It would be easy for Nutley boys lacrosse coach Mike Salvatelli to lament the graduation of 13 seniors, including career scoring leader Matt Pergola from last year’s Super Essex Conference – Colonial Division title team, the first in program history.
Instead, Salvatelli is embracing and encouraging competition within the roster as several starting spots are up for grabs.
I tell the players that every year is the same policy, that every spot is open and it’s up to you to earn that spot,” Salvatelli said. “It’s a little bit different (this year) knowing that it’s all just a big competition, which is great for the kids, pushing each other.”
Nutley returns four players with starting experience. Among them is senior three-year starter Andrew Kiernan at goalie, who made 99 saves last season.
“It definitely helps that we have a senior with a lot of experience,” said Salvatelli. “He’s played in a lot of games over the past couple of years so having him anchor the defense really does put us in a position where we’re comfortable to start a game.”
Michael Coster, a talented freshman, is also pushing for time behind the pipes and will serve as the backup.
On defense, junior Tommy Devlin is a returning starter, who should continue to grow as a player after shifting from attacking midfield to the back line a year ago.
Also in the mix on defense are seniors Santino Luna, Logan Acosta and Donald Slane. Slane in particular has been a surprise in his first year of lacrosse after a solid football career.
Nutley brings back one of the state’s most successful faceoff men from last year in Jack Ponzoni. The senior, who 66-percent of faceoffs last year, will take on a more prominent role in the offense after posting six goals and 10 assists a season ago.
Ponzoni’s ability to stay on the field will allow the Raiders to play at its desired pace and quickly set up its offense out of faceoffs.
“Having the luxury to keep him on the field when he’s winning faceoffs at such a high clip, we’re able to get right into our offense with a lot of fastbreaks, which is great,” Salvatelli said. “We’re playing in transition and we’re really starting to move the pace, which is the pace we want to play at.”
Another midfield set for a bigger role is sophomore Nicholas Wilson, who had 12 goals and four assists.
Sophomores Clark Mohrbutter and Kyle Algieri will be in the mix in the midfield, as will freshmen Jack Snowden and Jacob Harlow. Gavin Gonsiewski is also vying for time.
Salvatelli knows that no one person can replace the production of Pergola, who scored 116 goals last season.
While the scoring gap will need to be filled by several, the bulk of it will fall on the shoulders on a pair of newcomers in junior David Adams, a transfer from Seton Hall Prep, and standout freshman Rocco Albanese.
“Angelo is a bigger kid even as a freshman so he can use his size to bully a defender and get in the right position and get his hands free for a nice lefty shot,” said Salvatelli. “David’s more of a technician. He’s a great athlete, he’s quick, he’s got great vision and he’s got a great shot so he can go with both hands. It really does completely change our offense. It will be nice to see how they play together. If they can really start to click, it should be fun to watch.”
Sophomore Tyler Hsiao will also see extensive action on the attack.
“No one’s going to score that many goals (like Pergola) so as an offense we need to work better as a team,” Salvatelli said. “Hopefully as a group we score that many, but a kid like Matt Pergola is a once in a generation player. If you can replace him with a team effort, then you can find the same kind of success offensively.”
Nutley opens the season at home on April 3 against Cedar Grove, followed by an April 6 contest against Parsippany Hills.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)