Pope John Lacrosse

| 04 Jul 2019 | 10:58

By Josh Lashley
It’s quite safe to state that the Pope John High School boy’s lacrosse program dealt with its fair share of adversity, and then some, this past season.
But, that adversity didn’t define the 2019 Lions. The setbacks drew them closer as a team.
“We had a great start to the season going 4-0, borderline perfect if you will and then experienced some injuries and a tough stretch of games,’’ Pope John head coach Chris Hoffman said. “After losing the next six games, the team was able to turn it around and make a run at the Hunderdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament. After receiving the five seed, we knew it would be a tough road to the championship, but it was very possible. Going into the semifinals against the No. 1 seed Delaware Valley, we were ready to make history. After a long, physical battle, the team would make program history after winning a close 7-6 game to head into the H/W/S Championship game against Hunterdon Central.
“We played Hunterdon Central down to the wire and eventually lost 9-6, but what a great accomplishment and experience for the program. Another memorable game was the last home game against the Rizk Division leader Sparta. It was a defensive battle where the score was 2-1 PJ with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Sparta was able to clear the ball and get it down to their offensive end and then tie the game with nearly three seconds left. The first overtime period was a stalemate and then in double OT, David Jagiello was able to get around his defender to get his hands free and ripped a bounce shot in the net to give us the win. That was a great atmosphere to be a part of and very happy for the players to respond to adversity like that.’’
Coach Hoffman, a midfield captain during his playing days at Rutgers, mentioned Dane Armstrong and Gabriel Cummins as being among the leaders on the roster this spring.
“Dane was our x-factor this year,’’ Hoffman said. “He handled [the responsibilities of being captain] with maturity and a passion to prove himself. He was named First Team All Rizk Division, First Team All Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) National Division, NJ Herald Player of the Year, and First Team All State (Non-Public). He definitely responded to the hype.
He noted that sophomore Gabriel, a goalie, is another strong leader, who commanded defense not only with his ball stopping abilities, but also with his communication skills.
"Gabriel commands our defense and is not intimidated by offense," he said. "This year, the defense allowed 5.9 goals per game and was a key reason why we had so much success against some tougher teams."
Jagiello earned Most Improved honors for Pope John. Hoffman attributes it to Jagiello's work ethic.
“He is someone that trusts the systems in the program and continued to get better as the season progressed," Hoffman said. "His double OT goal against Sparta is a perfect example and also he scored the first goal of the game in the (NJSIAA) State Tournament against No. 1 state ranked Seton Hall Prep. His confidence exudes his abilities and it is only going to get stronger as gets older.
“Our senior attackman, Sean Carothers, was also a big reason why we experienced success. He always found a way to get a shot off and was very good at it. He was awarded the Thomas P. Manning Lacrosse Award because Sean displays a positive attitude, is competitive and a true ambassador of the sport."
The Lions finished with an overall record of 11-9 and they were 4-3 in the Rizk Division. They went 3-3 in the NJAC National Division.
“We were extremely young this year and we played a lot of freshmen and sophomores,’’ Hoffman said. “Now that these players have the experiences of playing in big games, that will help a lot with our team goals as we look forward to the 2020 season. The off-season will be important for us as we look to improve our overall team speed, strength and lacrosse IQ.’’