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Cardinal Mooney boys lacrosse sharpened by seasonlong gauntlet

Plus, a look at other Sarasota-area teams before postseason play begins.

Cardinal Mooney junior Gio Zanoni gives a high-five to senior Sean Laureano (1) after a Laureano goal.
Cardinal Mooney junior Gio Zanoni gives a high-five to senior Sean Laureano (1) after a Laureano goal.
File photo
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Cardinal Mooney High boys lacrosse Head Coach Derek Wagner has shown a penchant for challenging his team whenever possible. 

The team's 2023 schedule took that penchant to a new level. 

Cardinal Mooney freshman Duke Bergstrom (30) fights for a ground ball.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

According to MaxPreps' strength of schedule metric as of April 4, the Cougars have played the second-hardest schedule of any team in Florida, trailing only Ponte Vedra High. It's why the team is ranked 19th in the state (and 12th in Class 1A) despite an 8-6 win-loss record. The Cougars took on this gauntlet with only one senior on their roster, attacker Sean Laureano, and made it to the other side with the experience necessary to get wins in the postseason, when things get even more intense. 

At least, that is Wagner's hope. 

"You have to play these (strong) teams at some point, so you might as well play them in the regular season," Wagner said. "Whether you win or lose, great. One way or another, you can learn something. And when you get the chance to play them again in the postseason, you can take advantage of that."

Wagner believes his team is ready to use that advantage. On April 3, the Cougars won 15-1 at home over local rival Riverview High (5-9) in a game dubbed the "Lacrosse Town Rivalry," complete with a golden trophy that the winner gets to keep until the game's next iteration. The Mooney players held the trophy high and took pictures with it in celebration. Wagner said he was happy to see the Cougars having fun, but also wished his team had been pushed a bit more in earning the trophy. 

With the playoffs around the corner — district tournaments begin April 8 — teams are running out of chances to improve before things get real.

Cardinal Mooney junior goalkeeper Jacob Brown scored a goal against Saint Stephen's Episcopal.
File photo

Wagner said his 2023 group's biggest strides have come in its cohesion. Coming into the season, Wagner said, he could see some individual talent, but he never knows how it is going to gel together until the players battle beside one another. 

"You get beat up, you get blown out in games, then you claw back and fight back and win," Wagner said. "That's what really binds teams, binds these kids."

As seriously as the Cougars take winning, they also like to do it with flair. Mooney is not shy about celebrating each goal like it is a game's first, and with the clock ticking down against Riverview, junior goalkeeper Jacob Brown trotted out from his own net to try to score a goal of his own. The attempt didn't work, though it did get the home crowd to roar — and gave Wagner a lot of stress, knowing Brown could take a big hit at any moment. But Wagner, who recalled the moment with a half-smile, is not going to stop his players from being themselves on the field. It's part of what makes Mooney a good team, he said. 

A Feb. 21 game against Plant High (11-5), a comeback 14-13 home win, was an early highlight; a 15-13 home loss to Tampa Jesuit High (11-3) on March 24 is one the team wishes it could have back, as Wagner said the team spotted the Tigers an early lead before running out of time to make up for it. 

But the team took lessons from both games in equal measure. Laureano, one of the team's captains, said the Cougars must be more consistent in their play. In the playoffs, one sleepy start to a game can end the team's season. It has to be full-energy all the time, Laureano said. 

"If we do that, we'll be in the state championship," Laureano said. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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