Mike Dedvukaj entered the 2014 campaign without the Four Hs: hype, hearsay, high rankings, or heavy expectations.
It wasn't that Dedvukaj wasn't ready, it was his lack of big game experience which rendered him a pre-season question mark.
As a sophomore, he was buried behind a Division-I core of go-to threats.
The Huskers featured goals-in-a-hurry scorer Nick Mariano (UMass). They had a reliable threat in transition, mid-yardage and from deep out in Brian Prestreau (Penn State).
Then a junior, 6-foot-3 beast-amongst-boys Connor Vercruysse (Rutgers) was starting to thrive as one of the Section's top hard-shooting threats.
So, minutes came by sparingly as a sophomore.
Rewind the clock to 2014.
With the departure of Mariano (61 goals, 48 assists in 2013) and Prestreau (61 goals, 15 assists) leaving a mega-void, Dedvukaj erupted.
Finding his shot, kicking the habit of barreling into the cage and going one-on-one with the goalie, Dedvukaj instantly became a featured piece offensively, playing with confidence and surfacing as the area's most improved player.
A pair of four-goal performances against blood rival Somers and a resume win against Albany power Shenendehowa signified his offensive aptitude. He was willing to guide the offense with the weight to pop and bulldoze smaller defensemen on forays to the cage on his shoulders.
As Dedvukaj's stock suddenly began to tip the Division-I scales, Yorktown's depth was an overwhelming factor in the post-season.
It was Dedvukaj who pocketed three consecutive second half goals, the spark which started a 6-0 run in a 12-5 sectional quarterfinal against John Jay. Dedvukaj piped home four goals in that second half, overcoming a jittery start in which they leaned too heavily on Vercruysse.
Changing levels and heeding Dave Marr's call to quit forcing it into Jay goalkeeper Rob Looney's stick, Dedvukaj settled down.
Playing less amped and utilizing a more relaxed, cerebral mindset has paid dividends for the Monmouth-signee.
Dedvukaj morphed into the big Albanian bullet sprayer during a NYS semifinal victory over Lynbrook. Pocketing a rip to the far corner, Dedvukaj was able to again develop the potent hand.
His three consecutive goals powered a 6-0 surge, propelling Yorktown to the program's 7th New York State Championship, as they scored a pulsating 10-9 win over Jamesville-DeWitt.
Growing academically, Dedvukaj recently received a qualifying SAT score. He now commands respect alongside a veteran core that has hiked up the ranks and paid their dues behind a star-encrusted lineup.
Dedvukaj On His Clutch Performances Last Post-Season
What really got me going in those games, what truly allowed me to elevate my level of play was starting to play a lot looser and not worrying if I made a mistake. Obviously, if it weren't for my teammates drawing slides and finding me open I wouldn't have been able to do anything. So, hates off to them.
On His Niche And Veteran Seniors
I'd say my role this year is to get everyone involved in the offense and not be too selfish with the rock. What you are going to see out of (Ryan) Baker is he can go both hands this year and has gotten 10 times better, so teams are really going to have to watch him.
We also have Nicky Delbene returning at attack for us. Expect him to have a really good year as he matured as a player as well. Expect a major role out of Nick's brother, Daniel. He's the captain of our defense and he'll be locking down the number one guy and all opposing scoring threats game in and game out.
Other seniors to look out for are Billy Strassman, who has been on the team since his sophomore season and has gotten very good over the off-season. Expect to see a lot of Logan Peters at attack, he's very good with his stick and at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he's going to be hard to stop.
On The Schedule
Our schedule is different from previous years because we only play four games out of Section 1 instead of nine. This is because Section 1 is making every league team play each other twice, so that limits us to play the top-tier teams around the country.
Our top games this year that will be fun to play in are Ward Melville, Chaminade, and Darien those three teams are top-level on a national scale. They definitely will be a test for us.
We also scrimmage Iona Prep and Don Bosco and that should get us ready for the full grind of the season.
On Choosing Monmouth
Monmouth had everything I was looking for in a school. They have a great business program that I hopefully major in. The coaching staff is great and I can't wait to be a Hawk next year. But again, that's next year. Right now my focus is on one thing and that's a championship.