By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Before the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes boys lacrosse team’s game Tuesday at home against Coronado High School of California, head coach Andy Taibl told his players not to take the opportunity to play a team from 2,500 miles away for granted.
Coming off their first loss of the season at Haverford School of Pennsylvania on March 23 and with Interstate Athletic Conference play just around the corner, the Saints needed to get back in the win column against a team that entered with a 6-1 record overall.
What followed was a strong performance from the hosts at Kelleher Field, as SSSAS won 11-4 to move to 6-1 overall in its first game back since spring break. The players saw it as an opportunity not only to win on the field, but help the expansion of the sport of lacrosse.
“When I was little, it was pretty much an East Coast sport, but this really shows the growth of [lacrosse] as a whole,” said senior attacker Chase Goree. “It’s bigger than ourselves. The game as a whole, we really want to do our part to spread the game because we all love playing.”
The home side got off to a fast start, as senior attacker Zach Miller scored just 49 seconds after the start of the first quarter. The start of the second quarter began in a similar vein. With the Saints up 4-2, Wade Shervin and Goree tallied a goal apiece in the space of just over a minute to put the hosts way ahead at 6-2.
“[An early goal] gets the momentum on your side,” said Taibl. “I thought that certainly helped us and gave us some confidence again coming after a loss, you’re always worried where their heads are going to be and what kind of confidence they’re going to play with. I think all of that definitely helped. A quick start definitely aided us in getting rolling.”
Goree led the way for the Saints’ offense with three goals, while Shervin, Matthew Fisher and Ben Martin tallied two apiece. Miller and sophomore midfielder Jack Wood added another goal each. The hosts enjoyed the majority of the possession, and the players said they looked to be patient around the attack area and create openings rather than force anything.
“The past couple of games, we’ve been shooting off initiating dodges, not waiting for the best shot to open up,” Goree said. “Today, I feel like we really moved the ball around the horn, waited for the best shot to open up, a lot of skip passes, beat our man one-on-one, and we finished when we got the chance to.”
Defensively, the Saints looked impressive on the back of several solid saves by senior goalkeeper Justin Alexandre. Both the defenders and midfielders managed to stifle an athletic Islanders team with physicality and good movement, and allowed the offense to spring several swift counter-attacks.
“They have some very good athletes and kids who can really play, so obviously our focus defensively was making sure that we keep those guys in check,” Taibl said. “As a group, for the most part this year we’ve really done a pretty good job on team defense. There are some aspects that we definitely need to get better, but only giving up four goals is something you’re going to be pleased with as a coach any time.”
The Saints had begun the 2016 spring season by reeling off five straight wins, including one-goal margins away against Episcopal Academy of Pennsylvania and Norfolk Academy. With a roster laden with seniors, expectations are high for SSSAS, which took plenty of lessons from the loss at Haverford.
“Any time you lose, it humbles you, and so you hope your kids then respond the right way from that,” said Taibl. “I’ve always been a firm believer that you learn more from a loss than you do a win, so while anybody who’s competitive never wants to lose, there are a lot of positives you can take from it if you take the right approach.”
In the coming weeks, the Saints face numerous big challenges. Before the start of IAC play, SSSAS will face 2015 Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament finalists St. Anne’s-Belfield and St. Christopher’s in the space of two days, then kick off the IAC regular season at home against Landon on April 8. Taibl said he relishes the challenges ahead and the strong schedule to come.
“I think offensively, consistency is going to be a big thing for us, keeping everybody involved because we feel like we have a good, balanced group who can help us offensively,” he said. “I think defensively we need to get faster and a little more physical in order to get ready for our conference and league play. I don’t think it’s anything drastic or major we want to change, we just need to do the little things better and end up making the big picture more quality.”