Westfield High School Boys Varsity Lacrosse Team
Highlights throughout a 30-Year History
A Program’s Beginning and its Rise to Greatness
In 1977, a young man approached English teacher Shaun Cherewich in an attempt to form a lacrosse club at Westfield High School. That year a group of nineteen students and Mr. Cherewich started a lacrosse club, with the hopes of one day becoming a varsity program. As the program began to take form, the team had to raise virtually all of its own money by conducting car washes, faculty-policemen basketball games, and other fundraising events. The boosters only gave the club $200 to pay officials, so the team also relied on their fundraising money to buy equipment and pay for transportation services.
The following year, participation and interest grew for the sport and by the spring, there were over thirty students in the club. Consequently, Westfield started a JV program in 1978 and then added its first ever varsity lacrosse team in 1979 by entering play in the Garden State League, a division in which new programs competed against one another. In their inaugural season, the varsity team compiled a 1-13 record. The Blue Devils had mixed results in subsequent seasons posting records of 9-7 in the 1980 campaign and 5-12 in 1981.
In 1981, Cherewich received the Garden State League Coach of the Year award. Despite this success, he and the team wanted to win more games and compete against the best high school programs in New Jersey. So Cherewich went to Athletic Director John Lay and requested that they be moved up into the varsity “A” division. Lay obliged, and the team posted a respectable 7-9 record in 1982. Then in 1983 the team began to catch fire and finished with an 11-7 record, marking the first time a Blue Devil squad won double-digit games. It was also the first season Cherewich began to notice significant progress in the team’s understanding of the game, which positioned the program to enjoy enormous success in subsequent seasons and become one of the lacrosse powerhouses in the State of New Jersey.
Teams to Remember
The 1985 season ended with a heartbreaking loss in the State finals to Bridgewater East, but the year was highlighted by record shattering performances by some of the all-time great players ever to play at WHS. The 1985 squad had four All-State players and one All-American. Rob Schmalz was awarded first team All-State and All-American honors compiling 99 total points (53 goals and 46 assists), which is still a record at WHS. His 53 goals was also a school record until Ryan Yarusi recently broke it in 2006 and 2007 by scoring over 60 goals in each season. Chris Capano was awarded 2nd team All-State along with midfielder Dave Hone. Capano added a team leading 135 groundballs, which was also a single season record until Chris Mattes compiled over 150 groundballs in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Third team All-Statesman Rob Sidebottom was also a key contributor to the team’s success. In addition to the All-State and All-American players, goalie Steve Ciarrocca had a magnificent season as he posted a .750 save percentage, which is highest for any goalie that played at Westfield. The team compiled key wins against the powerhouses of Montclair, Kinnelon, Columbia, and Summit. These key wins and a deep State playoff run all the way to the finals allowed Westfield to rise to the 5th ranked team in New Jersey by the end of the season, which was the first time in the team’s history that the Blue Devils were ranked in the top 5.
Westfield lacrosse enjoyed one of its finest seasons in 1986, winning their first State championship and continuing to break records and earn recognition. Once again Rob Schmalz was a force to be reckoned with receiving 1st team All-State and All-American honors, and being named New Jersey’s Player of the Year. Rob’s brother, Gregg, also played on the team and earned 1st team All-State recognition by posting 44 goals. Fellow midfielders John Telling and John Macaluso joined the Schmalz brothers by being named 2nd and 3rd team All-Staters respectively. The team won 17 times, including victories in the Bristol Cup against Summit and State Championship over rival Bridgewater East, avenging the prior year’s loss in the finals. Following their win over Bridgewater East, the Blue Devils were named the Star Ledger’s #1 team in New Jersey. Mr. Cherewich was named the Star Ledger’s Coach of the Year and his assistant, Tony Bristol, was named the NJ Lacrosse Coaches Association Man of the Year.
It was in 1987 that Westfield proved its true dominance. Coming off of their first State championship in ’86, Coach Cherewich was unclear how the team would respond given the loss of key players such as Rob Schmalz. At the end of the season, Westfield left no doubt as they won their second consecutive State championship with a record of 19-1 that still stands for most wins in a single season in Westfield lacrosse history. 1987 also featured more All-State and All-American players than any other Westfield lacrosse team. There were four All-American players, seven All-State players, and New Jersey’s Player of the Year Steve Locker. The All-American and 1st team All-State players included Brendan Flaherty who set the single season records for assists, Tim Nolan, Gregg Schmalz, and Steve Locker. Flaherty and Nolan each had over 50 points on attack while Schmalz and Locker both racked up over 60 points to lead the midfield. Todd Prybylski and Jeff Hurley earned 2nd and 3rd team All-State honors respectively. Prybylski led a defense that allowed the fewest goals in the State thanks to the help of Chris Miller and Paul Kieltyka who were outstanding goalies, posting save percentages in excess of 70%. Coach Cherewich won the distinguished US Coaches Association Coach of the Year award, establishing himself as one of the best coaches in the country. Westfield suffered its only loss to powerhouse Mountain Lakes, the team they eventually defeated in the State championship game. The ’87 team was the most dominant team in the New Jersey, and possibly the greatest lacrosse program ever at Westfield High School. The success achieved by the players and coaching staff was unprecedented at the time, and set the standard for Westfield lacrosse excellence.
Coming off the greatest season in team history, expectations in ’88 were high. Even with the loss of two All-Americans, Westfield still had enough pieces from the ’87 team to put together a run at a third consecutive State championship. They posted an impressive 15-5 record, with three of those losses being to perennial powerhouse Mountain Lakes – the most critical defeat coming in the State championship game as the Blue Devils fell 8-6. However, Westfield still ended the ’88 season ranked 2nd in the State and the team featured one All-American and four All-State Players. Brendan Flaherty compiled 91 total points and was named 1st team All-State and 1st team All-American. Benton Cummings and Dave Brown were named to 2nd team All-State, while Colin McLane earned 3rd team All-State recognition.
The Best of the Rest
After the 1988 season, Westfield had a 13-win season in ’89 that ended in a disappointing loss to Johnson in the first round of the State playoffs. In the 1990s Westfield enjoyed regular season successes, but they could never seem to advance into the State playoffs, with the 1987 team being the last program to win a championship. However, Blue Devil lacrosse has still seen its share of successes. Since 1990, Westfield has won the Union County Tournament five times and there have been a multitude of great players. Chris Wojcik was one of the best midfielders to ever play at Westfield, and he challenged almost all of Rob Schmalz’s previous records. He also led Westfield to double-digit wins form 1991-1993. Also, in the late 90s and into the 2000s great players such as Ed Joffe, Ryan Yarusi, Joey Simone, Chris Mattes, and Ben Thomas have only added to Westfield lure.
Blue Devil Lacrosse Today
Composed by: Will Gretsky and Drew Margolis
Document Citation form the Archival Collection
Interview Transcript June 5, 2002, Westfield Athletics, WHS 92-011, box C:4:e, Westfield High School Archival Collection, Westfield High School, Westfield, New Jersey
Scrapbook 1986-92 Westfield Athletics, WHS 92-010, box C:4:e, Westfield High School Archival Collection, Westfield High School, Westfield, New Jersey