Nastasi broke the 200-point mark this season, but the senior still has more work to do for the West Orange lacrosse team.
Going into the game against East Ridge Wednesday, March 27, West Orange High senior Matt Nastasi was on the verge of something big.
The only thing was, he wasn’t really aware he was on pace to cross the 200-point milestone of his high-school career.
“My whole life I haven’t been too focused on numbers — I’ve just been focused on helping my team win,” Nastasi said. “The past two years, my coaches have really wanted me to step up, and they have relied on me to step up scoring-wise — whether it be goals or assists — so naturally those points came along.
“I didn’t make it a priority; if it came, it came,” he said. “I was just focused on playing as hard as I could and playing the best I can for my team.”
Being a team player is a big aspect of Nastasi’s success, but just as important is the time he has put into his sport.
And although his humble nature makes him a team-first kind of player, being able to surpass the 200-point mark is a reminder of how far he has come since picking up a lacrosse stick as a kid.
“It was really satisfying, just because when you’re a little kid and you’re hitting the wall and taking those extra shots and practicing after practice — all the little things that go into becoming a better player — it was just super satisfying knowing that all the hard work that you put in finally pays off,” Nastasi said. “For any player in any sport, it’s always nice to get individual recognition, because not a lot of players can get that recognition.”
The accolades that have fallen upon him the last two years did not come easily. When he was a kid Nastasi took up lacrosse, because it was a sport unlike any other. He enjoyed the uniqueness and varying aspects of the game — so much so that he dropped the other sports he had been playing.
Playing at the youth level is just as much about fun as it is about learning fundamentals. But once you get to the high-school level, things change. That’s not to say that fun is longer an aspect of the game — it still is — but the pressure to perform builds.
“When you’re young and you’re new to varsity, you’re already pretty stressed out about not making mistakes, because you’re a young player and don’t want to look bad,” Nastasi said.
For his first two years on the Warriors lacrosse team, Nastasi battled with inner self-doubt that plagued him consistently.
His coaches and teammates — who supported him — asked him why he wasn’t looking to take that next shot, as they looked to help him reach his full potential.
“It was really coming down to believing in myself,” Nastasi said. “With the first two years of high school, I struggled with my confidence on the field. To be quite honest — I’m not sure why — I would tend to play a little timid, and I wouldn’t take as many chances or wouldn’t take any risks on the field.”
But then, just before the start of his junior year, something clicked.
Along with guidance from coaches, Nastasi found the confidence he needed and decided he was going to give everything to the game that he possibly could. It paid off.
In his junior year, the attackman exploded on the offensive side of the ball: He scored 40 goals and recorded 45 assists. So far this season, he has scored 46 goals and 46 assists.
This year has been a continuation of that success that Nastasi found last season, although it’s also come with new challenges — the biggest of which is that he is now one of the team’s leaders and go-to players.
“It was really satisfying... all the little things that go into becoming a better player — it was just super satisfying knowing that all the hard work that you put in finally pays off.”
— Matt Nastasi
“Throughout my whole playing career, I always tend to be the younger one on the team — I would play up in age groups and stuff like that,” Nastasi said. “I never was looked at to be a leader on the team, but now that I’m a senior, it was an adjustment to be a vocal leader and to lead by example.
“One of the things I focus on the most is to try to stay positive at all times, because with our team being very young, freshmen and sophomores who are newer to varsity are going to make mistakes, just like I did,” he said. “The last thing you want to do is get on their backs about it.”
But now, Nastasi’s high-school career is winding down. He celebrated his senior night Friday, April 12, against Olympia — with only the district tourney and a possible appearance in states left to go.
It won’t be the end of his lacrosse career — he will be taking his talents to Florida Southern College — but the achievements he has accomplished and the friends he has made at West Orange are memories he will have forever.
“All of my teammates from freshman year to senior year have been my best friends — I consider them like a second family,” Nastasi said. “We go through everything together. … We win and we lose together. I’m pretty sure it will be like that in college, but high-school years are years you’ll never get back — I think I’ll definitely miss that aspect of West Orange.”