Gielczyk: TC St. Francis Embarking on First Varsity Season
It was just time.
After several years as a club team and playing under the umbrella of the Grand Traverse YMCA, the Traverse City St. Francis boys lacrosse team felt the moment was right to become a high school varsity sport.
The Gladiators, who had been called the Crusaders, opened their first season at the varsity level with a lopsided loss to a more experienced Grandville team, 13-2, before recording its first win in program history last Saturday, 15-6 over Sault Ste. Marie.
Sault Ste. Marie is a club team against whom the Gladiators had very little success in the past, so it was a satisfying victory, as well as a historic one.
"We certainly had enough interest from the boys that it made sense that it would time to go varsity," first-year coach Mike Carroll said. "I mean, there was kind of a slow build. We got support from the school, support from the parents and great interest from the players."
Carroll has been involved coaching youth lacrosse in the Grand Traverse area since 2002, and his kids have grown up in the program. So it seemed only natural for him to take the next step and become the first high school coach.
Obviously, it’s a totally different challenge for him.
"It’s more time intense," he says. "I’ve had to grow as a lacrosse coach. But, in some ways you get more support from the school and the parents. I was able to hire two coaches that know a lot about the game because an MHSAA team in Freddy Hunt and Kevin O’Grady.
"These are guys that played in college, and they’ve been immensely helpful. The other things that helped has been the parents providing the food, and the school providing the busing. Really, the boys are ready to work hard. They understand the responsibility."
Of the 28 kids on the roster, Carroll estimates that only about 12 were on the club team last year, which means better than half the team is comprised of players who have never picked up a lacrosse stick before.
But they are catching on pretty quick.
After reviewing film of their first game, which admittedly was against a far superior team that has been around for several years, the Gladiators really focused on getting better in practice and came out last Saturday loaded for bear.
It’s a young team, with only one senior and five juniors. The bulk of the team is made up of underclassmen, including 12 sophomores. But if you look at it in terms of next year, the Gladiators expect to have a solid core of seniors coming back.
But it is a unique mixture, with some kids having played the sport for 11 years, while others have only been at it 11 days (not counting Monday’s and Tuesday’s practice).
"I try to stress to them that the goal is ‘You want to be a better lacrosse player today than you were yesterday,’" Carroll said. "If you can do that, you’ve already won. I’m sure how we’re going to do, but it’s a process and we’re trying to judge our success by our improvement.
"They’ve kind of bought into that, and they’re getting better every day. Our strength has been in speed and hustle. I would say that our overall team speed and athleticism is high. You can’t teach speed, but I can teach them lacrosse."
Starting at attackers right now are Carroll’s son, Henry who is the leading goal scorer at the moment, as well as junior Sam Tuckey and senior co-captain Jake Dewey. Henry Carroll’s strength is the speed and accuracy of his shot.
If the whole team can get a better understanding of spacing and game flow, then Harry Carroll should be even more successful. Tuckey has great game awareness and with his experience on the basketball court possesses excellent poise. Dewey, a left-hander, is just beginning to understand his potential and needs to be more aggressive.
Joey Wilson is the Gladiators’ first-year starting goalkeeper and is still an unknown only two games into the season. But he bounced back after giving 13 goals against Grandville to make nine saves in the win over Sault. Ste. Marie.
Starting defensemen include sophomores Spencer Tomczak and Brennan Nickodemus as well as junior Tyler Revet.
"They’ve been very solid," coach Carroll said. "They understand position, and they’re beginning to understand the importance of communication. As we get them to work even more, I think they’ll be even more difficult with offenses to deal with.
"We don’t want them to fall into the trap of chasing sticks. We want them to try to play the guy’s hip, and not get faked out. Keep your stick low when you’re playing the offensive player, and when you’re playing off ball to keep your stick high in the passing lane."
Spirits have been high since practice started. Everyone understands they are starting a tradition and feel a great responsibility to future lacrosse players and, perhaps the biggest thing of all, the St. Francis community.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News.