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Prose and Kohn

Sarasota boys lacrosse battles for first win

The Sailors had four heartbreaks in a row before a Feb. 28 win over Venice High.

Sarasota High's Maximillian Farrugia (8) and Cooper Oriol (3) chest bump after a goal against Venice.
Sarasota High's Maximillian Farrugia (8) and Cooper Oriol (3) chest bump after a goal against Venice.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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If you were ever an athlete, think about the worst loss you experienced in your playing days, the one that kept — or still keeps — you up at night. 

It's probably a close game, decided by one basket or touchdown or goal. Those tend to be gut-wrenching. It's also probably a game where you felt your team was equal or superior to your opponent in terms of talent. In the unluckiest cases, it was all of this, plus the game was decided late, maybe in the final seconds. 

All athletes have at least one such loss, but I can't recall ever reading about a more heartbreaking stretch than the one the Sarasota High boys lacrosse team had from Feb. 17 through Feb. 24. In those eight days, the team played four games, three at home. The Sailors lost all four games by one goal. In each game — which all came against talented teams — the winning goal was either scored with less than a minute remaining or in overtime. 

At a certain point, that stops being a painful coincidence and starts being a cruel joke played on the team by the universe. 

The streak put the team's record at 0-5, but the Sailors are much more talented than that implies. In year two of having a varsity program, the Sailors went 11-7 in 2022. They returned a lot of production in 2023, including leading scorer Kellen Rector, now a senior. 

This season was supposed to be a liftoff point for the program, but the streak put a damper on things — or, at least, it would have, in many programs. But the Sailors don't think like other programs. 

Sarasota High junior Cooper Oriol received praised from Coach Kendall Gay for being "sneaky and shifty" on the field.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

"Expectations are the same, 100%, unequivocally," Sailors Coach Kendall Gay said. "We're four goals away from being 5-1. That has been the message to the guys. We've been pushing a little bit too much, maybe beyond our current skill level. Part of it (the change) has been getting guys to play within themselves. Just play their style." 

Gay said he talked with players individually about where their heads and hearts were after the losing streak. It takes work from every member of a team to stop such a slide — if you're not careful, things can quickly get out of hand, turning from close losses to blowouts. 

That didn't happen here. On Feb. 28, the Sailors shook off whatever bad mojo had been following them when they picked up their first win of the season at home over Venice High, 13-4. They moved the ball well on offense and created open opportunities to score. They were disciplined on defense and gave the Indians little space. When Venice did get a shot off, senior goalkeeper Jacob Lunde was there to stonewall it, sometimes in spectacular fashion. One first-half sequence saw a scramble in front of the Sailors net end with Lunde first tracking a ball to his right, then lunging back to his left and making a diving save, getting just enough of the shot to deflect it wide. 

The win was a boost to the team's morale, which was evident in the club's celebration, a joyous affair that saw the Sailors sprint onto the field and gather around Lunde — you never make the goalie run to reach the celebration in field sports — before hooting and hollering like they had won a state title. A lot of pent-up frustration was let go in those moments, and understandably so. 

One win does not a season make. The Sailors know this. But all turnarounds start with one win, and this one seems as good as any. As Gay said, the team's own expectations have not changed. They expect to compete and build off how they ended last season. 

"I feel like we broke the curse," Kellen Rector said. "It feels amazing. We had been stuck in the gutter but we were pulled through it tonight. I never lost confidence (in the team). I know the skill level of the guys. We just needed to put ourselves in situations where we could thrive."  

Rector said a big difference came in the team's pace of play. The Sailors were methodical against Venice, Rector said, but never stopped moving. They personified the "be quick, but don't hurry" adage. They controlled the ball and never let the Indians get comfortable, and when Venice did manage to steal some momentum back with a goal, the Sailors answered, shutting down any potential runs. It's a formula that can lead to success. 

Gay said outside of Rector, the team has received strong contributions from junior midfielder Cooper Oriol, who is "sneaky and shifty" and surprises opposing defenses with his skill, and sophomore midfielder Hayden Stroud, who has a knack for being in the right places at the right time to clear the ball out of danger zones and into the hands of the team's skilled attackers. 

The team may be in better spirits than they were last week, but the road to the postseason will not get easier for the Sailors now that they're in the win column. Upcoming opponents include Lakeland High (6-0), Northside Christian (3-1) and Bishop Verot High (4-1). Do they care? Not particularly. After all, they were one goal away from knocking off teams like Barron Collier High (5-0) and Osceola High (4-0); play like they did against Venice and they can climb the standings quickly, despite what their current record implies. 

"If we follow our method, we can beat anybody," Gay 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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