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WHSBLA - 2019 Season Preview

Washington Boys High School Lacrosse is finally back, bringing much anticipated excitement to our wet and dreary spring time! The rankings this year bring a lot of juicy hype from storied rivals to potential championship repeats and much anticipated grudge matches. Will Nick Welton bring in his third straight state championship, or can Ian O’Hearn’s stacked senior Islander squad finally reap the benefits of their past couple year rebuild and defeat the titan team that is the Bellevue Wolverines? Will Skyline and Eastlake put on another 4A Championship showdown or can Pete Crowley’s Falcons come from behind and surprise the league with his own championship?

Let us dive into the rankings and see what we have in store this year as every season brings in new stories and new surprises. Here we go!

Private School – Preseason Top 5 Teams:

#1 - O’Dea Fighting Irish (7-3) – Metro

The Fighting Irish enjoyed a phenomenal season led by Head Coach Drew Snider producing 200 goals on their way to a state championship. They hold our number one spot in the Private Division as they’ll look to repeat last season’s success with returning senior attackman Ben Luke (29g, 8a) leading the charge with supporting junior midfielder Avery Buote-Porter (12g, 9a) and senior midfielder Dylan Vita (11g, 7a).

Graduated midfielders Cole Danninger and Same Dracobly combined for 47 goals and 15 assists in their championship year. O’Dea will need to compensate for this large hole in their offense with their up in coming young poles taking their place. Rival teams like the Seattle Prep Panthers and Eastside Catholic Crusaders are going to come at them even harder this year so the Irish’s margin for error will be tight.

#2 - Seattle Prep Panthers (8-2) – Metro

Very impressive season for the Seattle Prep Panthers who were the favorites going into the championship last season. Although they fell short of winning the trophy they still have a lot of promise coming into this year with returning junior attackman Lucas Wathen (22g, 17a) and returning senior attackman Jack Nelson (15g) looking to bring their team back to Starfire. Losing graduated seniors Sergei Jacobs (36g, 9a) and Brennan Holmes (19g, 6a) is a tough blow to this offense but Head Coach Rich Stearns has proven proficient at developing his young poles to stay competitive in their division.

The Panthers will need to capitalize on O’Dea losing two of their top two scoring players while Eastside Catholic continues their rebuild from last year. With a majority of roster returning this season their window for the championship could close quickly making this season arguably more important to them than the last. Look for the Panthers to come back with fire this season to take the number one spot for the second year in a row in their conference.

#3 - Eastside Catholic Crusaders (6-4) – Metro

Not a staple year for the 2017 Private State Champions who started last season 2-4 in their conference but were able to finished the year strong with a 5 game win streak including one playoff victory over Bellarmine Prep. This will be a year to watch as Eastside Catholic has gone through a head coaching change since Chuck Goodman left the program. The Crusader’s welcomed Athan Ianucci last December, a former Hofstra University player and NLL forward for teams like the Philadelphia Wings, Washington Stealth and Colorado Mammoth.

It will be an interesting transition to watch as Goodman was a defensive minded coach and now we’ll see a coach that comes from a strong offensive background take charge of this prestigious Crusader squad. Ianucci will nearly have a blank canvas to work with after Eastside Catholic graduated 12 players last season including star midfielders Jack Sercu and Joey Matte. With a lackluster offense that put up only four more goals than they let in, Ianucci will implement his well of offensive knowledge on these boys to bring them back to championship form.

#4 - Lakeside Lions (2-7-1) – Metro

The Lakeside Lions continue to struggle among an elite Metro Division finishing with their worst record in the last five seasons. Lakeside Athletic Director Chris Hartley announced on February 26 that he will once again take on the responsibility as the varsity head coach this year after stepping down in 2015. Though he has prior experience coaching the program, he is admittedly anxious about the opportunity yet very excited to get back out on the field.

With Lakeside going through a growing period and only having graduated 5 seniors from their 28 man roster, it’s a perfect time for Hartley to jump in and coach an impressionable young squad. First three games will be a real test for Hartley and his boys as they’ll face Eastside Catholic, Eastlake and Seattle Prep in the span of a week. Whatever goals they have this season, finishing with more than 2 conference wins should be priority to demonstrate any form of improvement. In the immortal words of former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win, baby.”

#5 – Seattle Academy Cardinals (7-2) – Metro

Not a bad start for the Seattle Academy Cardinals on their first year in the Private Metro Division tying for first with newly found rival Blanchet Braves. They sit here below the Lakeside Lions due to strength of schedule and their 14-9 defeat to them in the playoffs. Head Coach Scott Pattison is going to have a strong senior class this year with 10 returning seniors to lead the team. The schedule is going to difficult this season now that they will be facing D1 Private Metro teams instead of the D2 Metro teams they faced last season. This will be a great test for Pattison and his boys to really show what they’ll need to improve to compete against these high level teams.

Potential Dark Horse:

Bellarmine Prep Lions (9-4) – Puget Sound

Great turnaround year for the Bellarmine Prep Lions who ended their 2017 season 3-9. A majority of their offense came from graduated seniors Calvin McKenna and Rath Jessen putting together 60 total goals on the season. Losing those two could make it difficult for the Lions to get back into the playoffs so they’ll need to rely on their young talent like junior attackman Liam Bethke (13g, 13a) and sophomore attackman Connor Stockton (16g, 2a). This team is growing and could potentially surprise some people if Head Coach Charlie Jessen starts the year where he left off.

1A/2A – Preseason Top 5 Teams:

#1 - Burlington-Edison (7-1) – Northwest

Defense win championships and Burlington-Edison proved this by keeping the Columbia River Chieftains to 6 goals, marking their lowest scoring playoff game. The Flyers averaged 6 goals allowed all year with a supporting offense that carried them to a championship. Upon graduating 9 from the title team, they’ll likely look to top scorer, returning senior midfielder Aidan Fitzpatrick (20g, 11a), to lead the a younger group to another deep playoff run.

#2 - Columbia River Chieftains (2-4) – GSHL

Impressive playoff run for the Chieftains who bought their way into the championship with an overtime win over the favored Liberty Patriots. It’s not very often you see a 2-4 team, 7-7 overall, come three goals away from winning the entire thing. There’s still a lot of hope for this team this season with nine returning seniors providing a formidable upperclassmen squad. Returning senior attackman Nick Frichtl (14g, 7a) and returning sophomore attackman Jacob Ayers (12g, 4a) will likely lead this group to another deep playoff run this year with another shot at the trophy.

#3 – Liberty Patriots (7-1) – KingCo

An argument could be made that the Liberty Patriots should sit in the number two spot of this ranking with the impressive season they had scoring nearly double the goals they allowed in last year (123 points for, 62 points allowed). If it had not been for a crushing overtime loss to the Chieftains, they could have had a real shot at hoisting the trophy themselves. They sit in this spot after graduating 12 seniors and failing to make the championship while the Columbia River Chieftains are maintaining a majority of their roster and will likely have a similar year from last.

#4 – White River Hornets (7-1) – Pierce County

The White River Hornets went into the playoffs with the highest scoring offense in the 1A/2A Division averaging 14.33 goals a game. With a defense that allowed 124 goals it was going to be difficult to sustain the success they were having. All it took was a more well rounded team like the Skagit Valley flyers to exploit this fact in the semi-finals by outscoring them 15-12.

The Hornets graduated 11 seniors last season including leading scorer attackman Matt Funkhouser (33g, 22a). A majority of these graduated seniors were in midfield and defensive positions so the offense should return with the same amount of fire as they welcome back returning senior attackman Wilfred Pugh (25g, 9a) and returning junior attackman Kahlen McConnell (20g, 7a).

#5 – Bellingham Raiders (7-1) – Northwest

The Raiders went through a rebuilding year after their 2017 State Championship appearance with 14 of their 20 man roster being underclassman. They still ended the year tying the conference with the Skagit Valley Flyers but struggled defensively allowing more goals than they scored. There is still a lot of opportunity for this team to perform this year and get themselves back into Starfire for another shot at the title. Returning seniors midfielder Owen Brands (10g, 3a) and attackman Rylan Nauta (13g, 2a) will likely be pivotal in the development of the young poles on this team.

3A – Preseason Top 5 Teams:

#1 - Bellevue Wolverines (8-0) – KingCo

The Wolverines have created a dynasty over the past few years winning three straight state championships, albeit with two different coaches. Head Coach Nick Welton had his first full season as the varsity head coach in 2018 and led them to another dominating year. Welton built a defense that held teams to an average of 5 goals a game. This greatly contributed to their championship win over storied rival, Mercer Island, holding them to 6 goals.

Having graduated 17 seniors, Welton will need to show the depth in his roster to keep them the top lacrosse team in the state. Returning seniors attackman Kirby Bryant (5g, 5a) and midfielder Quinn Sullivan (3g, 2a) will likely take on more responsibility to keep growing this team.

#2 - Mercer Island Islanders (7-1) – KingCo

Another great season for the Islanders that ended just short of the ultimate goal. Head Coach Ian O’Hearn’s team came out strong from the start ending regular season with 233 goals scored. With shades of memory from the previous year’s championship loss to Bellevue, it was seeming like they were out to prove something. The Wolverine’s defense proved too strong as the season came to a close for them in an all too familiar fashion.

This rivalry isn’t even close to fizzling out as the Islanders will have 15 returning seniors with a grudge to settle in their continued hunt for the 3A State Championship. With much to prove and years of hard work, this team is very much poised to be the leading favorites to win the entire thing. First thing is first though, Friday April 19 they will need to get over the Bellevue hump and crush their longtime rival.

#3 - Bainbridge Spartans (6-3-1) – Metro

The Bainbridge Spartans enjoyed a decent year but with too many inconsistent games they were destined to struggle in the playoffs. The first half of the season they went 4-0 beating teams like O’Dea, Eastside Catholic and Seattle Prep. This didn’t carry over to the final half as they struggled against a weaker Ballard Beaver team and got dismantled in their rematch against O’Dea on their home turf.

Returning seniors attackman Merritt McMahon (22g, 10a) and midfielder Max McLeod (11g, 6a) will be key in Bainbridge’s efforts to develop this team into champions. Bainbridge is a tough lacrosse team and will still be legitimite contenders come playoffs but the clubs they have to face every year are not easy. It’s to be expected that they’ll put forth every effort to get on top of teams like Mercer Island and Bellevue so we’ll see what kind of talent they’re able to exploit from their young poles this season.

#4 - Stanwood Spartans (6-3) – Wesco

Good year for Stanwood paired with a respectable playoff run only to be stopped by the best lacrosse team in the state just short of championship weekend. Their schedule was a bit tougher than their previous season with Snohomish and Meadowdale providing tough competition. With only graduating six seniors from last year’s squad they will likely put up similar numbers with signs of growth to put them in another deep playoff run. Look for returning senior attackman Sam Delich (23g, 29a) to lead this squad to another good year with the support of returning sophomore attackman Jackson Houston (18g, 5a).

#5 - Peninsula Seahawks (9-1) – Olympic

Peninsula had a better record than the Stanwood Spartans but due to strength of schedules and their loss to the Spartans in the first round of the playoffs they sit below them on this ranking. Very good year for them defensively in the Olympic Conference only allowing 65 goals overall. This is a very young team who had 15 underclassmen and only graduating four seniors from last year. We’ll likely see them back in the playoffs as they continue to grow and they will be highly motivated to redeem themselves from last year’s heartbreaking one-goal loss to Stanwood.

Potential Dark Horse:

Lake Washington Kangaroos (7-1) – KingCo

Lake Washington gets our Dark Horse position this year with their two playoff wins and dominant performance in their D2 KingCo Conference ending 7-1. This team put up a lot of points with 187 on the year greatly contributing to their wins against the Juanita Rebels and 3A Central leader the Southridge Spartans in the playoffs. Still a relatively young squad having only graduated seven seniors from their 28 man roster, they will have great chances to get back into playoff form this season. We could see returning junior attackman Jack Krammer (19g, 5a) take on more of a leadership role with a pair of strong returning sophomores, attackman Vin Maxwell (17g, 2a) and midfielder Maximus Hollenbeck (11g, 1a).

4A – Preseason Top 5 Teams:

#1 - Eastlake Wolves (6-2) – KingCo

Hard fought season and a very well deserved championship run from the mighty Eastlake Wolves. The year came to a fitting end with an epic rematch with heated rivals the Skyline Spartans. Arguably the most entertaining teams to watch on the same field put up a great performance with the Wolves walking on top. The motivation and drive this team had was something to behold with Head Coach Chris O’Dougherty leading the charge with one mission, win by any means possible.

Seven seniors graduated from this championship team including attackman Andrew Edwards (19g, 5a) and one of the most energetic playmakers in Washington lacrosse, midfielder Hunter Klinge (16g, 10a). They’re still in good hands though with returning senior attackman Nathan Sutter (11g, 7a) and sophomore attackman Simon Breecher (19g, 6a). Look for more epic lacrosse out of this team in late april where they’ll face Bellevue, Mercer Island and Skyline.

#2 - Skyline Spartans (5-3) – KingCo

It may not have been a repeat of the 2017 state championship, but Skyline still proved to be a top contender returning to the 4A State Championship under Head Coach Sam Hutson. The Eastlake Wolves had their number last year and Hutson lost another good group of seniors, but it would be an understatement to suggest that Hutson is determined to get back and bring home their second trophy in three years.

After graduating six seniors including their top three scorers, attackman Nate Brandt (19g, 17a), attackman Matt Harris (16g, 13a) and attackman Blake Lees (16g, 1a) they’ll have a serious void to fill on the front half of the field. Returning senior midfielders Caden Culbert (8g, 5a), Kellen Hoke (9g, 3a), and Carson Clark (10g, 1a) will play a large part in keeping this offense on track as Hutson develops his younger sticks.

#3 - Woodinville Falcons (4-4) – KingCo

Very respectable year for the Woodinville Falcons falling just short to Eastlake in the semifinals. Their defense was on par with the top two 4A KingCo ranked counterparts making them incredibly formidable on any given day. The semi-final with Eastlake was hard fought and came down to a single goal. With the season they had some could argue that they could easily be number two on our rankings but that spot has to be reserved for the state championship runner ups.

The roster took a blow after graduating 10, including highly talented long-stick midfielder Andrew Ng (37 gb) who had an MVP caliber year for his team defensively. They’ll be looking to returning senior attackman Mason Leet (8g, 15a) to take on a serious leadership role for Head Coach Pete Crowley. With a total of 13 potentially returning seniors, this squad will likely have another great year.

#4 - Tahoma Bears (12-1) – Puget Sound

The Tahoma Bears repeatedly dominate the Puget Sound Conferece with eye popping offensive numbers, ending 2018 with 234 overall goals. Their inability to get past KingCo teams in the playoffs has held them back from the ultimate goal. Since 2014 they have been eliminated each year in the playoffs by either Skyline or Issaquah. Non-league games against O’Dea and Eastlake this season, give them a chance to hone in on what they need to improve, in order to get over the KingCo hump.

They graduated seven but their current upperclass group is going to be strong with potentially 14 returning seniors including all six of their top scorers whom combined 165 goals last season. They’ll look to keep this momentum going into this season with a real chance to prove that they can beat the best and be the best.

#5 - Wenatchee Thunder (9-1) – Central

Wenatchee boasted a top tier defense only allowing 56 goals with a 15-2 overall record. Hardly being challenged by their conference they were outplayed by an explosive Tahoma Bears team in the playoffs. Much like Tahoma, this team is seriously close to a deeper playoff run themselves with chances to play some KingCo teams during the season to hone in on their abilities. Graduating only seven, they’ll have a strong set of upperclassmen to get back into another dominating year in the Central Conference. Returning seniors attackman Ben Higley (18g, 10a) and midfielder Jake Rhyner (15g) will step up into leadership roles after three of their other top scoring players graduated.

Potential Dark Horse:

Central Valley Bears (12-0) – Greater Spokane

Central Valley is hardly challenged in Spokane with the schedule they have every year as they put up 251 goals overall while only allowing 96. The moment they meet a KingCo team they get completely outclassed as demonstrated by their 16-8 loss to the Eastlake Wolves in the playoffs tying their largest margin of defeat for the year. It’s understably difficult to know what level of play you need to bring to these powerful KingCo teams when the only opportunity you get to play them is once in the biggest game of your season.

They still get our Dark Horse rank for this season with returning seniors midfielder Easton Carter (38g, 30a), attackman Cole Cunnington (36g, 14a) and midfielder Cole Boden (37g, 6a) poised to make another great year out of 2019 to give them a second shot at the state championship.

Story by Michael Thornbloom