Of the 150 best lacrosse players in the world, five call Manhasset home. Beginning their careers playing on Manhasset's P.A.L. teams, Conor Denihan, John Gagliardi, Tim Goettelmann, Blake Miller, and Nick Murtha would all grow up to play major league lacrosse. As members of the Long Island Lizards, the "Fab 5," as they are called, have reunited to represent Manhasset and Long Island in one of America's oldest games.
"They're a big part of the team," said Head Coach Jim Mule of the five. They're all great guys and good teammates," he attested. Assistant Coach John Espey agreed and pointed out that the "Set" boys are by no means cliquish, showing loyalty to all their teammates equally. Out of the 30 players on the Lizards, 27 are from Long Island, hailing from such towns as Northport, Massapequa, and Rockville Centre.
The Lizards can be found on Manhasset High School's field Thursday from 7 to 9 for practice. Residents sometimes come to watch, even asking for autographs. "Players are very approachable," said Scott Neiss, director of public relations for the Lizards. The "lax" players are fortunate to be given the opportunity to play on the field of their youth. "It just feels so natural," said goalkeeper Murtha, 1998 MHS graduate. The team is grateful for the town's offering of their field to their alumni. "The hospitality has been outstanding," says Assistant Coach John Espey. They return to a new and improved facility, complete with lights. "They didn't have this when we were in high school," Goettelmann, who is nicknamed "The Monster," noted.
In 1965, Blake's father, William Miller, assisted Joe Fields and Charlie Morrison in the creation of the Manhasset P.A.L. Boys Lacrosse program. Originally a third and fourth grade football coach, Miller didn't even know how to spell lacrosse when he was approached with the idea of coaching. He hadn't even seen a lacrosse game being played until he went to Munsey Park field with his son, Dan. Forty years later, Miller is now the director of the 600 boys who cradle, pass and shoot in this town. "I've gotten so much more back than I've given," said Miller, whose nine of 11 children played Division 1 Lacrosse.
The ex-Manhasset Indians went on to play the sport, which, fittingly, began by Native American Indians in preparation for war, in college. The boys thrived, each earning the title of All American at their respective colleges; Gagliardi, Denihan, and Murtha at Johns Hopkins, Miller at Hofstra, and Goettelmann at Loyola.
With the launching of Major League Lacrosse in June 2001, the boys were able to play professionally. When asked if he thought there would ever be professional lacrosse, William Miller replied, without hesitation, "Never." Presently, there are six teams in the league: Baltimore Bayhawks, Boston Cannons, Long Island Lizards, New Jersey Pride, Philadelphia Barrage, and Rochester Rattlers. The MLL season runs from May to August, consisting of 36 games. The Lizards play their home games at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale. "Attendance in general has been on the rise," said Neiss.
On Friday, the Lizards traveled to Boston, where they played the Boston Cannons in front of 5,842 fans at Nickerson Field on the campus of Boston University. The Lizards beat the Cannons by an impressive final score of 19-14. "I think they kind of took Boston by surprise," said Neiss of their victory. "The Lizards had a nice run winning the semifinals," said Eugene Miller, Blake's brother, who was in the stands in support of his brother. "The guys played like we knew they could all year. Beating them on their home field in front of their own fans was awesome, especially with literally all of the "experts" predicting a Boston win," said Neiss.
This win enabled them to enter into the MLL championship where they played the Baltimore Bayhawks on Sunday, Aug. 21, making them the first number four seed to advance to the championships game. This is the fourth time the Lizards have played in the championship game, always against the Bayhawks. The Lizards won the title in 2001 and 2003, with Baltimore winning in 2002. "They were fortunate to be in the finals," said William Miller. Manhasset families came out in support of their children, making the game even more memorable for the team. "It's special when families can come together to the game," said Blake Miller. Among the 6,829 fans at Nickerson Field on Boston University's campus, were the Millers, Denihan's father and Goettelmann's parents.
Even with all their success, the boys never forget their roots. They fondly recall their high school coaches, Allan Lowe and Bob Rule, who in midfielder Miller's opinion, "gave us a good foundation for the years ahead." Gagliardi, who is considered one of the best defensemen in the world, agreed, saying "The youth program and high school coaches produce some of the top players in the country and world."
The "Fab 5" certainly came a long way from their days of P.A.L. "We never thought there'd be professional lacrosse," said Goettelmann. "It's a dream come true."