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Boys want top 10 in nation
By Matt Phelps' email='Matt.Phelps@mi-reporter.com
The Mercer Island High School boys lacrosse team finished last season undefeated against teams from Washington state and won the state championship. Head coach Ian O'Hearn is still not satisfied.
"I want to be in the top 10 in the country and put this team on the map,"
The Islanders took a big step towards making those lofty goals a reality last season. Out of the 2,000 high school lacrosse teams in the United Sates, Mercer Island went from being ranked around No. 900 to No. 151 in just one year.
"The games in New York are what we are focusing on," said O'Hearn. "The state title is just icing on the cake."
The coach and his players were watching the Division I NCAA lacrosse championships on ESPN when they were stunned.
"One of the announcers was here for the state title game," said O'Hearn. "He was talking about the spread of lacrosse and started talking about our program. My mouth just hit the floor. It generates excitement."
For O'Hearn, there is some trepidation about how successful the team has become.
"It starts the process of the program being more competitive," said O'Hearn.
The program will remain a non-cut sport, but that there are some kids that will quit because they see the level that other kids are playing at, the coach said.
The lacrosse program has grown a lot since O'Hearn took over. When he started, 35 kids turned out. This year the program has 75 players.
"There is more pressure in the form of commitment to the sport," said O'Hearn. "But this should be fun."
The Islanders are the best team in the state by a long ways, with Issaquah the next closest. "We expect ourselves to be better," said senior Chris Taylor. "We lost 12 seniors from last year's team. And guys like Alan (Chirls) and Brad (Gillis)
you don't replace, but we have a lot of players who have stepped up and taken leadership roles already."
The team may have lost a lot of seniors but it has a big senior class this season that will contribute: Taylor, Ben York, David Sandman, Ben Wickizer, Jacob Sonkin, Noah Symington, Mark Guilliano and Hank Bennett to name a few.
Taylor added that he thinks the team is as good or stronger in every position on the field.
"We have 20 varsity players and no weak links," said O'Hearn. "There is a lot of interest in lacrosse right now and we are drawing a lot of the good athletes."
The Islanders are not only strong on top, but with underclassman.
"We have a strong class coming up so they will be able to take what we are doing and build on it," said Taylor.
But O'Hearn knows that to even win the state title his boys will have to work hard.
"We have a lot of talent and a lot of depth," said O'Hearn. "But it also takes desire. Issaquah will have the desire because they have all seniors and had a good season last year."
O'Hearn said that his team boasts the best three mid-fielders in the state: York, Taylor and Greg Mahony.
Info box Head coach: Ian O'Hearn (fourth year)
Assistant coaches: Derek Lowe, Winn Cody, Erik Hewitt, Jeff Pattison and Andy Osman.
Last year's record: 17-2 overall, state champions (undefeated against Washington state teams).
Key athletes: Sr. Chris Taylor, Sr. Ben York, Sr. David Sandman, Sr. Ben Wickizer, Jr. Kevin Mahoney, Jr. Adam Brazg, Sr. Hank Bennett, Sr. Mark Guiliano, Sr. Noah Symington, Sr. Jacob Sonkin, Jr. Brant Howell, So. Greg Mahony, Jr. Jeff Christenson.
Top newcomers: Sophomore and freshman classes.
Key losses: Sr. Brad Gillis (mid), Sr. Sean Verschueren (mid), Sr. Andrew Vincent (def), Sr. Nathan Porter (def), Sr. Alan Chirls (attack), Sr. Pete Smith (mid) and Sr. Paul Swanson (goalkeeper).
Key games: Issaquah, five games in New York state.
First game: 8 p.m. Friday, March 18 vs. Garfield.
Keys to a good season: Discipline and desire.