The sting of what St. Anne’s-Belfield’s boys lacrosse team experienced in the wake of a VISAA Division I state semifinals loss last Friday won’t be erased easily.
Which is why trying to wedge what’s next for the Saints into a redemption narrative is a fool’s errand. This week of practice and the Saints’ participation in the first GEICO High School Lacrosse Nationals in Washington, D.C. is about something different, something separate.
“In some ways the state tournament was a big pressure cooker for us, we really had high expectations for ourselves and that’s the kind of disappointment that you don’t just walk away from,” said STAB coach Bo Perriello. “I really want this week to be about fun and and no pressure. It’s a chance for us to go out and play on a national stage but I really want the guys to have some fun.”
The Saints will line up for a game Sunday at 5 p.m. in the National quarterfinals against St. Sebastian’s out of Needham, Mass.. The Arrows were ranked as high as No. 8 in the national Super 25 and won the prestigious Independent School League this year, a league made up of Massachusetts boarding schools. It’ll be played at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and streamed on ESPN3. But on Wednesday, far from that stage, STAB was tuning up against one of the finest scout teams in Central Virginia history, a collection of STAB alums like Brodie Phillips and Miles Davis as well as local standouts like Albemarle alum and current Hampden Sydney star Hunter Brown.
“A lot of these guys I played with and getting to see them come back from college and playing against really good competition like this going into a national tournament where all the teams are ranked, it’s just a lot of fun,” said Penn-bound STAB senior Jack Schultz.
Schultz was far from the only one enjoying the chance to have some fun and matchup against some top notch players.
“Everyone has been talking about these offensive guys and how they’ve been here since they were sophomores and to see them grow and come fruition as lacrosse players, it’s really cool to see,” said STAB alum and current Amherst lacrosse player Austin Park. “Guys who were younger than us are now filling shoes and creating roles of their own.”
For Schultz and his teammates there’s seems to be something freeing about not playing in the pressure cooker that Perriello described.
“We had our lacrosse banquet (Tuesday) and usually that’s the end, everyone is saying their goodbyes,” Schultz said. “I think it’s nice to get the team together, this is one of the closest teams I’ve been on in my four years here. It’s nice to get another day or two with the team.”
One of the big reasons STAB made this national field is its prolific offense. Schultz scored 94 points this year with 64 goals and 30 assists and he was the third-most productive offensive player for the Saints. Joe Robertson’s 92 goals and 28 assists led the way while Connor Shellenberger also filled it up, scoring 71 goals while dishing out 42 assists. All three were right around a shooting percentage of 50 percent, making them not just dynamic, but efficient too.
With 28 goals and 23 assists, Notre Dame pledge Emmett Barger is also a versatile treat, attacking from a variety of spots on the field.
The Saints boast lockdown defenders Michael DiGiacomo and Juwan Woodson and All-Prep League keeper Jeff Perkins who stuffed 55.7 percent of opponents’ shots.
So STAB has a lot of the tools it needs to compete with a squad like St. Sebastian’s. But this is about something different for the Saints. It’s about bringing together a special group of players who may have fallen short of their own goals this season but have had an incredible impact on an already proud program. Now they’ll get a chance to be the vanguard for that history and that tradition in a unique environment.
“Being a part of this program is a big deal to a lot of kids,” Perriello said. “We’re really excited to be one of eight teams to play in an event like this. It’s a testament to the long-standing tradition we’ve had of good, consistent teams that we’ve put on the field the last 40 years.”
That tradition and those 40 years of hard work get a well-deserved national spotlight Sunday, and with the approach Perriello and the Saints are taking, they are going to be sure to enjoy it.