When the Bishop Loughlin H.S., Fort Greene, boys’ lacrosse program was founded in the spring of 2012, many of the student-athletes, especially the freshmen, were eager to try out the school’s newest sport.
Sure there were some growing pains along the way, but the players – despite finishing that first season 0-13 – stuck with the sport to the point where it became their passion.
Those same freshmen won six games sophomore year, and last year came within two goals of reaching the CHSAA ‘B’ division city championship game.
So if there was ever a natural progression from freshman to senior year, this group is ready to take the next step to hoist a championship trophy.
But just because it seems like the logical next step, it’s not just going to happen, and the Lions are well aware of what it will take to win a city title.
The team, made up of about 30 student-athletes, looks stronger than ever as the 2016 season gets underway. New head coach Patrick Young, whom the players affectionately call “Batman,” joins the fold, bringing plenty of competitive lacrosse experience.
Young played Division III lacrosse at Plymouth State University, N.H. He had coached youth lacrosse before, but this will be his first time coaching high schoolers.
Along with rival Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, Bishop Loughlin fields one of only two boys’ lacrosse teams among Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn. But even so, the sport of lacrosse is quickly gaining popularity in this area.
“You see it in the college game and in the professional leagues; it’s absolutely exploding,” Young said. “Any sport you can think of, there’s some aspect of that sport you can weave into lacrosse. I’d say it’s the perfect blend of basketball, hockey and soccer.”
When the lacrosse program was founded four years ago, the good majority of players had never played the sport. So it was a process to not only learn the purpose and the rules but to also understand the different strategies and formations.
“It was tough going into a team not knowing what the sport was about,” said Malik Hancle, a senior midfielder and team co-captain. “It was pretty rough. We lost every game that year, but we didn’t give in. Last year we came out with a bang winning almost all of our games.”
“We were all good athletes and wanted to play a contact sport,” said senior captain and midfielder/attacker Nathaniel Castanos. “Lacrosse was the new sport at the time, so we said why not just try it out. It turns out we all wound up loving the sport and giving our all.”
The team has 10 returning seniors for the upcoming season, so that experience should be helpful to keep the Lions progressing forward. After a close loss in last year’s semifinals, the team has all the motivation it needs to make another deep playoff run.
To get there, the team is adjusting to the mindset that it’s time to get down to business. After partaking in offseason workouts, official practices began March 5.
“We’ve been getting the kids serious and making sure they’re really in love with the sport and have as much passion as the returners do, because if you’re not serious, you’re not going to play as hard,” said Bryan Williams, senior co-captain and attacker.
“We’ve always been good athletes, so we used that to our advantage,” said senior co-captain and midfielder/attacker Joshua Tinto. “We learned our stick skills. Motivation is what really drove us.”
It’s clear the players have raw athletic talent. So now Young is preaching the theme of intelligence this season. Lacrosse is a complex game, so intelligence, communication and preparation are pivotal to success on the field.
“This game is very fast,” Young said. “The guys that can run the fastest and also think … they’re going to separate themselves from everybody else.”
The players realize that having the smarts could be exactly what the team needs to continue the program’s tradition of improving every year.
“In years before, we were aggressive, and we were just relying on raw athletics,” Williams said. “Now that we actually have to really think ahead of the opponents, it’s trying to get the new kids having to think beyond freelancing in a game.”
“Lacrosse is not about running to the cage and shooting, and it’s not about how hard you shoot either,” Castanos said. “It’s about placement so you know where you have to be and when you have to be there. It’s a lot more of a mental game than just athleticism.”
The CHSAA regular season opens March 18, so before the Lions look too far ahead, the team will be focused on getting into a good position before the playoffs. They’ve been considered underdogs for the past three years, but this season has already taken on a different feel.
From zero wins, to six wins, to the brink of a city championship berth, the players will not settle for anything less than a city crown this spring.
“Coming into Loughlin and not winning a game to now working towards being champions, that’s a beautiful thing,” Hancle said. “I can’t imagine anything else.”
So now it’s up to the Lions to make that “beautiful thing” a reality.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.