Last season, the Westminster Wildcats got over the hump to defeat Northview in the GHSA's A-AAAAA lacrosse state championship, their first state title since 2010. It was their first season in the new A-AAAAA alignment after spending previous seasons in A-AAAA with perennial power Lambert, a team that edged the Wildcats 10-7 in the 2012 semifinals.
With the new alignment, Wildcats coach Tony Souza knew their was an opportunity for his players to bring Westminster a state title.
"It was about getting the guys to believe we could do it," said Souza, in his 13th season as coach. "We were young and had a lot of sophomores and juniors who started believing we could win and compete."
The fact the Wildcats were so young is good news for the team heading into this season, where they're already 6-1 and 2-0 in Region 2 A-AAAAA - good for the state's No. 1 ranking. They only had four contributing seniors on last year's squad, meaning plenty of key pieces have returned this season. And don't mistake the Wildcats' youth for inexperience - most of the team has been together well before high school, as Westminster School has a middle school lacrosse program.
"These guys have been playing together for years," Souza said. "That's our biggest strength. They love playing together and being together. They push each other and they take the competition in practice seriously. Practice is a lot of fun."
Despite the team's fast start so far, they're having to persevere through early injuries to several players who are expected to help lead the Wildcats to a consecutive state championship. Both leading attack scorers - Trip Wray and Blake Davis - are hurt, as are top defensemen Read Ziegler and Michael Taylor.
The Wildcats are crippled by the injury bug as they head into one of their stiffest regular season challenges in Centennial, the state's No. 1 team in AAAAAA. The two No. 1s will square off Saturday, 6 p.m. at Pope.
"Once we get our guys back we'll be back in full gear," Souza said. "Hopefully everything works out by the end of the year."
The Wildcats are hoping sooner than that with other big matches coming, including a rematch of the state title game on Mar. 29 against No. 2 ranked Northview.
Though the Wildcats may be hurt at the moment, Souza believes the team is in good shape overall. They still have their depth. They also have versatility, as they're able to "play a slow down pace or run with the best of them," as Souza said. The reason they're able to stay competitive regardless of who is on the field is because of one constant: conditioning.
Every Monday, the team runs what's called The Monday Mile.
"They come in every Monday and know they're going to be timed on their mile run."
In addition, there are a lot of full field drills, committees, running back and forth and the incorporation of lacrosse games so that they're playing and getting conditioning. Souza said the goal is to have the team constantly moving, with everyone participating because it will translate to success on game day.
"We've always prided ourselves on team work and conditioning," Souza said. "Those are the two things that stand out the most. We love to run u and down the field and play as a team in all phases of the game."
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