Athens Drive tasted playoff success for the first time in program history last season, and the Jaguars are hungry for a second helping as the boys’ lacrosse season winds down.
The best recipe, said Jaguars coach James Cornicelli, is to approach each of these final games as the playoffs.
Athens, ranked No. 4 in the state by laxpower.com and No. 2 in the N&O Triangle rankings, started nibbling away with a 12-5 win at Middle Creek Friday night.
The Jaguars (8-1, 8-1) still have a lot to look forward to this season – like evening its season record against Cardinal Gibbons, which would force a tie for the Conference 2 lead.
But Cornicelli is preaching for Athens to not get too far ahead of itself – just like with any round of playoffs, which are still three weeks away.
“Right now our goal is to stay in control of our destiny,” said Cornicelli. “We would love to be in a great position when it comes to Cardinal Gibbons, but we have Apex,a tremendous team, Holly Springs, a tremendous team. Green Hope, they’re going to be tough as well, every game in this conference is difficult.”
Another half to the Jaguars’ mindset is to be the aggressor – and that was evident against Middle Creek (4-5, 4-5) as Athens jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first eight minutes.
“He’s put into our heads that we’ve got to be aggressive on everything and we can’t come out slow against any team,” said senior Daniel Hughey, who had a game-high four goals.
That was more than enough cushion given the way Athens performed on defense. The Mustangs – led Ben Doetzer’s two goals and two assists – were unable to get many clean looks at the net.
“Their slides were there, and we just didn’t move the ball well. We drew the slide well but we didn’t move it,” Middle Creek coach Paul Robinson said. “We were just trying to go through too many people.”
Cornicelli credited John Hughey, Cam Davis and Nick Nesbitt for their work on defense, which has been standout all year long.
“They’re very physical, they’re very good athletes and they’re very good lacrosse players. We stress fundamentals here in a big way. They dictate where the offense is going to go rather than let the offense dictate to them,” Cornicelli said.
The Jaguars also got three goals from John Padden, two from Daniel Haupt and one apiece from Jake Hargrove, Scott Baird and Scott Frider. Middle Creek also got one goal apiece from Alex Kaminski, Justin Medwar and Graham Southwick.
“When these guys are moving the ball quickly, they’re very difficult to stop. We’ve got a lot of great athletes,” Cornicelli said.
Middle Creek has an opportunity still left in front of it as well. Ideally, the Mustangs are likely to make it to the postseason if they can maintain a .500 record overall.
But with three of its five remaining games against teams ranked in the state’s top 10, that won’t come easy.
“In this conference, you’ve got to come every game in battle,” Robison said. “We’re either going to play our game and win, or not and lose.”