After three straight MIAA B titles, John Carroll is making the leap to A Conference lacrosse
by Nelson Coffin
Like the Jeffersons of vintage television sitcom fame, the John Carroll boys lacrosse team is “movin’ on up.”
The Patriots, fresh off a three-peat in the MIAA B Conference, will take on an entirely new competitive profile when they open play in the rugged MIAA A Conference on March 29 against Mount St. Joseph in Irvington.
It will be the first of 10 encounters in the brave new world for John Carroll, although the program does have some experience against A Conference squads.
Over the past three years, the Patriots have had eight meetings against the A Conference without registering a win.
Last year, though, they battled Gilman down to the wire before bowing to the Greyhounds, 8-7, in the final seconds.
Considering that John Carroll is the lone MIAA school in Harford County, coach Brian King is optimistic about being able to retain elite local players while attracting top athletes from Cecil County to the sprawling Bel Air campus as well.
If anyone can make the transition go smoothly, it’s King, who won five consecutive state public school championships at Hereford in Baltimore County before moving back to take the job in his hometown.
The C. Milton Wright alumnus, who played attack at Washington College, owns a sparkling 160-29 career coaching mark.
While at Hereford, he managed to retain enough local talent to pull off victories over St. Paul’s, 11-10, in 2012, and Gilman, 7-6, a year later.
“Honestly, we’re not concerned with what division or what conference we’re in,” said King, whose Patriots topped Gerstell Academy, 16-11, in last year’s B Conference finale. “We just want to be the best team we can be.”
King said that the mystique of the A Conference can cower a team.
“We just have to believe in ourselves,” King said. “In some of our games (against A Conference opponents), it’s like we started out behind, 4-0. We didn’t believe.”
King believes in his assistant coaches, including Marc Taylorson (face-off), Frank Mezzanotti (defense), Don Reynolds (offense), Doug Sharretts (midfield) and Jeff Jones (goalie).
Even so, it will still take a concerted effort to make even a modest amount of headway in such a powerhouse conference.
“It’s like the SEC of high school lacrosse,” King said. “We could be the 11th best team in the conference and still be the 11th best team in the state. That’s how good the league is. Nobody took Hereford seriously until we beat St. Paul’s and Gilman. We have to do the same thing.”
He will lean heavily on an experienced attack that boasts senior Jude Brown, a High Point commit who has already totaled 250 points in his high school career. Brown will be flanked by seniors Kieron Leonard (Tampa) and Nick Deloria (McDaniel).
Luke Ensor (Stevenson) leads the first midfield unit with fellow senior Jake Krieger (Mount St. Mary’s) and junior Jordan Renado.
Senior short-stick defender Paul Diehl and senior long-stick Will Smithmyer will help junior close defenders Henri Marindin and Christian Smith.
Three juniors, Jake Latz, Jake Smidt and Justin Gischel, are battling for the starting nod in the goal.
Ensor, a four-year varsity performer who also swims for the Patriots, said that the team is looking forward to getting acclimated to its new digs.
“We’re all very excited to play these A Conference teams, one after another,” said Ensor, whose brother, Micah, is a sophomore middle. “And I know it’s going to be rough at times, because we’ve scrimmaged some powerhouse A Conference teams. But if we stick together and work hard, we can have a positive outcome.”
The key to staying in games against rivals with such depth will be to value possessions, King said.
“I know we can score and I know we can play defense,” he said. “But we need possessions. We can’t play defense 80 percent of the time against good teams like that.”
Ensor said the Patriots must stick together through thick and thin.
“I’m expecting to take some lumps,” he said. “But if we can lean on each other during the hard times, we should be fine.”