If you've ever wondered how a NILAX boys lacrosse team would fare in the IHSLA, you'll find out this season.
Batavia, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake Central, Dundee Crown, Hampshire, Huntley and Prairie Ridge are now IHSLA teams, as is Jacobs, which finished 18-0 last year while winning its second consecutive NILAX championship.
Jacobs returns 15 seniors, including Colin Surges (102 ground balls, 13 assists, 7 goals in 2012), longstick midfielder Alex Hough (70 ground balls) and defender Zach White (70 ground balls)
"I think the biggest difference we'll notice will be the level and variety of competition," Jacobs coach John Bigler said. "Seeing how lacrosse is played from different areas will really help the programs from NILAX grow, which ultimately will grow the credibility of lacrosse as a state sport."
Batavia's move was great news for the Tri-Cities. Now the Bulldogs can battle fellow Tri-Cities fixtures, such as Geneva, Marmion, St. Charles East and St. Charles North.
"We have a junior goalkeeper in Pat Collins who is fantastic and has been playing on the New Wave travel team in the off-season," Batavia coach Scott Salvati said. "We have a young team (only 3 seniors) that is looking to be competitive in a very tough conference."
Attackman Max Jaeger and midfielder Jason Cahill will look to lead the Bulldogs.
Cary-Grove (13-6 in 2012) fell to Jacobs in the NILAX title game and returns a strong senior class, including Trevor Dorn (67 goals, 63 assists, 54 ground balls), Holden Taylor (85 goals, 28 assists, 65 ground balls and Ben Cigler, who had a 50-percent save percentage in 2012.
"Being in the IHSLA for the first year, we don't really know what to expect," Cary-Grove coach Dylan Weber said. "The most important goal for us is to be competitive in every game."
While high school baseball, softball and girls soccer teams battle through postponements and playing in awful weather, several lacrosse teams will be heading down south to enjoy better weather, bond as a team and face some great competition.
Hinsdale Central and Libertyville are going to Louisville, Ky. Grayslake North is heading to North Carolina while crosstown rival Grayslake Central is heading to Orlando, Fl. St. Viator is also make its way down to the Sunshine State.
Two of the best teams in the DuPage area, Waubonsie Valley and Wheaton Warrenville South, also are leaving town. The Tigers will visit Memphis, Tenn., while Waubonsie Valley coach Mike Julius is bringing his team to his hometown of Long Island, N.Y., for the second straight year.
Lastly, St. Charles North's trip to St. Louis, Mo., might not be as romantic as the destinations of the aforementioned, but the North Stars will face stiff competition and hopefully better weather. Cary-Grove will be in the area as well as it'll be in O'Fallon, Ill., for three games, including two against Missouri opponents.
There are a handful of upcoming tournaments that will allow teams to play a few games in a short period of time to prepare for their regular seasons.
Geneva hosted its inaugural Battle of Burgess on March 16. Accustomed to playing in an open grass field beyond the football stadium for many years, the Vikings are able to move their home games to a much nicer facility thanks to turf being added at Burgess Field. Naperville Central, St. Charles East and St. Charles North were all scheduled to play three games apiece.
Old School had Mitch-A-Palooza and Naperville North has Lax-A-Palooza. For the second consecutive year, the Huskies are hosting a unique tournament, and this year they've invited some college teams to battle in between the high school games.
Lax-A-Palooza will feature college games on March 22 with Indiana, Illinois State, Central and St. Cloud in action. Saturday's high school schedule will include the Huskies, Neuqua Valley and out-of-staters, Marquette University School and Arrowhead. The event will conclude on Sunday with a pair of college games. Saturday's games will be played at Naperville North while Sunday's action will move to Nike Park.
Hoffman Estates will host its Spring Break Tune Up Tournament on March 26-28 with Warren, Lake Zurich, Taft, West Chicago, Munderline, Vernon Hills, Bartlett, and of course, the hosts, schedule to take the field.
West Chicago's Sticks & Stones returns on April 20-21. Batavia, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Geneva, Huntley, Marmion and West Chicago, among others, have signed up to participate.
Feed the need:
Glenbard West is reaping the benefits of more kids entering high school with several years of lacrosse experience.
"With growing feeder systems in the Junior Hilltoppers and the Glen Ellyn Park District, we're getting a lot more boys with lacrosse experience," Hilltoppers coach Carl Landi said. "Our goals are to work hard, improve everyday and to compete at a high level."
Senior midfielders Jack Manzella, Erik Strittmatter and Trent Schuman are expected to lead the team, while junior newcomers Joe Mayo and Joe Leland also will be key. Leland has already committed to Binghamton University (N.Y.).
Grayslake North, which is coming off a 20-3 and Class B state championship season, moved up to Class A.
"Having played several A schools throughout 2012, the final barometer will be how they hold up in late May in the playoffs," Graylake North coach Brad Fish said.
The Knights return plenty of talent, with All-American AJ Fish (University of Virginia) leading the way. Along with Fish, attackmen Jack Mattea and Farhan Khan and defenders Ben Smith and Shane Pech, give the Knights five experienced, fourth-year varsity players.
There are plenty of new coaches taking over programs this spring, including Nicholas Mamula (Fremd), Brent Veronico (Hoffman Estates), Steve Carlevato (Montini), Jake Padilla (Neuqua Valley), John Cygnar (Palatine), Sean McCaffrey (St. Charles North) and Joe Fusco (St. Francis).
Colin Raley, Zachary Deutschmann and Ty Klarner are all welcomed back at Fremd. "We have a positive outlook," Mamula said. "Enough varsity returners with a sprinkle of talented underclassmen."
Three-year starter Josh Novelli joins returning starter Matt Mednus at Hoffman Estates. "We have the talent on the field to do well this season," Veronico said. "So if we're able to play with a high level of effort and put four quarters of good lacrosse together, we all feel we will have a very successful season."
Montini hopes to surprise some teams this year behind the play of J.P. Palasek, Brian Orr and Mitch Ruopp.
Goalie Of The Week:
Nazareth (Rochester, N.Y.) freshman/Waubonsie Valley grad Scott Brown ('12) was named Empire 8 Conference Goalie of the Week for the week that ended March 10. Brown replaced three-year starter Tim Doyle and had a 3-1 record in his 4 starts with a 9.49 goals-against-average and a .529 save percentage.
"Making a switch in goal is always a sticky situation, especially when you have an older guy who has been your guy for a couple of years," Nazareth coach Rob Randall told Lacrosse Magazine. "You can't really predict the future, but we hope Scott continues to do well."
Brown had 15 second-half saves in a 10-7 victory against Clarkson and 7 more saves in a 12-9 win over No. 19 St. Lawrence to earn the honor.
Tough schedule awaits:
Kudos to head coach Bill Sanford and the entire program at St. Viator for scheduling several prime opponents as well as a spring trip that will afford his kids opportunities that truly are second to none. The Lions will face teams from Texas, Massachusetts, Indiana, Virginia, and even Canada, as well as a title against Michigan powerhouse, Brother Rice, this spring.
"We hope these games along with our annual in-state battles with Lyons, New Trier, Wheaton (Warrenville) South, Lake Forest, Libertyville and Glenbrook North prepare us well for a return to the Final Four in the A Class," Sanford said. "We are also happy to see the dawn of ESCC lacrosse with upstart programs such as Benet Academy gaining serious momentum and providing us with additional challenges."
Dan O'Malley, who scored 50 goals last year as a midfielder, is returning to his natural position of attack. The Lions also return the dynamic Peter Trunk, who had 46 assists in 2012 and Billy Singola to lead the defense.
"The coaching staff feels this is the most talented group of players we have ever had to work with," Sanford said. "Our strength is in offensive playmaking and transition."
The second coming:
Bartlett should be an interesting team to watch. Last year was a huge transition year as the Hawks fielded a varsity team for the first time. While they lost some players to graduation, they also have plenty of talent back this spring, including midfielders Jake Fernandez (17 goals, 16 assists in 2012) and Nick Andreuccett (54 ground balls, 15 goals) attackman Michael Coleantonio (27 goals) and defender Michael Lively (48 ground balls, 25 forced turnovers).
"We are well balanced at all facets of the game," Bartlett coach Mike Fernandez said. "We hope to have a very successful season."
Life without Kellet:
With Sam Kellet snagging a diploma and taking his game to the University of Wyoming, Marmion will need to find some players to pick up the offensive void he left. Look for Sam Ford, a great scorer a season ago to lead the way and for Angelo Carbonara to dominate the midfield.
Marmion welcomes the return of Tyler Estes in goal, as well as newcomers in senior Liam Griffin and junior Jack Maley.
"We are replacing 15 seniors that graduated but we are looking forward to playing out toughest schedule to date," Marmion coach Kevin Griffin said. "Our goal is to improve on last year's playoff run where we lost in the second round to eventual state champion, Grayslake North."
Chris Walker's lacrosse notebooks will be published bi-weekly. Feel free to contact him at ">firstname.lastname@example.org