Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
In just one year, the Lakewood Ranch High boys lacrosse team looks completely changed.
Last season, the program’s first, the Mustangs went 7-6 while scheduling a mix of varsity and junior varsity teams. This year, playing an improved schedule, the program is 7-2 as of March 17. The chasm is like the difference in canned pasta and that from a five-star restaurant.
When I attended the program’s game against Manatee High March 12, that difference slapped me in the face. I almost could not believe it.
Manatee scored the first goal less than two minutes into the game, but then the Mustangs started to gain momentum. Mustangs' senior attacker Colby Anderson scored from the left side to tie the game. Lakewood Ranch then added 11-straight goals for a 12-1 lead.
The goals were of all varieties. Some were rippers, like Anderson’s. Some were almost sneaky as sophomore attacker Clay Barone wrapped his stick around the backside of the Manatee net and pounding the ball home. Other goals, like one from senior midfielder Owen Ingham, ricocheted off the Manatee crossbar and into the net, a move that the players like to call a “bar down” these days.
On the sidelines, even Ingham's teammates were in awe.
The game’s final score was 18-2, but it could have been worse if the Mustangs chose not to slow down their attack in the final quarter.
Certainly, Manatee is a struggling program, having dropped to 0-7 after the loss. But both were first-year programs in 2018, and Lakewood Ranch has been the one to take off.
“The kids put in the work during the offseason,” Mustangs coach Jason Morales said. “We only lost two senior starters. We have had young players learn and step up.”
One of those players, Morales said, was junior goaltender Peyton Mullin. He is the team’s only goalie, so if he did not improve, the team likely would not, either. Morales said Mullin “transformed” his game by playing throughout the summer and dedicating himself to the sport.
Mullin’s teammates respect him so much they voted him a captain, alongside Anderson, Ingham and sophomore defenseman Jacob Wolf. Morales also mentioned freshman attacker Elijah Stobaugh as someone who will have a big impact on the program's future, calling his skills outstanding.
Last season, I spent a lot of time covering the Cardinal Mooney lacrosse team for our sister paper, the Sarasota Observer. The Cougars went 20-2 and reached the regional finals before losing to eventual state champion Jupiter High 9-5. In other words, they were excellent. I now know what a good lacrosse team looks like, and the Mustangs showed similarities to Cardinal Mooney when I watched them.
They constantly had control of the ball. They played fast but not out of control. They attacked from multiple angles and with multiple players, making defense all but impossible. They won the majority of ground balls and face-offs. They are in-your-face like bees at a barbecue, and play physical.
I am not saying the Mustangs are as good as Mooney, at least not yet, and on-field results make that clear: Lakewood Ranch lost 11-6 to the Cougars March 15. But that is a respectable result against a team with state title aspirations.
“If we play our ‘A-plus’ game, we can hang with them,” Ingham said. He was talking about Mooney, but he might as well have been talking about anyone.
Lakewood Ranch is on the rise, and the players know it.