Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
Listen to sports conversations long enough, and you'll hear talk about certain teams making “the leap.”
The leap is undefinable, other than the assertion that, like a famous court ruling on something decidedly less family-friendly than sports, you know it when you see it. In recent years, the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and the NHL’s Nashville Predators have made the leap. Individual players can make the leap, too, such as Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who made the league's All-Star team last season.
To me, the leap doesn't necessarily mean ending the season with a championship, or taking home individual awards, though those are certainly nice. The leap is transitioning from consistently good to consistently great. When talking about area boys lacrosse teams, it appears that Cardinal Mooney is a team prepared to take it.
The Cougars boast 12 seniors and leadership from captains Caleb Ward and Matthew McDonnell. Ward, a midfielder, has been playing with a gimpy ankle, but it hasn't slowed the Cougar attack. Cardinal Mooney is 3-0 on the season and averaging 14 goals a game. The attack is well-rounded; Junior Cougar MJ McMahon leads the team in goals with 11, but sophomore JP Jackson has 12 total points, junior Ryan Katchen torched Steinbrenner High for six points on March 5 and freshman Christian Laureano had four points on Feb. 28 against Riverview High. The defense hasn’t been too bad either, having held all three opponents under 10 goals.
The importance of the win over Riverview, a 14-9 game, cannot be overstated. The Rams eliminated the Cougars 9-8 in the district championship last season, and in overtime, no less. The Rams graduated a dominant senior class before this season, but are still expected to be a competitive team. When asked about the victory, occurring on the same field where Cardinal Mooney lost last April, McDonnell and Ward could only smirk and stare at the ground.
“That was a fun one, yeah,” McDonnell finally said, laughing.
Ward said the team is on the same page this season after being a bit disjoined last year. You can tell by the energy the team is playing with, he said. The Cougars have a chip on their shoulder, and it’s bringing them together. On a recent day with no team meal scheduled, the boys decided to scarf down dinner together at Gecko’s Grill and Pub, just because they — gasp — like hanging with each other. Who needs assigned team bonding time when you do it on your own?
It’s a combination of all these factors that has coach Derek Wagner excited.
“With high school, there’s always a bit of luck involved, in terms of where these kids are going to be mentally day-to-day,” Wagner said, “but really, it’s as simple as executing fundamentals. Passing, catching and ground balls. These kids have all the talent in the world. They can beat anyone on any given day. It’s a matter of, ‘Can they execute all the minor things?’ They know they have a great opportunity in front of them this year.”
There's a prime opportunity to watch the Cougars perfect their fundamentals next week. Sticks for Soldiers, a non-profit started in Connecticut to raise money for “severely wounded military personnel,” is teaming with Cardinal Mooney to host a tournament at the school on March 16-17. The tournament will feature great competition, too, with Tampa Jesuit, Cardinal Gibbons High and WT Dwyer High all participating. According to a release, the charity tournament has raised more than $775,000 in 12 years.
For information on the charity or tournament, visit sticksforsoldiers.org. For more information on Cardinal Mooney lacrosse, well, you’ll have to watch the Cougars do their thing.