Patriot romps Hylton, Gar-Field in opening lax games
© Virginia News GroupOn March 14, 2012, the Patriot and Gar-Field boys lacrosse teams battled to an 11 to 9 final score in Nokesville, with the home team Pioneers prevailing for their second straight win to open the season.
It was a big deal for the first-year school, especially after Patriot won another tight match, 9 to 6, on opening day at Hylton.
Yet Patriot would not win another game all season while Hylton and Gar-Field at least picked up a few more each.
Exactly one year later, on the same day on opposite fields, the Pioneers faced both of those same teams in succession.
At home against Hylton on March 12: 14 to 5 final, Patriot for the win.
On the road at Gar-Field on March 14: 19 to 2 final, Patriot does it again.
Something's changed in Nokesville.
Patriot head coach Carl Kielbasa downplayed both wins, saying that Gar-Field is in a rebuilding year and Hylton is in similar shape at this point in the season.
Outscoring their opponents by a combined 33 to 7 margin though says something about the strength of the Pioneers' program, now in its second year of existence.
Kielbasa explained that last year, the team's objective could be summed up as, "Let's just go out and have fun."
Since then, off-season workouts became more intense as did the regular 3-day-a-week program in the weight room that the team captains helped monitor.
Kielbasa also instituted a buddy system in which he paired older players with younger ones, tagging together a senior and sophomore and a junior with a freshman.
For example, senior Sam Fleshman, who's headed to West Point this fall, worked with sophomore Patrick Schwarz.
"I gave him a project," said Kielbasa about Fleshman
Likewise, even though Fleshman "is not the best lacrosse player we have," according to the coach, his work ethic is something that draws attention as does his commitment to the team.
"The kids still look up to him," said Kielbasa.
He figured that the players are more likely to listen to each other than himself, and now that they've had a year to gel, there's a noticeable difference in performance.
The five freshman who started last year are all back this year as sophomores, including sophomore long stickmen Karl Wernecke and Andy McNally.
Usually freshmen don't start with the long stick but Kielbasa explained that the team had few options last year.
"They took their lumps," said Kielbasa.
Midfielders Anthony Caracciolo, Josh Roebuck and Matt Morgan, the latter of whom also plays attack, are among the other former-freshmen starters, now with an extra season of playing time under their belts.
Meanwhile, junior goal keeper Alex Murray is fresh to the team, transferring from defending Northwest Regional champion Battlefield.
"Alex is a lot of crazy but that craziness is a competitive nature," said the coach, joking about his newest player. "It's in his DNA."
Whereas some players may shy away from a ball being launched at them in net, if Murray takes a shot somewhere his pads aren't protecting, "He gets nuts and he just wants to keep playing," said Kielbasa. "He likes the contact."
Murray also roams the field more than most goalies, something allowed by his coach given his athleticism.
Junior attackmen Connor Kielbasa and Elliot Snow are leading the team in scoring through two games and senior midfielder Andrew Bryan is taking charge as one of the team's senior captains.
Even with plenty of veterans and a trigger-happy offense, expectations are still subdued at Patriot.
The Pioneers compete in the same district as two-time state qualifier Battlefield and other teams in the district are on the rise too, including Osbourn among others.
That at least partially explains why the collective mindset on the team this year is still about having fun first but also improving player skills and piecing together a few more wins this season than last year.
"We're still a second year program," said Kielbasa.