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Posted: Friday June 12, 2009 4:15PM; Updated: Thursday June 18, 2009 10:30AM
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INSIDE LACROSSE

West Islip's Galasso carries family name into New York championship

Story Highlights

West Islip's Nicky Galasso was brought up in a competitive family of five brothers

Galasso and the Lions play for the New York State champonship game Saturday

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Nicky Galasso (right) has led the West Islip Lions to the brink of a New York State title.
Courtesy of the Galasso family

WEST ISLIP, N.Y. -- Nicky Galasso, the 6-foot junior attack with the fair skin and curly brown hair, sits down with teammate Tom Clifford before each game. Once settled, Clifford takes out a black Sharpie marker, and traces a "C" on Galasso's right leg. He then adds a line down the middle and forms a connecting "G". The same calligraphy repeats across the locker room until 25 hairy right legs are inked. The initials are those of Galasso's mother, Cindy, who died from lung cancer five years ago. "He doesn't need an artist," Clifford says, "just someone who knew her coming up."

The youngest of five brothers, Galasso grew so attached to his mother that she referred to him as her "little hemorrhoid." At sleepovers he called her in the midnight hour to come drive him home. When she coached football, he sidled up next to her on the sidelines. "He was a mama's boy," says Sal, the oldest brother, who will watch little Nicky lead West Islip High for a second New York lacrosse title in three years Saturday.

House rules forbade the baby from being soft. The backroom downstairs measured 16 feet by 40 -- perfect space for growing pains. Over the L-shaped couch, the brothers would jump to catch balls and land in a pile of pillows. Another contest involved following a lead blocker through a gauntlet of brothers on their knees. Home alone, they would clear out furniture and slide mattresses down the stairs or make the descent in buckets. For a short while in 2000, 13 family members and friends crowded under the same roof. "He had no option but to be physical," says Vinny, the second youngest.

Crucibles came on the street, too. At 10, Galasso was taller than most his age, but chubby by fraternal standards. To drive home the point that he needed to stay in shape, his brothers packed into the powder-blue Camry and tailed him around the block as he jogged off the excess weight. If he slowed, they bumped him. "In hindsight," says Galasso, who is now the tallest family member. "I should have moved to the sidewalk."

He never left the athletics fast track. Since the second grade, he played at least one level above his age group in lacrosse. As a quarterback he could throw two house-lengths; in basketball he was an aggressor in the paint. One day during a water-balloon fight down the street, he took a football and launched it 30 yards in the air, knocking one of his brother's friends of his moped. "That," Sal says, "left an impression."

Lacrosse's mark was more lasting. Galasso's father, Dan, was a red-headed bull of a midfielder in his days as a Lion, and raised his own pride in the same South Shore town. He carried a wooden stick with leather strings, but has watched his progeny wield more influence in a town that has increasingly embraced the game. While the elder sons executed a midfielder's head-down duties, the baby was told to attack the cage. While at UMass for a traveling team game the summer before eighth grade, he walked over to his brother Vinny's game after finishing his own. In need of an extra man, Vinny ordered him onto the field. "My head spun," says Galasso, who hit a pole on his first shot.

The game slowed for the southpaw as he rose up the ranks. As an eight grader, he starred on junior varsity and gained playoff experience with the varsity by season's end. Head coach Scott Craig has coached him since the third grade and has witnessed his maturing game and widening vision. "If you could put a camera in his eyes and capture what he sees, I bet it would look a lot different than most viewpoints," the father says.

What can't be recorded on film is quantified on the stat sheet. Three times in his career Galasso has netted at least 10 goals -- two of those games ending with him scoring 11. In near equal parts, he has found cutting teammates and executed his own whirling, dervish displays with shots from as low as his knees and as high as the top shelf over the keeper's shoulders.

"The toughest thing for him can be to keep improving despite finding so much success at this level," says Tom Federico, who captained North Carolina to the 1982 NCAA title and watched Galasso since he was a child in the West Islip Lacrosse Club.

The seeds that Federico and other former college players have sewn on Long Island will come to fruition along Tobacco Road. Part of an impressive crop of recruiting talent, Galasso, who also captains West Islip's basketball team, met Tar Heel hoops star Tyler Hansbrough while visiting Chapel Hill. "His hand suffocated mine," says Galasso, who committed to the Tar Heels last fall.

Attention paid to lacrosse in West Islip can overwhelm a teen as well. During a recent class, a teacher compared the lacrosse program to the Friday Night Lights town culture, what with the same blue and gold uniform colors as the fictional Panthers and tailgating tents that pop up three hours before game time, even on weekdays. Of course, then there is the attention paid to Galasso. Federico's wife eyed an elementary school-aged boy sitting in the stands with a West Islip shirt that read Galasso on the back and had his jersey No. 5 shaved into the back of his head. "We'll introduce him one of these days," says Federico, who talks with Galasso once a week.

In the 10 consecutive seasons that Galasso boys have suited up as lax Lions, two state titles have come to town. It was the summer of 2004, in the wake of a championship game loss, that their mother passed away after a long month in the hospital. The youngest brother said he didn't really understand what had happened then, but plays for her now. Win or lose Saturday, the campaign ends and the ink will be scrubbed off, but his mother's memory remains indelible, no matter the season.

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