Even in 2016, when the Lawrence High boys’ lacrosse team went 8-0 to win a Patriot Division championship, the Cardinals could not forge a winning record, as they finished 9-9.
In fact, from the program’s inception in 2005 through last season, only the 2013 squad managed to finish above .500 at 10-4.
And then came 2018.
Entering its May 16 state tournament game with Rumson-Fairhaven, Lawrence had a 10-5 record to tie the program record for victories and assure it of a second winning record.
“The second of many in the near future I hope!” exclaimed senior midfielder Ryan Morris, a four-year varsity member. “The sport has really picked up around Lawrence Township and it is very exciting to see how lacrosse has grown throughout my high school career. The skills and dedication match our motivation and it helps to play as a family, always having each other’s back. Win as a team and lose as a team. It is always nice to have confidence in your teammates believing you can win any game.”
Third-year head coach Dan Brennan, who’s in his 10th year with the program, is also hoping this season could be a foundation to build upon.
“One of the things we kind of harp on is going from good to great,” said Brennan, who has just a 25-man roster and is working without the luxury of a JV team. “We think we’re a pretty good team, we want to become a great team. That’s kind of starting with us getting these wins outside of conference. We realize we can play with some of these other guys aside from the Hamiltons and Ewings.”
Which is something that could not be said in 2016, as the Cardinals went 1-9 outside of Patriot Division play. This year, they won the Patriot title with a thrilling, come-from-behind 7-6 win over Steinert April 27 and finished 8-0 in division. Considering the other four Patriot teams were a combined 13-38, the Cards wanted some other wins to prove their worth.
They got them by defeating non-conference foes North Brunswick and Delran and also put up respectable fights in close losses to Brick Memorial and Hopewell Valley, whose record is down but whose talent is always formidable.
“Conference play has kind of been our bread and butter, but we’ve really struggled beating teams outside our conference,” Brennan said. “This year we got a couple of wins outside of conference so we gained a little confidence.”
Morris felt that winning the division title in his sophomore year and missing a repeat by one game last year gave Lawrence both the faith and hunger that this could be a big year.
“One game put us out of the title but made us want to work harder and obtain the banner and conference title this year,” he said. “Having this goal from the very beginning of the season set the tone for hard work and dedication for this year and years to come.”
Several other factors played into it, including a personnel decision by Brennan. Rather than have a set of both offensive and defensive midfielders who would alternate in, he decided to make his three starting middies two-way players. They included Morris and seniors Ethan Crutchley and Kyle Schuler, who are both first-year players. Tending to both ends of the field, the trio combined for 46 goals and 34 assists entering state play, and also dropped back to defend.
“I wanted to stick to my guns and have some two-way players,” Brennan said. “I think that’s kind of paid off for us; not having to constantly sub guys. We’re not getting killed in transition. That’s kind of helped us develop as a team.”
Morris feels it lent itself to a better cohesiveness, which has been building each season and reached a pinnacle this year.
“It seems that there is a special chemistry between the players on the field this year, but I don’t feel that it’s just this year alone that is different,” he said. “The teamwork and camaraderie has been growing over the years on and off the field. Our team isn’t just one superstar, everyone contributes and has a role on the team. Coach Brennan and coach (Alex) Dingwall have really instilled the concept of family. Our catchphrase this year is “family.”
And the family’s goal scorers will be around a few more years, as sophomores Alex Everman (34 goals, 22 assists), Justin Krisak (27, 21) and Tucker Simpson (15, 13) evolved into a dangerous attack line that should get only better over the next two seasons.
“We always count on the young guys and the incoming class to contribute right away,” Brennan said. “Justin has played quite a bit and had 25 goals last year. We actually had Everman in the midfield and moved him to attack a couple games into the season this year and it’s paid off.”
The defense is a mixture of young and old. Junior goalie Aidan Edwards and senior Christian Nawicki anchor the back along with junior Alex Marion and sophomores Andrew Tziarris-Over and Mike Kemo. Marion suffered a concussion during a spring scrimmage, which forced Tziarris-Over and Kemo into the lineup. Upon returning, Marion rotated with the two sophs, giving Lawrence defensive depth.
“I think we were a well-balanced team,” Brennan said. “Guys on both sides of the field contributed.”
Morris concurred, and felt that the “family” mantra played itself out on the field.
“Our biggest strength this year was playing as a team,” he said. “No one is out there trying to score every goal individually. On offense, we set up plays and executed them better than we have in the past and on defense, we have really picked up on communication on the field; therefore limiting the goals scored against us. It’s satisfying to see all the hard work, time and effort that me, my teammates and coaches put into the program has led to a successful season. It goes to show that hard work really does pay off.”
The question was then posed to Morris—will it pay off in coming years after he and his senior classmates graduate?
“Absolutely 100 percent,” he said. “We have a fairly young team and we are only graduating a handful of seniors this year. A bulk of our starting lineup will be returning next year with the same momentum. In addition, underclassmen have had more playing time than in past years to get comfortable on the field and understanding the game at the high school level.”
And unlike most Lawrence teams of the past, they understood just how much fun it is to have a winning season.