Prior to Paul McNulty taking over the helm as Staples boys lacrosse coach in 2009, deep postseason season runs were few and far between for the Wreckers. Four state semifinal appearances in six years under McNulty's guidance have quickly established Staples as one of the best teams in the state.
The Wreckers reached the Class L semifinals for the second straight season as goalie Cole Gendels made 16 saves in a 10-3 win at top-seeded Simsbury on Saturday afternoon. The Wreckers will meet Amity on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk for a chance of back-to-back state final appearances.
"Our goal was to put Staples on the map with Simsbury and the big boys of the FCIAC," McNulty said. "I think we are doing OK with that."
The defeat snapped the Trojans' winning streak at 18 games dating back to last season's Class L semifinals. The Wreckers defeated Simsbury 4-2 on that day and used another dominant defensive performance to prevail Saturday.
"Ever since the playoffs started, the seniors and captains have got the team focused," McNulty said. They've established that drive to play this well."
In addition to Gendels' performance, the Wreckers played lockdown defense as well. Led by long poles Isaac Paparo and Josh Willis, Staples generated numerous turnovers and constantly kept the Simsbury offense frustrated.
"(Paparo and Willis) were on (Simsbury's) best attackman (Mason Burr) and their best midfielder (Aaron Riccio)," McNulty said. "They got the ball back for us a lot; they were outstanding today."
Gendels mixed routine saves with outstanding ones as Staples (14-5) held its opponent to five goals or fewer for the 12th time in 19 games this season.
"The defense played well," Gendels said. "They cleared the lane and let me see the shots. I wasn't really screened. They were letting (Simsbury) take the shots I could save."
After a cagey opening seven minutes that included few quality chances, Staples ambushed the Trojans with three goals in 48 seconds. Will Johnson opened the scoring on an isolation move, Peter Blevins converted a fine pass from the back of the cage and Greenwald fired one home to give the Wreckers a 3-0 lead before Simsbury could blink.
"There was definitely a huge part of our win; getting the fast goal and then three more," Gendels said. "It gave us all the momentum and almost deflated them. It was huge."
The Wreckers kept the lead at four goals until the fourth quarter when they put the game away. Leading 6-2 entering the fourth, Staples got four goals from four players as Gendels made six saves at the other end of the field.
"We knew they were going to be more balanced this year," Simsbury coach Jim Martocchio said. "It was tough to keep track of all the talent they have out there. The teams we play in our league (the Central Connecticut Conference) you get one or two guys you make sure you need to keep an eye on and we do well with teams like that. When you start adding three, four, five out there; it gets a little tricky."
Seven players scored for Staples. The Trojans (18-1) won the CCC for a second straight season May 28.