Rebooting a program with a new staff is tough enough, even without losing one of your goaltenders, but that’s how the Montclair High School Varsity Lacrosse team is kicking things off in 2017.
It was never going to be an easy season for the Mounties. A tough schedule against the likes of Seton Hall, Don Bosco and crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy, sudden snow wiping out any chance of scrimmaging for over a week and driving you inside to hold practice in a gym will all add up to an increased difficulty for a team.
On Friday, that was compounded by a broken hand suffered in practice by backup goalie Wylie Cates.
Head coach John Scanlan would be forgiven if he started wondering what could possibly happen next.
The injury briefly left the team a bit shorthanded in net, with just junior Ashton Smith to hold the fort. By the end of Monday, they had found another goaltender in the person of sophomore Sebastian Garda, but they’re still a bit thin at the position.
“I told our guys, we will figure it out,” Scanlan said after Cates’ injury. “We will roll with it.”
The goalie conundrum is indicative of a larger difficulty facing the program this year, as its numbers are the thinnest they’ve been in close to a decade. The team is also fairly young, though on the plus side, it isn’t inexperienced.
Many of the sophomores were pulled up onto the varsity squad as freshmen, so even though they are young, they’ve already played a high level of competition. Having a lot of athletes who play on clubs in the offseason helps as well.
“Nothing takes the place of experience,” Scanlan said. “You can be good all day, but without the experience you don’t know what it’s like to be on the field playing that team in the other color jersey. It’s different then.”
Despite the experience, it’s hard to predict how the season will go when the roster numbers are low. It’s equally difficult to set starters when you haven’t had a scrimmage yet.
The Mounties have had to cancel multiple scrimmages so far (four as of Monday), finally playing their first on Tuesday against Montville, which they won by a score of 8-7. Still, with so little time against other teams, the coaching staff isn’t able to see how different players mesh. Aside from Smith in goal, there isn’t much clarity right now as to who the starters are.
One thing Scanlan and his staff can take comfort in is the hard work the team has been putting in during practice.
The players are stepping up to do what they have to and the coaching staff is doing what Scanlan had hoped they would — each taking on their own sphere of responsibility while he takes in the macro view.
“It’s coming together,” Scanlan says, clapping his hands for emphasis. “It’s working.”
It has to work as the team faces a schedule filled with what Scanlan calls a “murderer’s row” of teams. He ticks them off on his fingers as he names them.
“Ramapo was a top 10 team last year. Ridgewood. Mountain Lakes. Bergen Catholic. Northern Highlands, who I think was also in the top 20 last year, maybe even the top 10. Glen Ridge, our natural rival.”
The Mounties also play Super Essex teams like Seton Hall.
With so many good teams on the schedule, every game matters. Scanlan says he wants his team to look at all their opponents as just another team to beat, regardless of jersey color or team records. They’re just 17-year-old kids like the Mounties, Scanlan points out. They can be beat.
Especially considering the talent the varsity squad has on it.
It all begins with seniors Will Obaditch, Jamond Randolph and Matt Comini, Scanlan says. His three captains are “the heart and soul of the team” and what makes the unit work.
Those three will be riding herd on a host of younger players expected to step up in 2017.
Sophomore Will Shiffenhaus is expected to play a very big role at attack, along with junior Dylan Vespole.
One very nice surprise has been junior Conor McCarty, Scanlan says. The coach has been very impressed with how hard he works. McCarty and senior Trevor Glasse both have a good chance to be the third man on attack.
“(McCarty) really stepped up but both are solid,” Scanlan said. “I think we will see both of them contributing. Both are really crafty and clever.”
On defense, Harrison Blanz and Max Higgens will see a lot of time on the field.
Where Scanlan really thinks the team will shine is at midfield. He calls the depth there “an embarrassment of riches.”
“I can have two balanced and strong midfield lines on the roster and it isn’t line one and line two. It’s line one-a and line one-b, or really, one-a and one-aa.”
Scanlan calls that depth a luxury. Along with Randolph, Obaditch, Finn Jensen and Matt Neiman will be sophomores like Christian Sanchez and Jeikson Boyle.
The staff is also happy with how evenly spaced the ages are. While he doesn’t have an official starting lineup, Scanlan says if there were one, it would likely break down to three sophomores, three juniors and four seniors and all have experience at the varsity level.
That experience will help smooth things out on what has been a rough preseason.
Which leaves Scanlan a little optimistic heading into the season.
“It’s been a helluva ride,” he said with a smile. “It’s been bumpy, but it’s coming together.”