Saints open with impressive win

Published 10:04 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The future is definitely now for the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy boys lacrosse team, which opened its season Tuesday with a surprising 9-5 victory over visiting St. Christopher’s.

It’s too early to call almost any game an upset, but St. Christopher’s is a traditionally strong Division I program among Virginia’s private schools, while NSA has been mostly middle-of-the-pack in Division II.

Creating uncertainty about just how good NSA can be is a rookie goalkeeper still learning the trade, a starting defense without seniors and a midfield loaded with sophomores. Two of the Saints’ three starting attackmen are seniors, but a sophomore plays on the crease, and therefore fills the most physical role. 
Only four of NSA’s 28 varsity players are seniors and only two of those four saw significant action Tuesday. Freshman Thomas Westfall played extensively on defense and as a long-stick midfielder and eighth-grader Harris Howell was outstanding in the midfield.

Email newsletter signup

Adding urgency to the youngsters’ maturation is that new head coach Ian Patrick recently announced he will hold the job for only this season. Patrick was a prep school head coach in Massachusetts before serving as an NSA assistant last spring, but will return to his previous employer for the 2009-10 academic year. Longtime NSA head coach Trent Blythe has stepped down to guide the Saints’ junior varsity so as to spend more time with his family.

“I told the boys we can’t wait until next season to make a run at the state championship,” Patrick said. “I’m very competitive and I’m not going to be here later, so we need to win now.”

NSA couldn’t have opened the season much better under those circumstances. Patrick called Tuesday’s victory bigger than any the Saints scored last season, when they recorded a 9-7 record and were eliminated by host Bishop Sullivan in the first round of the state tournament.

The Saints surrendered the first goal and led only 4-3 at halftime but scored three of the game’s last four goals to win with ease.

“They’re really well-coached,” said St. Christopher’s bench boss John Burke, in his 20th season guiding his program. “You can tell by how their kids move the ball, where they’re positioned without it and how hard they played. We really have to control the tempo to be successful, so being down two or more goals makes it very difficult for us.”

Sam Rapaport, that sophomore attackman, scored five goals in his starting debut. Carter Pearson tallied twice and Tucker Hotte and Sam Edwards notched single goals.

Sophomore goalkeeper C.J. White was magnificent, shaking off an arm injury late in the game and stuffing an opposing breakaway in the closing seconds. Patrick said the netminding job is White’s to lose and that Hunt Odom, a part-time starter last season, could see time as a long-stick midfielder.

“If our young guys can mature quickly, we’re going to do very well,” said Patrick, whose team next plays Friday when it hosts the Outer Banks club team. “Coming in at the start, I didn’t realize how good some of them were going to be.”

Patrick could start a strong midfield of Howell, Hotte and Edwards, none of whom can legally drive. Attackman Will Crenshaw, who the coach said has the potential to play Division I college lacrosse, is a junior, as are fellow starters Curtis Hanson, a midfielder, and defenders Josh Todd and Joe Zirpolo. Add in an overall increase in skill and the Saints appear loaded.

“We had a team last year that worked very hard and played at a ferocious pace,” Patrick said. “But we knew we’d have better sticks this year, so we felt we could move and hold the ball better. Today was only one game, but it was a nice way to start.”