The Cougars are 7-1, but believe their best is still ahead of them
The onslaught was over.
The Cardinal Mooney High boys lacrosse team (7-1) had finished beating The Out-of-Door Academy 13-2 on the road. It was a start-to-finish win for the Cougars against a good team — the Thunder are now 7-2 — that featured strong net play from senior goaltender Nick Petrucelli, physical defense from the Cougars’ back line and a soft scoring touch from senior MJ McMahon (four goals), sophomore Christian Laureano (three goals) and junior Michael Bavaro (three goals). The Cougars’ passing against ODA was like a game of “monkey in the middle”: It seemed like they always had an open man, and that allowed them to control possession.
The game also marked the halfway point of the team’s season. For a team with state title aspirations, Mooney appears to be exactly where it needs to be in terms of record and level of play
Unless you ask them how they are doing.
“No,” coach Derek Wagner said when asked if he was happy with his team’s play. “We have not played our best lacrosse yet. We have picked up some bad habits. We need to get back to the fundamental stuff, back to playing Mooney lacrosse.
“A lot of the scores (in their wins) should have been more. We have not played a complete game yet. We need to learn that every game is important. We will get there. We still have a month to go before the playoffs. Our best lacrosse is ahead of us.”
That the program has gotten to the point where wins decided by 11 goals are considered not good enough shows how far Wagner has brought the Cougars since he was hired before the 2015-2016 season. After last year’s appearance in the regional finals Wagner said it is nice to be at that point in the team's progression, but also that the team cannot rest now, and needs to keep improving.
His players agree. Junior attacker JP Jackson, who is committed to Boston University, emphasized the team’s need to stick to the basics, especially offensively, and will not be satisfied with a win until it does. He believes the team was closest to “tip-top shape” in its home opener against Lake Highland Prep, a 9-8 win against the 22nd-ranked team in the state, according to MaxPreps. Mooney is ranked seventh as of March 20, and 38th nationally.
Jackson said an east coast trip to Boca Raton to play Belen Jesuit and St. Andrew’s helped the team immensely. Even though the Cougars went 1-1 on the trip, it brought the team together and reminded them how tough the playoffs are going to be.
In the meantime, an upcoming tournament might be the perfect spot for Mooney to find its best form. The school’s second-annual Sticks for Soldiers event will be held March 22-23 at Cardinal Mooney. The showcase will feature games between Mooney, Riverview High (ranked 12th in the state), Admiral Farragut Academy and Saint John Paul II Academy.
Games will start at 5 p.m. on March 22 and 11 a.m. March 23. The tournament is part of a nationwide initiative to raise money for local, severely-wounded veterans. Last year the event raised $14,000, and the school’s goal for this year is $25,000.
The lacrosse should be as good as the cause. If this is the point were Mooney kicks things into high gear, it might be the greatest show in town.