O'Connell
1997
Justin O'Connell
Defenseman
Sachem
Coached By: Rick Mercurio

Academic All-American

Later played at:
University of Pennsylvania


1997

Justin O'Connell
Sachem

Coached By: Rick Mercurio

Justin O'Connell played on the Sachem teams of the mid-1990s that were propelled to dynasty-like status under former head coach Rick Mercurio. Like Ward Melville and Comsewogue of that day, Sachem was a top power in Suffolk County.

Inside Lacrosse and Lacrosse Magazine ranked Sachem in the top 10 nationally by O'Connell's senior season in 1997.

"Back in the heyday when Sachem was at its best, we played a number of games that meant a lot and that represented Sachem really well," he says.

O'Connell is one of the few defensemen to win the Enners Award, which he earned his senior year. More important than stopping the opposing team's best player was that O'Connell was playing with a birthmark on the right side of his face that hindered his vision. He was able to work through that and play at the top of his game.

"It almost prevented him from playing," Mercurio says. "I always think it's tough for a defenseman to win it. There aren't any stats for them. A coach has to ask themselves if they'd want that particular kid on his best player?"

He was the only defenseman from Suffolk County to play on the Empire State team the summer before his senior year, signaling to the county that Sachem had a gem in its backfield.

"I thrived on playing against the opponent's best player," he says. "We faired well as a team and that ultimately had a lot to do with my individual success."

Sachem lost to Ward Melville in the Suffolk County final that year, but O'Connell was the team's defensive MVP, and an All-Division, All-County and Academic All-American selection.

O'Connell played his college lacrosse at the University of Pennsylvania and gained a mental edge, learning from Mark Van Arsdale, who was the head coach at UPenn, and is now the current offensive coordinator at the University of Virginia.

"I used a lot of what he was able to teach us about the game as an advantage to out think my opponent at times," O'Connell says. "He worked us hard and knew that he could take the program to a level it hadn't been. I felt like he was in the middle of creating something special there."

Van Arsdale left after five seasons at UPenn to take his current position at Virginia. Though UPenn was never a lacrosse power while O'Connell was there, he is fond of beating North Carolina by eight goals and holding Syracuse to the ropes his freshman year at home and only losing by one goal.

After a stint working in Manhattan in finance, like many others, O'Connell turned to teaching at his alma mater. He is a teacher at Sequoya Middle School in Holtsville, and is a JV football and lacrosse coach at Sachem High School East.

Profile by: Chris R. Vaccaro