May 22, 2020
Given the current mess in which the world currently finds itself, our problems are pretty small by comparison. However, it’s hard not to think about the lost season of 2020 and what it could have been. On March 13, when the team assembled at Twin Lakes Park waiting to take on Tampa Jesuit, I have no doubt that our boys were ready to rumble and kick off the second half of the season with a big win. Then, with a phone call, our season ended.There was a lot to appreciate about this team. It was a great group of kids. The general attitude in the locker room and on the field was always fun and very positive. There was a lot of tenacity in this group and even on the nights that we failed to execute well enough to win, we continued to fight for it right up to the final buzzer.
At the Varsity level, teams practice together five days a week and are well organized. At this level, defenses are just a little bit tighter, the spaces are just a little bit smaller, the help arrives a little sooner and decisions have to be made a little more quickly. For that reason, it didn’t surprise me at all that we had some difficulties at the offensive end of the field during the lost season of 2020. Our starting attack was all underclassmen and Blake Quigley was really the only guy with significant varsity experience. Sam Lehrman got some playing time and performed well as a sophomore in 2019, but 2020 was his first year as a starter. Meanwhile, Kendo the giant attackman was a sophomore and started the first varsity game of his life on February 18 at Lakewood Ranch. That’s a relatively young group. It’s always helpful to have some senior leadership on the offensive end of the field, but that will have to wait until next year. Generally speaking, the production we got from our attack during the first eight games was a little bit sub-par. However, I am very confident that those three guys were getting ready to break out in a big way. Additionally, Mike Russo and Justin Dorociak gave us some quality minutes this year and should be much improved by next season.
At the midfield position, four of our middies running regular shifts were sophomores. Kevin Southerland, Dylan Alexander, Nick Elliot and Rocky all played in their first varsity game on February 18. That’s a big leap from anything they had experienced before. Junior midfielders Smitty and Boom Boom are experienced varsity players and they showed it. We did have three seniors at the midfield position who brought some experience to our team. Saxton Dunlap was hampered by a variety of injuries and got off to a slow start this season, but he was starting to run better and was poised for a big second half. Hawkeye Clark was our top scoring middie and had become our best shooter when the season abruptly ended. I was also beginning to notice that Pumbo was really coming on strong and I am certain that he would have made a significant contribution to our team if we had been able to finish the season. Juniors Alex Ward and Tyler Hockett were also improving every day and represented added depth at the midfield position.
This was my 30th season coaching lacrosse. Never before have I had a defensive unit that could consistently go from defense to offense, in a flash, the way our 2020 group did. The other coaches and I always referred to them as the Big Four. Fredo, Hooch, Street and Kai Hudson were all threats to make a play and start a fast break at any moment. When you have that kind of speed and stick skills at the defensive end, you can knock off anybody, any time, if the offense has a decent night. Or even if they don’t! Please note that Plant HS finished their season with a record of 10-1 and was ranked #1 in the State in Class 2A. Their only loss was handed to them by our Rams on a night when the D held them to only two goals. Juniors Aden Vilardi and Jack Ryan also gave us quality minutes when they were called on and have a ton of potential going forward.
There is only one man that stands between the pipes and he is often the difference between victory and defeat. Senior Wyatt Kaighin was “The Man!” A great goalie covers up a lot of mistakes and having Wyatt in the nets helped keep us in every game. Chris Johnson is also an outstanding goalie and performed well whenever he had the opportunity to play.
When the season abruptly ended on March 13, we had a record of 5 wins and 3 losses. We were truly, almost good. The reality is that most teams are almost good during the first half of the season and it’s in the second half that a few teams rise to the top and become good enough to make a serious playoff run. In all three of our losses, there were periods where we lost our focus for three or four minutes and gave up two or three quick goals. Generally, that’s a common problem with young players and with an older more mature team it’s less likely to happen. I’m absolutely certain that our ability to really push, non stop, for 48 minutes was growing and with the level of competition we were going to face in the last month, we would have been right where we needed to be for the postseason.
Having reviewed the films pretty closely, it’s interesting to see how close we were to being undefeated heading into Spring Break. A couple more extra man goals, a few converted fast breaks, and maybe one or two more saves would have flipped all three of our losses to the win column. We would have made more of those kinds of plays in the second half of the season. My key contacts in Vegas are united in the opinion that the Rams would have upset Gulf Coast HS in the District Championship game this year had they been given the chance.
It’s very strange to be saying goodbye to our seniors without being able to get the whole team together one last time. Even though we only had five, their presence and leadership was very evident and appreciated. Saxton Dunlap will be heading to Webber University this fall and we wish him the best of luck with Coach Burdick and that new program. Emilio Palumbo was really starting to play well as we entered the middle of the season. His goal against Palmetto Ridge was one of the high points. He will be at Florida State University next year. Our senior captains were outstanding. Matt Garcia became an incredible defensive player after starting his career as a short stick. He was a fantastic team leader and his positive attitude was an inspiration to our younger guys. He’s headed to Florida Atlantic University this fall. Justin Clark was a great captain and was in the process of becoming one of Riverview’s all time great midfielders. He was our best offensive middie and he was making impact plays in every game. He will be attending the University of Florida in September. Lastly, there was a very tough kid named Wyatt Kaighin who led the team to a number of very big wins over the past two seasons. The spirit of a great goalie is infectious and we were very fortunate to have one. Wyatt will be continuing his education this fall at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
There is a positive end to this narrative because, although we have to say good-bye to our seniors, we have a talented bunch of juniors and sophomores coming back next year. They will all be a year bigger, stronger, and more mature.
Leading the group will be our 2021 Captains. Joining returning Captain Kai Hudson, our 2021 Captains will be Blake Quigley, Will Evans, and Tyler Horiuchi. These four guys will make an exceptionally strong group. All four are impact players and demand respect both on the field and in the locker room.
Blake Quigley was our leading scorer in 2020. With 15 goals and 9 assists in 8 games, he was beginning to emerge as a truly dangerous attackman. As he matures as a player and makes better split second decisions, refines his shooting a little bit, and becomes a little more aggressive, there is a good chance that he will rack up numbers that are ridiculous.
Will Evans is the consummate midfielder. He plays great defense, is our best short stick ground ball guy (30 in 8 games this year) and is a threat to score at any time. In the past two seasons, Smitty has been a fantastic Man Down defensive midfielder and probably will do so again next year. That said, we will prioritize his offensive skills when we get back to work. He’s a very good dodger and exceptional shooter, capable of big numbers.
Everybody knows Kai Hudson. He walked onto the field as a ninth grader and immediately made an impact. Over the past three seasons he has been a force on the field with the long stick. He is always one of our best ground ball guys and is an extremely tough defensive player. Additionally, in 2019, his ability to score with the long pole was on display as he scored against both Jesuit and Berkeley Prep to cement two of our marquee wins of that season. He is Riverview High School’s first and only two year Captain.
It’s impossible to overstate what Tyler Horiuchi has meant to this team. He is the definition of leading by example. His focus, effort, and determination are unparalleled. On March 6, 2020 against Admiral Farragut, he broke the all time Riverview HS record by snagging 11 ground balls in one game. A good way to evaluate performance is to take all the stats and add them together to create a category called Impact Plays. This season, Tyler scored 3 goals, had 2 assists, picked up 47 ground balls, and had 17 defensive takeaways. That adds up to 69 impact plays in 8 games. He also won 38 face-offs for us with the long stick. That’s a serious body of work and next year he will be even better!
As I mentioned earlier, Chris Johnson is an excellent goalie. 2021 will be his year. We are extremely fortunate to have a guy like Chris returning; who has put in the time as a backup, as well as on the practice field, and will take charge right away from day one of the 2021 season. He will be protected by an experienced defensive group featuring Kai Hudson, Tyler Horiuchi, Josh Streitmatter, Aden Villardi, and Jack Ryan. Blake Koch will also be fighting for playing time. Additionally, there are a few great prospects coming up from the JV who will be fighting for Varsity playing time.
At the midfield position, Smitty and Ray Boom Boom Leffler will be dominant midfielders in 2021. Our four sophomores, Dylan Alexander, Kevin Sutherland, Andrew Dirocco, and Nick Elliot are also all great players in the making. Alex Ward and TJ Hockett both have the potential to be big contributors next year. Additionally, there are some great midfield prospects coming up from the JV. We should have pretty good depth at this position.
All of our attackmen will be returning next year. My guess is that our returning starting unit of Blake Quigley, Sam Lehrman and Ken Kaiser will make a strong trio and be tough to stop. Divorciak and Russo will be a year older and will be fighting for playing time, too. There is also a rising sophomore named Lucien Minford who played JV this year as a 9th grader. He is very talented and could make some noise next season.
Additionally, there are rumors about some extremely talented 8th graders coming to Riverview in August. There may be a couple who can step right in and play varsity as
9th graders. That would be fun!
In closing, it’s a shame that we never got a chance to see how far this team could go. I believe we would have surprised people. We all wish the best to our five seniors who are moving on to new chapters in their lives. We hope that our returning players will get a chance to play some summer and fall lacrosse before we return in 2021. The Ram Nation is ready to move forward.
Lastly, a big thank you to our assistant coaches, Bill Nordhausen, Jack Cox, and Joey Schwab. Equally as important to Riverview Lacrosse are Matt Cassalia and Dave Catalfino who handle the JV. A huge thank you to Melissa deLisser and our scorekeepers Kylie Rovner and Ella Schwab for managing our games at the main scoring table.
We have an exceptional trainer at Riverview HS. Brian Volger is always there for us and we thank him for his efforts.
Our program gets a lot of support from our Athletic Director. Rod Dragash is doing a great job at Riverview and he always makes sure that we have everything we need. We thank him for that!
Special thanks go out to John Sinclair who manages our website, player stats and our Facebook and Twitter accounts. John is in charge of all things related to promoting our Rams in the community. I am happy to report that he will be back next year as the voice of Riverview Lacrosse and will announce our games in the brand new Ram Bowl.
The Riverview Lacrosse program would not exist without the efforts of our Parents Booster organization. We are extremely fortunate to have a strong leader in Kelly Quigley (the Mayor). With Kelly in charge, nothing slips through the cracks, ever! Brent Alexander is our Treasurer and he kept us out of jail for another year. Julie Green and Ashley McLeod are the other Board members and the committee includes Jenni Hudson, Kristy Dunlap, Suzanne Sutherland, Gillian Dorociak and Elizabeth Springler. Kristy Dunlap deserves special recognition for managing our Spiritwear sales since 2019 which is not an easy job. Suzanne Sutherland and Gillian Dorociak inherited this responsibility from Kristy this year and will work on our apparel for next year. Lastly, a tremendous thank you goes out to committee member Lori Clark who not only handled all of our team communications, but has been a vital part of our Ram Nation since the very beginning. She additionally wins the award for providing us with three great players in Jesse, Josh, and now Justin. On March 20, 2017 we were able to get all three of the Clark boys on the field at the same time in a game against SMA. All three of them scored that night! As I have told Lori many times, I wish that she had more kids!
Have a great summer everyone! Let’s hope school starts on time and that we can get back in the weight room in September. We have a lot to do. January is less than eight months away!
~ Coach DeLisser