For the last decade the head lacrosse coach at West Islip High School has towered over the game, both literally and figuratively. Scott Craig’s Lions have won eight Suffolk County Championships, six Long Island titles and four state Class A titles. In 2007 and 2010 his Lions teams were ranked first in the country by Inside Lacrosse magazine. Craig is a member of the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Hall of Fame and a multiple winner of Coach of The Year Awards from various organizations. He played football and lacrosse at West Islip and graduated in 1972, then graduated from SUNY Cortland in 1976.
Long Island Pulse: Can you describe the teamwork necessary to win so consistently at West Islip?
Craig: Continuity is important for us. My top assistant Bill Turri and I have been together 27 years—three years on junior varsity, 24 on varsity. Bill coaches the defense while I coach the offense. It seems to work. We’ve also had the same set of junior varsity coaches the last 10 years, running our system the right way, too.
LIP: How important has family been to your program? So many brothers have been stars at West Islip.
Craig: One key is that those large athletic families have had so many boys. Five Galassos. Two sets of two Turris. Three Flandinas. Two Federicos. The oldest brother plays and then takes the younger ones under his wing and shows them how. Then they work hard to improve. Our youth program is one of the things that allowed us to rise, and so many dads have helped out. A major component of the West Islip Youth Lacrosse League that was founded by Dennis DeVivo and is currently run by president Tom Federico is that it helped fix our depth issue of the 1990s by sending up more players ready to contribute. Finally we had as many good players as the best teams.
LIP: Whom do the Lions consider their biggest rivals?
Craig: I told my wife about 15 years ago that I hoped Joe Cuozzo at Ward Melville didn’t retire before I beat him at least once. So in many ways he was my inspiration and mentor, and showed how hard you have to work to win. The two programs do things much the same way.
LIP: Do you follow the careers of your former Lions playing in college?
Craig: Absolutely. I think this is the fourth or fifth year in a row we have over 50 young men playing college lacrosse. Even if they didn’t start for us here, they were recruited and found a comfortable fit at the next level. Everybody from last year’s team is playing and getting an education. As an educator, I think I’m prouder of that than anything we’ve won. Our boys get to college and there is a structure waiting for them to help them succeed. They’re not alone. They’ve got 40 new friends.
LIP: Are there any improvements to the high school game that you would like to see?
Craig: Yes. To speed things up and make the traditional two-way midfielder more important, I’d like to see no substitutions through the box until the offense has taken a shot. Then you can put in your long-stick midfielder and defensive middies. I don’t want to take those positions away. They can be your best athletes, maybe just not your best sticks.
LIP: How close is the talent in Suffolk Class A this year?
Craig: The talent in Suffolk this year is solid, if not as deep as last year, and the first four teams are pretty much interchangeable. We won four overtime games last year, including the county final, so we were lucky. Against Smithtown West in the final at LaValle Stadium we came out with a bit of an attitude and I think they were a little in awe. Then Kyle Keenan was outstanding and we wound up in overtime with them anyway. Our luck finally ran out against Farmingdale.