Boys lacrosse compensates for loss of seniors with team unity and commitment

The boys lacrosse team knew that this season would be characterized by its reconfigured lineup and emphasis on strong leadership following the loss of several seniors who started last season.

“In the last two years, [we’ve had] a steady entrance into the season knowing [what athletes] we had and what [they were] capable of,” said Head Coach Peter Stanton. “[This year] we had to really learn about each other and about our players.”

This pause for redevelopment led to an early record of 2–6 for the Little Tigers, demonstrating the impact of losing several high-scoring seniors from last year.

“Last year we had some more leaders on the offensive end, like Matt Purdy [’14] and Patrick McCormick [’14],” said defender Tooker Callaway ’17. “But then [this year] we had a lot of younger [players] step up, like Eamonn [McDonald ’17] and Johnny [Lopez-Ona ’17].”

Rory Helstrom ’16 (#15, left) and Mark Duarte ’17 (#9, right) defend against Jackson Memorial High School on May 16 at the PHS turf.

Rory Helstrom ’16 (#15, left) and Mark Duarte ’17 (#9, right) defend against Jackson
Memorial High School on May 16 at the PHS turf.

Stanton also attributes part of the team’s slower start to its ambitious schedule and inability to capitalize on key chances for success at the beginning of the season.

“We’ve had a really competitive schedule, and we had a lot of opportunities to prove ourselves earlier in the season that we didn’t take full advantage of,” Stanton said.

One part of this competitive schedule included the Mercer County Tournament, with a bracket of 15 teams, in which the Little Tigers previously won two consecutive titles. However, this year the team was knocked out in the quarterfinals with a 15–2 loss to Princeton Day School.

“It’s one of those games in sports you come across when things just don’t go your way,” said Assistant Coach Chip Casto of the loss. “[The game was] a confluence of us not playing well and not being prepared mentally, and [PDS] playing as best as they could … [which resulted in] a pretty lopsided score.”

Callaway also points to the issue of evaluating a team like PDS in the tournament. “[PDS is] obviously a good team, and it was a big rivalry game playing them,” Callaway said. “They just played better than we did that day—better than we expected them to—[so] they deserved to win the game.”

After the exit from the MCT the team entered the 2015 NJSIAA South, Group 3 Tournament with a 7–8 record. The players went on to win the next two games, reaching the semifinals of the tournament before losing to Shawnee High School 15–5. Despite failing to produce any titles, the team is happy with its performance.

“Through all of the low periods we remained committed and we kept getting better and better,” Stanton said. “We’re thrilled with our turnaround.”

“What the record doesn’t show is how far we’ve come since the beginning of the season,” said Co-Captain and crease defender Colin Buckley ’15. “Everyone’s grown a lot and we’re a lot better, which is why we’ve been scoring 12, or even 15 goals a game.”

With the end of the season, the lacrosse program plans to look toward younger athletes to continue building the team after its key seniors leave.

“Next year I think everything will fall into place—we have a lot of talented players,” Callaway said. “We’re losing pretty much our three key players … on the defensive end, [but] I think we have a lot of younger players [who] will fill in.”

“We feel, with a good supporting crew on defense, we could actually be potentially a better team next year [or] the next two years,” Casto said.

While the team itself may be different, its goals will remain the same.

“We always want to win our conference, we always want to win our county, and we always want to win championships within the state,” Stanton said. “Of those things, we’ve won county championships and conference championships [but] we haven’t won any state titles, so we’re hoping that that’s going to be something that we can do [in the years to come].”

In the last game of their regular season, the Little Tigers upset the highly seeded Hopewell Valley High School with a 7–6 victory. Hopewell Valley went on to win the MCT.

This friendly atmosphere, combined with a dedicated work ethic, may be a reason for the turnaround that the boys experienced this season.

“We’re just thrilled that these guys have dedicated themselves to playing hard for the entire season,” Stanton said. “There wasn’t any point where there was any giving up.”

Johnny Lopez-Ona ’17 (#22) sets an offensive play against Jackson Memorial High School on May 16. The Little Tigers won 14–0. Photos: Caroline Smith

Johnny Lopez-Ona ’17 (#22) sets an offensive play against Jackson Memorial High
School on May 16. The Little Tigers won 14–0. Photos: Caroline Smith

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name and email. Your email address will not be published.

Any comments containing the following material will be removed:
  • Hostility or insulting language directed towards other users, authors, Tower staff, or a specific group of people
  • Any type of harassment
  • Profanity, crude language, or slurs
  • Personal information about yourself or anyone else
  • Discussion unrelated to the article