Crusaders in building mode

Lauralton Hall lacrosse coach Joanne Zuk may be a native of West Haven, but right now her heart is in Milford and in her fourth year at the helm, is steadily building the program into a winner.

With three freshmen in her starting lineup, the Crusaders cruised out to a 13-2 first-half lead over South-West Conference rival Masuk of Monroe on April 24, on their way to a 15-6 victory, evening their record to 3-3.

The two teams met on the Lauralton Hall campus and had to run all game long through some fierce and gusting winds.

Freshman attacker Nikki Zaccaro scored five goals and added two assists for the Crusaders. She now has 26 goals in six games while the Crusaders are averaging 12 per contest.

“We simply weren’t sure what we were going to see from Masuk today,” said Zuk, a former junior varsity coach at West Haven High, who played club lacrosse at Connecticut College.

“What we’re trying to do for every game is focus on making the little plays; the little passes, and handling ground balls.”

Zaccaro got scoring help from Kerry Ullman (3 goals), Ann Marie Guzzi (2 goals), Aubrey Lowe (2 goals) and single scores from Taylor Westermann and Aubrey Lowe.

“Nikki is a very valuable asset to this team,” said Zuk. “She knows the game well and she’s already played it for five years. She sees the field well. That’s something you can’t always teach.”

What Zuk liked most about the game was the balanced scoring attack. Seven players had at least one goal each.

Freshman goalie Elyse Darci made eight saves, while the Crusaders took 26 shots, many of them coming in the first half when they built up their big lead.

“We either tend to get off to a big start, or we sputter a bit,” said Masuk coach Rob Tossier, whose team is winless after five games. “We made a nice charge in the second half and that’s a positive because our players stayed positive even after falling behind.”

Laura Cuseo scored four goals for the Panthers and Jillian Cohen had the other two.

The Crusaders defense and those players directly out in front of Darci include sophomore Amanda Carey, along with Taylor Whittaker and sophomore Grace Cogguillo and senior Megan Dobensky.

Guzzi, a senior, plays in the midfield along with junior Tory Stapleton and Aubry Lowe.

Joining Zaccaro and classmate Ullman up front are juniors Cailin Dendas, Julia Patnaude and Laura Maiorano.

“I’m fortunate in that I get many multi-sport kids to play lacrosse, “Zuk said. “We’re able to run the field well. And those that haven’t played that much, are starting to learn the game.”