Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
I hope you’ve been following the Cardinal Mooney boys lacrosse team, because it just made history.
The Cougars (20-1) are still alive in the Florida High School Athletic Association playoffs, defeating Canterbury High 8-4 on April 27 and Gulf Coast High 17-4 on May 1 to reach a regional final. In the process, they became not just the first Cardinal Mooney players to do so, but the first Sarasota County program to do so. It’s a large achievement for a region that gained the sport later than almost everyone else in not just the state, but the country.
“It’s really special,” freshman Christian Laureano said of the achievement. Laureano scored seven (!) goals against Gulf Coast. He’s one of a number of guys who make this particular team fun to watch: Junior M.J. McMahon, senior Eric Martin, sophomore JP Jackson, senior Chip Jackson, junior Ryan Katchen, senior Caleb Ward. All of those guys have scored unreal goals during the playoffs. Not to be forgotten are the guys responsible for stopping the other team, such as senior Matthew McDonnell, sophomore Luca Dominguez and junior goalie Nicholas Petrucelli.
I could keep going, but I’d name the entire roster.
Coach Derek Wagner always expected his team to be here, even during preseason practices, he said. He doesn’t want that to sound cocky. It’s just that … well, the team is talented, and the players know it. They play confidently. It’s one of the reasons why when, down a goal in the second half against Canterbury, nobody panicked. Canterbury used a deliberately slow pace (like, slower than a Marvin Gaye love song played at half speed) to throw the Cougars out of whack, but once they figured out Canterbury’s stall tactics, the game wasn’t close, even though the score was.
They’re not just fun to watch, they’re fun to follow. Here’s a story I’ve been wanting to tell for a while: Before this season, Wagner made T-shirts with a picture of the scoreboard from last season’s district title game loss to Riverview, 9-8 in overtime. It’s the game that has driven the team all year, and likely would have no matter what, but Wagner made sure his team wouldn’t forget it. He wore the T-shirts during every single practice Cardinal Mooney had until the Cougars avenged last season’s loss by beating the Rams in the title game this year. The game now in the past, Wagner has allowed himself to stop wearing the shirts, and he and the team are deciding what to do with them. A few players want to keep them for memories’ sake, he said, but he’s going to hang onto at least one for a “special ceremony” that will take place in the near future.
“Let’s say they’re going to go up in ashes,” Wagner said, laughing.
There’s one thing that I can’t shake about this season, though, and it’s how few fans have come out to these playoff games. Against Gulf Coast, there were maybe 150 people in the stands.
Is it a lack of lacrosse understanding? A lack of time during the week? A lack of energy to care about a private school team? What’s holding back your support, Sarasota? I don’t care what your school affiliation is, everyone should be rooting for the Cougars to take home the championship. The program’s success is phenomenal in terms of putting the county on the lacrosse map. Sarasota High is trying to become the next Sarasota County public school, behind Riverview and Venice, to add lacrosse programs. If the Cougars can have this success, the Sailors can, too.
Lacrosse is a great sport. It combines the speed of hockey with the style of soccer, and is less dangerous than football. If you’ve never watched, I can’t encourage you enough to give it a shot. Unfortunately, unless people want to make a four-hour drive, that support will have to wait. The Cougars’ regional final game is on the road against Jupiter High on Friday. Jupiter (18-2) is the second-ranked team in Florida according to MaxPreps, and 14th in the country. The Cougars are fifth in the state and 33rd nationally in the same rankings. In other words, it’s going to be a ferocious fight.
I hope, unlike those T-shirts, Cardinal Mooney’s season doesn’t go up in smoke, because they deserve all the attention they can get.