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Eddie O'Donnell, one of the very steady performers for Livingston, looks to make his move upfield against West Essex in the Thursday, April 19 Super Essex Conference match won by the Lancers, 7-2. (Photos by Gene Nann - genenann.smugmug.com)
Livingston's Brian Russo (24) looks to elude West Essex defender in recent game
Ryan Valese (right) seeks opening as he makes his way toward the West Essex net
West Essex goalie Dan Laible (29) prepares himself as Livingston's Brian Russo (24) unleashes his shot on goal during the two teams' SEC showdown at Travis Field.
Veteran Livingston head coach Brad Dzama takes in action vs. West Essex
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Livingston is also concentrating on trying to go undefeated in the Kimber Division, which it hopes to win outright with a perfect record this spring.
“Eighteen of my 20- year coaching career has been in high school and what I have learned about conference play in this: the conference winner is almost always undefeated in conference,” Dzama noted. “What does that mean? Focus on winning the next conference game until there no more left!”
In the somewhat unusual situation of having been through two different eras of Livingston lacrosse as the head coach in stints with a 5-year gap in between, Dzama has a unique perspective indeed on how the ascension of the program has been achieved.
“From 2002-2006: We as a program were trying to catch up to the other schools that had passed Livingston in the late 1990s,” Dzama explained. “Much of that I attribute to the fact that Livingston did not have an official youth program until 1998, and numbers were quite low. With less quantity, it was hard to find enough of the quality we needed to compete in the old Iron-Hills Conference back then, which was stacked with state-ranked powers. We only won 13 games in five years.
“And, from 2011-present: After coaching at Pingry under legendary coach Mike Webster, I was eager to go back to Livingston, as I felt I had a lot of unfinished business from my first stint as head coach. I became deeply involved in the youth program, which by this point had grown in numbers and was beginning to produce very good lacrosse players through the hard work of our volunteer coaches.
“The difference, we have won 79 games thus far in the past 7 1/2 seasons.”
Another area of strength for the current Livingston lax program is the fact that other than Dzama the coaching staff is all homegrown.
“All of our coaches, excluding myself, are graduates of Livingston High School, which I feel is important for our current players to know and understand,” said Dzama.
The coaching staff also includes: Pat Nann (LHS ’06)- assistant varsity and head jayvee coach; Will Boni (LHS ’13) head freshmen coach; Marc Brien (LHS 87)-volunteer assistant; defensive coordinator; and Sam Tafal (LHS 10)-volunteer assistant.
Another positive testament to any high school program is watching top players move on to success at the next level, which is definitely happening for Livingston lacrosse these days with a couple of notable former Lancer laxmen making names for themselves in the college ranks.
“Stephen Russo, freshman goalie at Cleveland St., assumed the starting job in the third or fourth game of the season,” said Dzama. “He is an exceptionally talented young man and extremely hard working.
“A few weeks back he was chosen by USLacrosse as the D-1 goalie of the week after a tremendous game that he had against third-ranked Duke.”
“Tommy Heller, junior attack at fourth-ranked Gettysburg, has been starting since his first game as a freshman. He has earned all-conference honors, players of the week honors, and All-American recognition thus far throughout his career. He is once again one of the top scorers on the team as well.
“ It is hard for me to put into words how much joy I receive watching the two of them play at such a high level of lacrosse. With the games being played live online, I haven't missed many of them either.”
As far as the present high school scene is concerned, in addition to the much-anticipated ECT there is also a big ‘Senior Night’ vs. local SEC and Kimber Division rival MKA upcoming for the 2018 veteran leaders of the Lancers.
“We have played MKA so many times over the past few years, and every contest is close and hotly contested,” said Dzama. “Coach (Paul) Edwards and his staff always have their team ready and our seniors understand this.
“Our seniors will have our team ready to play, that I can assure you.”
Livingston takes a 5-game winning streak into Saturday’s 10 a.m. Kimber Division game at Cranford. Among those victories are in-county triumphs over Montclair (8-7, April 5), Newark Academy (15-3, April 14) and Verona (13-0, April 17).
As far as the recent win at West Essex was concerned, Brian Russo tallied three goals, while Scher added two goals and an assist and Valese and Nardone each added a goal and an assist, while the Lancer goalies Damon Persaud (3 saves) and Brandon Shevins (2 saves) kept the Knights at bay for the most part.
West Essex, under the guidance of second-year head coach Justin Schwindel, has been led by top players such as Tom Pescatore (9 goals, 7 assists, 21 ground balls), Sam Adams (9 goals, 17 ground balls), Pat Delehanty (4 goals, 5 assists, 19 ground balls), Tommy Drago (team-leading 39 ground balls) and goalie Dan Laible.
Adams and Ryan Leach had goals for the Knights vs. Livingston, while Pescatore had two assists. Laible recorded 9 saves. Faceoffs won were fairly even with Livingston behind Marco Fusari holding a 7-6 edge.
2018 Essex County Boys Lacrosse Tournament Important Dates:
Wednesday, April 25- field is seeded
Saturday, April 28: first round at higher seed
Tuesday, May 1: quarterfinals at higher seed
Thursday, May 3: semifinals at higher seed
Saturday, May 5: final, 4:30 p.m., at Verona (following girls ECT final at 2:30)
Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister
West Essex's Sam Adams (32), who had a goal, works his way forward vs. Livingston
Oliver Irwin (5) of West Essex looks to penetrate the stingy Livingston close defense
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