by Adam Baum, Community Press
In the last four years, Oak Hills High School has watched its lacrosse enrollment almost quadruple. A generous spike in participation creates competition and camaraderie amongst teammates. Essential pieces in the sustaining-a-program puzzle.
Leading the charge is third-year coach Mike Cassidy, who said last season, his sophomore campaign, was "tough" going 5-11 with a difficult schedule and a lot of guys playing varsity for the first time. The Highlanders took some lumps, like all teams do. Lumps can either make a team stagger, fall back, or press forward with a sense of intensity and swagger. Cassidy's hoping, in Oak Hills' fourth overall lacrosse season, the Highlanders continue forward, perhaps even dishing some learned lumps out themselves.
"Our biggest strength is the experience of the team at this point," Cassidy said, referring to his 16 seniors and six returning starters this season. "We've got a lot of guys with a couple of years under their belts. For a new program, that's really good."
Cassidy added he feels he's got a tough and competitive squad, "They've got big hearts; they're looking to win and prove themselves."
This year's group of 16 seniors are the first class in Oak Hills history to graduate as four-year lacrosse players. That means a lot to them, Cassidy said.
The returning starters are all seniors in attackmen Conor Acus, Connor Holland, D.J. Dunn and defender Connor Swanger, long-stick midfielder Jared Seaman and goalie Brian Cybulski. Acus and Swanger are both signed to play at the University of Indianapolis next year - they'll be the first two collegiate lacrosse players from Oak Hills.
The Highlanders started the season 0-2 with losses to Sycamore then Lakota West. On April 4, they defeated Wellington School and on April 9 Oak Hills evened out its record with a 16-5 win over La Salle.
Coming up on the schedule are a pair of home games, April 15 against Mason and Lakota East April 18.
The beginning of the lacrosse season, has seen Elder High School searching slightly for itself. The reason the Panthers have had to find themselves is because they graduated 16 seniors, an exodus of one of Elder's greatest lacrosse classes in its nine-year history. Last year, Elder went 11-6, finished third in the city and ranked third in the state in goals per game, according to fifth-year coach Tom Nugent.
"We graduated 200 points which is quite a lot," Nugent said. "This year, we're redefining our identity a little bit. We're 2-2 at this point, in those first four games we've been kind of finding ourselves."
There's no reason to panic for the Panthers, with 18 seniors this year. Last year's group left an impression on the underclassmen - they now have an awareness, a sense of what's required to do something special. They have just two returning starters in senior attackman Cody Moore and sophomore midfielder Jack Streicher. Senior defenseman Drew Lammers contributed last year, but didn't start, and he'll slide into a more prominent role this year.
The Panthers are quite capable of filling spots vacated by graduation, but they've already been fighting some serious injuries.
Look for production from senior attackman Josh Bonavita (Otterbein commit), senior midfielder Tony Robb, senior defenseman Adam James, senior goalie Andrew Feiler and senior midfielder Ryan Schweirs. Senior attackman Kevin Spurlock, who's signed with Indianapolis, had 11 points in two games when he tore his ACL ending his season.
"The guys really care about each other on and off the field," Nugent said. "Because of that, even though we've had some injuries, the outlook is really good because they're generally more excited about the other guys successes than their own."
Nugent said they're aiming to play their best lacrosse at season's end, and their goal is to go further than any team in Elder history.
"Last year we competed, but this year, our goal is to take that a step further and host multiple games in the state tournament," said Nugent.
Elder opened the season with a 9-8 loss to Loveland, then beat Summit 11-7. On March 31, Elder lost at St. Xavier 15-3, then beat Lakota East 15-8 on April 1.
While most other schools are still busy building lacrosse programs, St. Xavier High School has already built a proven, perennial winning program. The Bombers are coming off a state semifinal appearance last season and finished 16-7.
With four returning starters driving an athletic, deep, talented roster the rest of the state took notice and the Bombers are ranked No. 2 in the state in the LaxPower Ohio High School Lacrosse Association Computer Ratings.
"We're really athletic and deep," said fifth-year St. X coach Nate Sprong. "We're trying to teach them a system (I played in college) that teaches the kids how to play fast. We're entrusting them to try and make their own decisions on the field and that's enabled us to play a lot faster than we have in the past."
Returning as starters are senior defender Matt Donnelly, senior midfielder William Holcomb, senior midfielder Jack Waters, who's signed with Denison, and junior attackman Griffin Buczek, who's committed to Cornell.
The rest of St. Xavier's roster can help out if needed, but the turnover has resulted in more opportunities in particular for senior defender Nathan Kiniyalocts, who was given a long-stick this season and, Sprong said, he's been doing great in his new role. Also, watch for junior midfielder Jacob Lang, senior midfielder Andrew Salomon, junior attackman George Thurner and senior Buck Dorger, who's headed to play at DePauw next season.
You won't hear Sprong complaining about a lack of depth.
"We're deep, have a lot of players that are interchangeable," Sprong said. "We've had some stars in the past that we've relied heavily on. Now, we're a lot more balanced.
The majority of these Bombers were a part of last season's playoff run that ended a game from state. It left them eager for another shot.
"The playoff run was a great experience (last year)," said Sprong. "It gave (the team) a lot of confidence to continue working hard."
St. Xavier started its 2015 campaign with three straight wins over Mason, Louisville Trinity and Elder.
La Salle High School fields a relatively young team this year, but third-year Lancers head coach Joshua Wellen is very excited about the direction of the program.
The Lancers are coming off a rough 2-10 season a year ago. That team graduated most of its scoring, and the Lancers only have three seniors and three juniors this year. But, they're loaded with 17 sophomores and 16 freshman.
Wellen explained that a big step for the program was instituting a youth program so in years to come, Lancers already have experience when they walk in the door.
As Wellen put it, "We're kind of exploding at that (younger) level."
Wellen added that his team this year will be competitive but there will also be a rebuilding aspect to it with just three returning starters a lot of newcomers will be getting some chances to play.
This year, expect big things from junior captains Jake Giovanetti and Tyler Behrmann. Wellen referred to his defense as agile, and anchoring that defense is second-year junior goalie Bradley Scheuermann between the pipes. Look for sophomore defensemen Nick Rielag, Zach McMahon, and Andrew Kathman as well as sophomore midfielders Ben Wenning and Justin Kahny to help out. Senior defenseman Joe Schoenling is a returning starter for the Lancers back end.
The attackmen are all pretty new this season. Heading up that department will be sophomores David Wieck, Jared Buttelwerth, and Parker Baston; they're all new to the varsity starting lineup, but Wellen said they have experience playing together so they should be able to adjust.
"Our offense is faster this year, a lot of off-ball movement. We're building every year, getting faster, stronger and tougher," said Wellen. "Defensively, we've got some big hitters that really take care of the crease. As we try to build up to play the (bigger schools) having those fundamentals are huge."
Last season, La Salle saw its first-ever college lacrosse athletes. Expect more from the Lancers in years to come.
The Lancers have dropped their two opening contests to Butler County April 1 and to Oak Hills on April 9. Some big games approaching on the schedule for La Salle are home contests against Walnut Hills April 18, then St. Xavier on April 20, Lakota West April 22 and then at Elder April 24.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Oak Hills senior Conor Acus: Signed to play at Indianapolis next year.
Elder senior Cody Moore: Attackman with experience and scoring ability.
Oak Hills senior Connor Swanger: Signed to play at Indianapolis next year.
St. Xavier junior Griffin Buczek: A complete player who's committed to Cornell.
La Salle junior Jake Giovanetti: A defenseman and captain who's a leader for the Lancers. [Read More]