it really justified all the work that we’ve done in practice,” Koch said. “I’m a hockey player as well and I’ve played hockey since my freshman year and I’ve never beaten them in my four years until today. To beat them in the final game in the section championship I can’t even describe it.”
Koch said the coaches laid out a game plan — and a few times early in the game when the Raiders didn’t stick to it the coaches laid into the players — but once the Raiders got in a groove they were trading goals from 4-4 to the end of the game when they eventually got the final word.
“We knew that Mamaroneck is a transition team and the way to take away transition from them is to keep the ball in our sticks,” Koch said. “If we have the ball they can’t score. We watched film, extensively taking notes … and we saw some things we could exploit. Doing that over and over again won us the game.”
Koch was proud to contribute a hat trick, but the win was No. 1. “Coach Synowiez likes to talk about role players,” he said. “I’ve never been a goal scorer. I’ve always kind of been a loud and get-in-your-face and get you pumped up player, and I’ve worked a lot to finally get goals in the net and to get the team motivated that way. I was just trying to do my part to help us win together.”
Coach Felix, a 2009 SHS grad, took extra pride in the victory. As a Scarsdale athlete he also never defeated Mamaroneck in hockey or lacrosse. He said the rivalry is just as intense being a coach as it was being a player.
“My goodness, yes, especially because they always got the better of me as a player,” he said. “Everybody who grows up playing sports in Scarsdale cherishes any opportunity to play that team. Many, many times I tried to get here. I came up short every try I had in hockey and lacrosse and anything else and to be back here is such a great feeling. I’m so proud of the guys. Coaching the defense I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of them. I could list them all out, but it was a team effort.”
It was a long time chasing the white whale, but the chase ended for 2021 and will pick up again next school year.
“We wanted nothing more than to be playing Mamaroneck,” Felix said. “We’ve been trying for several years to get to this stage and we finally got our chance. The coaches believed in the players, the players believed in each other and we all believed in each other. We knew it wouldn’t be easy and clearly double overtime it wasn’t. Everybody believed in the team mentality, got it done against you know who.”
The maturity of the senior class of Sargio Charles, Alex Coeytaux, Noah Ebner Borst, Eddie Eforo, Julian Higgins, Michael Jamesley, James Klein, Jason Koch, Trevor Koch, Lamonaca, Miller, Matthew Ostow and Adam Wasserman is what stands out for Synowiez, who said, “They’re wise beyond their age for a group of 18-year-old boys.”
The seniors set the tone both on and off the field, that you do whatever you do at full speed and effort and you do whatever is best for the team, even if that means motivating teammates from the sideline.
“We lose a lot of seniors and this senior group — I want to say they 100% changed the culture of Scarsdale lacrosse because of their ownership of their roles on the team and just being happy about the win, not necessarily about who is scoring the goals,” Synowiez said. “The bench’s positivity and the bench’s rowdiness, even when we’re down, has helped propel us to games we might have thought we were out of, or we felt were going to drift in the other direction.”
How they did it
Each team fired off a couple of shots in the first three minutes of the first quarter, but Mamaroneck got on the board first as Jack Ramsay came from behind the net to put the ball past Lehrman with 6:41 left.
With Diamond serving a penalty, Alex Martin scored with 3:45 left for a 2-0 Mamo lead. Exactly two minutes later, Andrew Glinski scored to expand the lead.
Diamond scored from the top of the box with 27 seconds left to make the score 3-1 and give Scarsdale a sense of relief.
Just under two minutes into the second quarter, Cole Saderlund made it a three-goal game once again, a second low point for the Raiders, who would soon turn the game around.
Jason Koch got hot and scored the next two goals for Scarsdale. The first was with 7:41 left coming from behind the net, the next one in a two-man-up situation as Coach Felix alerted the officials that after having too many men on the field Mamo subbed in, giving the Raiders a major advantage. Koch scored from Goldstein with 5:33 left in the half. The Raiders had pulled within one.
The initial tying goal was a pure heart-and-hustle play as Reyman challenged the goalie, who had come out of the cage to run the ball downfield. Reyman knocked the ball loose, scooped it, ran toward the goal and scored on the empty net before Mamo could recover with 4:38 to go. A looming blowout turned into a 4-4 deadlock within about three minutes.
The two teams would trade goals the rest of regulation. Mamo took the lead back with 2:13 left as Grant Malas put in a rebound. Rhett Chambers almost scored for Mamo, but the ball hit the post and bounced all the way to midfield, where junior Julian Glantz gained possession and Scarsdale called timeout with 25 seconds left in the half. With just three seconds left, Reyman found Koch to tie the game at 5-5.
Mamaroneck struck first once again in the second half, as Chambers scored with 9:50 left in the third quarter to go up 6-5. Both teams were going back and forth challenging the goalies and with 4:23 left, Koch found Diamond to tie the game again.
In the fourth, Chambers scored once again for Mamo with 9:03 left for a 7-6 lead. Little did anyone know it would be Mamo’s final goal of the game. With Glinski in the box for a cross check with 7:52 left, the Raiders took advantage of another man-up situation and Diamond found Koch with 7:18 left.
Sophomore Matt Surin and senior Trevor Koch played some stellar defense for the Raiders in keeping Mamo at bay and Lehrman made a stick save with 5:10 left. After Mamo tried to call timeout, the Raiders got a ground ball and called for time with 3:24 left. Baldwin found Koch, who was denied by the Mamo goalie with 2:31 left. Mamo got the ball back and called time with 43 seconds left. An errant pass found its way to midfield as the clock expired on regulation.
In overtime, Goldstein found Diamond, but a stick save ended the threat and an attempt from Diamond to Baldwin was wide as the Raiders took a timeout with 2:15 left. Shots by sophomore Ryan Ornstein and Jason Koch were defended and the teams headed into a second OT.
In the second OT, sophomore Nate Seslowe and Ornstein took shots and the Raiders called time with 2:36 left. After Scarsdale turned the ball over, Lehrman made a stick save as the shooter was about to start celebrating as the game-winner at 1:55, thus initiating the sequence downfield to Baldwin to Diamond for the game-winner.
After the timeout in overtime, Felix whispered to Synowiez, “So who’s it gonna be?” Synowiez didn’t have an answer for him and they sent the kids back on the field without a play drawn up for a specific player. After all, no one could have predicted the abrupt closing sequence of the game.
“We were looking for their two short sticks and those were the two guys we wanted to go against,” Synowiez said. “That led to some success, dodging them from behind and inverting on them and watching where they were sliding from and trying to move the ball two passes. It worked out in our favor and Graydon just shooting the lights out on that last one.”
Diamond may have scored Scarsdale’s first and last goals of the game, but he was one of the players the coaches had to ride early in the game to get them back on target, so for Synowiez it was fitting to see his young standout turn himself back around.
“He didn’t start the game out on such a positive note and he was hanging his head a little bit,” Synowiez said. “We talked about that and being persistent and sticking with it. I was really happy it was him.”
Breaking down the Raiders
While nine underclassmen had to make the jump from modified to varsity whether it’s because they had no freshman season due to the pandemic last spring or they are freshmen this spring, no one was thrust into a greater role with nowhere to hide than Lehrman.
“To make the jump from modified lacrosse to starting varsity and playing large minutes just surpassed expectations … of what we expected,” Synowiez said. “It’s not to say we didn’t believe they could do it, but you can see the transformation that happened in practice for Andrew specifically from the beginning of the season to now in terms of his focus, in terms of him pushing himself harder than he maybe ever has been. He’s been incredibly special. He keeps our defense together and steps up when we need him most.”
On low defense in front of Lehrman were senior Adam Wasserman, Trevor Koch and Surin, who had been moved up to attack during the season, but later on returned to his natural defensive position.
“Once Matt stepped back into that role the vocal piece and communication piece of our defense took on a whole new meaning,” Synowiez said. “Our D has been playing not as well as everyone thinks they could be in terms of our team these past few games, but we’re always talking about the mistakes we’re making and how to make sure they don’t happen again, so having that dynamic of seniors and a sophomore is really nice right now in terms of the poise the seniors have and the tenacity the sophomore has.”
Synowiez knew how hard Lamonaca had been working on face-offs and he had seen Baldwin play over the summer, but what the two of them did by both winning over 75% of face-offs this season was astounding.
“Having that many possessions with the ball in our sticks and that many opportunities for us to make something happen on the offensive end is a really special dynamic that the two of them give us,” Synowiez said. “They push each other to be better in practice and one wants to beat the other, the other wants to beat the other and it’s great to have that camaraderie on the lacrosse field to push one another. At the end of the day we’re on the same team and we get to go battle out there together.”
Synowiez credited Lamonaca’s “commitment to his craft and wanting to be the guy,” and Baldwin’s “hunger” and aspirations to play in college for their success. Whereas Lamonaca got the bulk of the work in the tight final game, Baldwin was 13 of 16 in the semis against North Rockland.
Ornstein and Seslowe were the team’s offensive midfielders and had 16 and 15 goals this season, respectively. Seslowe scored three in the semifinals, Ornstein one.
“Making that jump from dodging eighth graders on the modified circuit, not having a freshman season, now being a sophomore against ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grade defenders and having great success in doing so is a real testament to the IQ these kids have, the heart and hustle they have as well,” Synowiez said. “Both of them are able to play both offense and defense for us as well as anything we need in regard to man-up and man-down.”
Freshman Rhett Needleman was also in that mix in his first year on the team.
The Raiders had real depth on the defensive side of the midfield with seniors Higgins, Miller, Jamesley and Ebner Borst, Glantz and sophomore Freddy Kushnick. What Felix asked them to do was play aggressive to the body, not the ball.
“We’re asking them to play great team lacrosse and force the other team to make a mistake vs. trying to take the ball away from them and possibly putting ourselves in a situation where we expose something or give them offense that they don’t deserve,” Synowiez said. “Those guys have really done a fantastic job playing physical defense.”
On attack, the Raiders have relied on Goldstein, who led the team in goals (27) and assists (38), Diamond (22 goals), Jason Koch (21) and Reyman.
“Those guys have proven that they can be very dangerous on the field, whether it’s dodging or moving without the ball in their sticks,” Synowiez said. “They’ve meshed very well and I’m throwing a lot at them in terms of what the offense needs to learn to beat some of the defenses we go up against, so having that IQ and the ability to ask questions and learn from the mistakes we make in practice has been a fantastic asset to our offense.”
In addition to leading the team in scoring, Goldstein has been a vocal leader as a freshman, sharing ideas with teammates and coaches.
“We’re all for that,” Synowiez said. “We love it. We see it from the sidelines, but if you’re out there on the field you might see it a little differently or see something we might not see. It’s been fantastic to have that back-and-forth conversation and to have the vision and IQ he has as a freshman. We’re definitely lucky to have him on our side.”
And just looking at the individual scoring totals, nearly everyone on the team can put the ball in the back of the cage, which Synowiez said led many alumni to tell him that he feels this team could have beaten some of the past great teams with one that goes 20 deep. Synowiez said that after Goldstein’s points total the team has an “evenness to it.”
“No one cares who scores,” Synowiez said. “It’s, ‘Let’s just put it in the back of the net,’ and worry about winning the game. That’s the mentality that got us to this point.”
The underclassmen were the ones who came out of nowhere to provide the depth for the team, which had many known defensive quantities from two seasons ago returning. What impressed the coaches is how quickly the newcomers stepped up their game and became seasoned at the varsity level.
“Maybe in the beginning we would have been a little more apprehensive, but playing some of the games we did and them gaining the confidence they did, getting the reps and making some mistakes early on put them in a position to play against the Mamaronecks, the Ryes, the Briarcliffs without being as nervous,” Synowiez said. “Yeah, those are the biggest dogs in Section 1 and some people don’t like to play those teams, but I want to play every single one of those teams for that reason, to get our kids comfortable playing at that level because we’re going to be in the situation we’re in now seeing those teams.”
Miller is the only senior who is committed to play the sport in college — he will play football and lacrosse at Bates — while Mamaroneck has two All-Americans and six college commits, which makes the win even more remarkable.
Synowiez came to Scarsdale straight from his studies and athletic career at Manhattan College. Junior varsity coach Kevin Blake, a Manhattanville alum, met Synowiez at an alumni game and it was Blake who suggested he get into coaching and apply for the freshman job at Scarsdale. In 2012 and 2013, Synowiez was the freshman coach under Sean O’Rourke and Jeremy Guski, who are now assistants at John Jay-Cross River, junior varsity coach in 2014, was the assistant to Brendan Curran in 2015 and 2016, and since 2017 he’s been coaching varsity with Felix, who joined the varsity staff in 2016.
The new duo in charge wanted to “dictate what we believe is the correct culture” and they used the servant leadership model.
“That has to do with if I’m uncomfortable doing it, why would I want someone else to do it? We’ve embraced that and our seniors have the most responsibility on the team,” Synowiez said. “In the past it would be freshmen getting the balls, freshmen filling the waters, doing all those things. On our team the seniors have the most responsibility and it sets them up for the years beyond high school where the older you get the more responsibility you have. We preach that a lot … They’ve embraced that. That is what has helped get us to this moment.”
Synowiez worked his way up the system and after nearly a decade saw the ultimate reward. From having to coach novices on his own in the early years, Synowiez learned to delegate to his student-athletes and later the other coaches within the program.
“Through that we’ve been able to have super-efficient practices now at the varsity level,” he said. “Our practice plans are dialed in and everything is broken down by the minute. The way we do that is by telling kids the expectations at the beginning and having them understand that they are each accountable.”
Synowiez and Felix, who picked up their 50th lacrosse win together in the finals, have strengthened their bond on and off the field and share in all duties. Synowiez focuses on offense, Felix on defense.
“John Felix has been absolutely fantastic to have as a partner in both sports we coach here, and not only a partner, but a best friend,” Synowiez said.
To find out only three other Scarsdale teams in Scarsdale history had made the Section 1 finals prior to 2021 was a shocking fact for Synowiez.
“I’ve never known that stat because we’ve never been in this situation, so having that shared with me is kind of eye-opening in regards to where our program has come in the time we’ve been here and with what we’ve been trying to accomplish,” he said. “It’s a very special year and a very special season and to have that happen the year after not having a season makes it that much better.”
Even if the Raiders had lost the game in overtime, the season would have been monumental for the program as far as bringing attention to Scarsdale. When he started coaching in the district, Synowiez hadn’t heard anything about the program.
“Coming in I won’t say the expectations were low, but I will say Scarsdale wasn’t viewed as a team that would be a Section 1 contender,” he said. “The history shows that 36 years ago was the last time they were in the final. I’m hopeful that people start to recognize that good lacrosse players do come through 10583.”