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Lakewood Ranch High boys lacrosse uses internal fortitude to stay alive

The Mustangs have reached the FHSAA Class 2A regional semifinals for the first time.

Lakewood Ranch senior Lucas Anthony lets out a scream after scoring a goal against Venice High on April 27. Anthony had eight goals in the regional quarterfinal win against the Indians.
Lakewood Ranch senior Lucas Anthony lets out a scream after scoring a goal against Venice High on April 27. Anthony had eight goals in the regional quarterfinal win against the Indians.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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The first time the Lakewood Ranch High boys lacrosse team (14-5) played Venice High (11-6) in 2024, back on April 4, the Mustangs lost 7-6 on the road. 

Mustangs leading scorer Lucas Anthony, a senior and one of the top offensive threats in Florida, was held to one goal and one assist. The team put just 15 total shots on Venice senior goaltender Alex Ptaszek, a sign that Venice was able to control the ball. It was a disappointing effort, Head Coach Joe Nelson said. 

But in the weeks since, Nelson said, his team has grown — not only in its understanding of the game but also in its understanding of itself. 

"These guys are progressing," Nelson said. "We are finally gelling into an offense that works for our personnel. You have to play your best lacrosse at the end of the season. We still have not hit our peak." 

When Lakewood Ranch and Venice held a rematch April 26, it was in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 2A regional quarterfinals. This time, Lakewood Ranch shook off a slow start to take control, peppering Ptaszek with shots and ultimately winning 14-8. 

Head Coach Joe Nelson talks to the Lakewood Ranch High boys lacrosse team at halftime against Venice High. Nelson is in his first season with the Mustangs.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Anthony made up for his quiet performance in the first matchup with eight goals in the second. It gave him 63 goals for the season, which as of April 27 tied him for the 20th-most in Florida. It was a dominant performance buoyed by the play of his teammates — from his fellow attackers down to senior goalie Dylan Brown — which allowed Anthony the time and space to unleash his rocket of a shot.

In front of a raucous crowd at Premier Sports Campus, the Mustangs put together a complete team effort. Lakewood Ranch now advances to the Class 2A regional semifinals; the Mustangs will play host to either Newsome High (13-4) or Manatee High (10-6) on May 1 at 7 p.m. A win in that game would propel the Mustangs into the regional finals at 7 p.m. May 4. 

This is the first time Lakewood Ranch has advanced to the regional semifinal stage of the postseason since the school's lacrosse program was created in 2017-2018. It comes in Nelson's first year with the program after moving to the area from Minnesota, where he coached lacrosse at Concordia University, St. Paul, among other ventures. 

Nelson said his first order of business upon meeting with the Mustangs was establishing "pillars" for the team to carry with them. Those pillars are ways Nelson wants the players to conduct themselves, as well as goals for them to reach and being good teammates. Nelson said the team conducts "chalk talks" after each game to both go over the X's and O's and to give the players a chance to praise one another for things they did to help the team be its best. 

"At the end of the day, I want these guys to remember high school lacrosse," Nelson said. "I want them to have best friends (from the program). I want them to remember coming out and working hard and earning something. It's not about the wins and losses. If the culture is great, they will remember their experiences." 

Lakewood Ranch sophomore Braden Johansen creates offensive space against Venice High. Johansen is second on the Mustangs in goals (40).
Photo by Ryan Kohn

No doubt, the Mustangs will remember this season. Against Venice, the team played with a heaping of swagger, with midfielders and defenders routinely knocking down Indians players with physical play and attackers letting out roars after each goal. Even though the program has never been this deep in the postseason before, the Mustangs play like they know they belong. 

For Anthony, who has willed the team to wins at times in previous seasons, the 2024 season has given him some help. Younger players like sophomores Braden Johansen (40 goals), Mickey Cohen (39 goals) and Liam Fernandez (37 goals) have taken the pressure off Anthony to do everything on offense all the time. Anthony said in March that the team's spike in know-how and development was evident from the start of the season. He called it the best team he's been a part of, and the rest of the season has proven him right. 

Their coach knows how important every member of the team has been to its success. 

Mustangs sophomore Johnny Kornett (15) takes the faceoff for Lakewood Ranch against Venice High.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

"Without six guys on the offensive side, Lucas isn't scoring goals," Nelson said. "Every single person is a threat. (Against Venice) it happened to fall into Lucas' hands, but everyone can move the ball. We are working as an entire unit. It's getting our best players to critical scoring areas so they can put the ball in the net." 

However and whenever the team's season ends, Anthony and the rest of the seniors are leaving Lakewood Ranch on an upswing. They hope it's a few more games away. 

Play like they did against Venice, and Lakewood Ranch has a chance to keep the run going. 



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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