Don’t call it a comeback. They’ve been here for years.
It just took them a while to find their way.
With coach Mark Armogida at the helm, White Plains has begun to rid itself of a stigma that seems to follow every high school lacrosse team located at or south of I-287 this notion that central or southern Westchester County shouldn’t be taken seriously.
With White Plains’ resurgence, and Bronxville’s quiet ascension into striking range in Class C, a bus trip south isn’t quite what it used to be. That’s not to say anyone down there is ready to win a sectional tournament, but at least some schools are being competitive with the power programs of the area.
White Plains is just 7-5 this season and on the surface one would assume that record hasn’t exactly been built against superior competition. In truth, though, as far as Section 1 goes, White Plains — the same White Plains known for basketball, football, soccer and track — may be in better shape than plenty of programs in northern Westchester, Putnam and Rockland.
Why? It’s simple really. Armogida has taken an age-old formula and sprinkled in plenty of sticktuitiveness.
“The biggest thing for us is believing we could play with anyone,” Armigoda said Sunday as he began his preparations for tomorrow’s important contest against Mahopac. “We’ve gone 17-3 and 16-4 in past years in the [Class A] B league. Big deal, right? Well, now we’re playing a lot of teams from the north and you know what? We’re believing we belong on the field with them.”
Putnam Valley and, to a lesser extent, John Jay would agree. But we’ll get back to them.
Armogida has been affiliated with White Plains sports forever. He’s a 1985 graduate of the school and has been on the football coaching staff forever. In addition, he’s fought the good fight with the lacrosse program for the last 21 years, the first 13 as junior varsity coach and the last eight leading the varsity.
“In 2001 I think they went 0-13. I told the athletic director that I thought I could do better. I mean, just getting one win is better than no wins,” Armogida said. “I win one game, I’m OK, we’re showing progress. I can find one team to beat.”
But Armogida has done more than that. He’s built a program worthy of a lot more than the normal snicker or roll of the eyes when the White Plains game comes up on the schedule.
He’s made a concerted effort to find multi-sport athletes and convince them that they have a future in lacrosse. He’s fought tooth and nail to get the buzz going at the younger levels. He has camps, modified teams and the beginnings of a schedule in place to make White Plains relevant like it was back in the 1970s when there were two premier programs in the section.
Yorktown, of course, and, believe it or not, White Plains.
Mighty Yorktown has just one losing season in its history: 1979. Who do you think won the sectional title that year? You guessed it.
But after the success of the 1970s the White Plains program went by the wayside for two decades, only to re-emerge in the early part of this century, albeit on a small scale.
Armogida credits assistant Howard Rubenstein for much of White Plains’ rebirth. Rubenstein spent years building the Clarkstown North program before jumping onboard with the Tigers. For the last eight years the two have quietly put all the aforementioned pieces together and gotten White Plains back onto the periphery of the conversation.
Is White Plains winning a sectional title any time soon? No. But will the Tigers be a viable opponent for the forseeable future?
There’s little doubt.
“I have been promoting this sport in the middle school for years,” said Armogida, a teacher at White Plains Middle School. “I’m always talking the game and I’m trying to target athletes, kids who can run up and down the field.
“I’m getting the kids who live in the projects to carry around lacrosse sticks. I want the Hispanic and black kids. If you want to play lacrosse, I want you. Anything they need, whether it be equipment or whatever, I get it for them. I’ll fundraise, do whatever I have to do to get them to play lacrosse. And if need be, I’ll buy the equipment myself.”
And with that focus and intensity, Armogida has put together a program that, with a win tomorrow at Mahopac, could secure the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Class A tournament, a feat many would’ve thought was impossible considering White Plains’ perceived reputation as a school that simply doesn’t take lacrosse that seriously.
“Coming into this season we had a few goals that we thought were attainable as long as the kids believed they could do it. First, we want to be a top 10 team in the section. And then we want to get to the final four of the sectional tournament,” Armogida said.
“I told the kids, ‘We’re going to take someone out,'” he added. “We told them that if they believed in themselves they’d take someone out up north.”
That mantra started to take hold back on April 30 at Horace Greeley. The Tigers came in riding a four-game winning streak, including a 6-5 victory over Fox Lane, but found themselves trailing the Quakers big at the half.
Armogida wasted little time. He read his players the riot act and the Tigers responded, outscoring Greeley 4-1 in the second half of an eventual 10-7 defeat.
“I told the kids if we played like we did in the second half for the whole game we would have won,” Armogida said.
Next came an important three-game stretch against North Rockland, John Jay and Putnam Valley. The Tigers took what they learned in the second half against Greeley and used it as a springboard to an 8-7 overtime win over Rockland.
Then came Jay, the reigning four-time Section 1 Class B champs.
“We trailed 4-2 after one, 6-3 at the half and though we were down big in the second half, we fought back and made it a respectable 10-6 loss,” Armogida said. “I’m OK with that, with playing the four-time Class B champs as well as we did.”
So something was building. As far as Armogida was concerned, the Tigers were ready for a statement game.
It came in the form of a stunning 15-12 victory over previously undefeated Putnam Valley this past Saturday, the same Putnam Valley that is considered by many the favorites to dethrone Class C juggernaut Rye in the sectional tournament and a team ranked in the top 10 in the state that had already beaten Rye and John Jay.
“We got a quick 3-0 lead and from there the kids believed,” Armogida said. “The hairiest part was when it was 12-12. They had all the momentum and we were totally gassed. We were stalling behind the cage to give our attack and middies a chance to catch their breaths.”
Then middie Michael Trapp turned the tide. Wih the score knotted a 12, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore, known more for his exploits on the basketball court, won a key faceoff … and the Tigers never looked back.
“He came up huge for us. He’s going to be a great one for us,” Armogida said of Trapp, who leads the Tigers with 24 goals and 36 points.
Sophomore Dan Broderick scored the last of his five goals, off a fast break, and White Plains was on its way to its biggest win, maybe in decades. Senior middie Matt Altieri, who also plays hockey, and junior Norman Greenfield added insurance goals.
“I’ve been here 21 years. It’s by far the biggest win I’ve ever had,” Armogida said. “The crowd was loud at the end. My kids came flying off the bench. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to cry. I was hugging my assistants.
“I can’t remember White Plains ever beating an 11-0 team. Our kids now realize how good they can be.”
Armogida will be the first to admit his team is not deep and that he’s been very fortunate this season because the Tigers have avoided serious injuries. He likes his midfield, calling it the strength of his team, and said he’s got players at other positions that make White Plains capable of putting up big offensive numbers and playing the type of defense that extends each and every game.
Trapp, Altieri (15, 13) and senior James Bryant (7, 7) make up the first middie line and are asked to play an extraordinary amount of minutes. Bryant, the starting quarterback and safety on the White Plains football team, was one of the last 10 kids cut from last summer’s Hudson Valley Empire State Games team. Bryant sort of reminds Armogida of Savaughn Greene, who is currently at Stony Brook and was the first player Armogida ever sent D-I.
“James started playing the game in eighth grade,” Armogida said. “I put him on varsity as a sophomore and he really came into his own as a junior.”
Broderick (17, 6) is a crease presence on attack and senior Ryan McGee (16, 19) is the attackman with vision. Since Trapp and Bryant have collectively won better than half of the faceoffs this season, White Plains likes to push the ball whenever it can, with McGee usually making the final pass to Broderick for a layup and to Greenfield (22, 7), who has proven to be another viable scoring option.
Defensively, Armogida has complete faith in senior Chris Davis.
“He’s the guy we put on the opponent’s No. 1. He’s our takeaway guy. Against Putnam Valley when we needed the ball back late, Chris got it on the ground.”
What all of this means for tomorrow’s matchup with Mahopac (8-5), a traditional Class A power, but a team desperate for a win following its 14-4 loss to John Jay last week, remains to be seen. The Indians probably never figured on a stretch of games against Jay, White Plains and Putnam Valley (Thursday at PV) as being one that could decide their fate when it comes to seeding for sectionals, but here they are.
White Plains certainly won’t be a breather, especially since it is motivated to take the No. 3 seed.
And now that the Tigers have proven they belong with the big boys, they have their eyes squarely fixed on surprising the section again.
A win today may not upset the balance of power in Class A, but it could very well put to bed once and for all this idea that a matchup with some central or southern Westchester teams means an automatic W.
“Kids are starting to come to us now with lacrosse knowledge,” Armogida said. ‘This was a feeling out season for us initially, but now? Who knows?”
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