Connor Delaney and Russell Stackhouse saved their best for last.
The two seniors have stepped into key leadership roles for the Ewing High School boys lacrosse team, Delaney on the attack at the offensive end and Stackhouse in goal at the defensive end.
“We have a lot of leadership on the team,” said Ewing head coach Kevin Anderson, adding that all four captains this year are seniors—the first time that’s ever happened.
“They’re getting the guys in gear, getting the newer players acclimated quick,” he said. “Normally it takes a full season for our freshmen and sophomores to get acclimated to the game itself, because it’s the first year they’re playing. The captains are helping a lot in getting those guys going, and the younger guys are seeing more time now halfway through the season.”
Joe Crozier, a second-year player who moved over from baseball and shores up the defensive end in the field, is another captain as is Johnny Bentz, a four-year player who’s been an unselfish playmaker on offense. They have combined to help the Blue Devils pull within a game of .500 at 2-3 after a 7-4 win over Nottingham.
“We’re not really focusing on the division anymore,” said Stackhouse after making 14 saves in the win. “We’re just focused on finishing out the rest of these games having some fun and hoping to pick up some more wins.”
Stackhouse is in his second season as the full-time starter. He only came to lacrosse as a sophomore when Anderson asked if he’d try it.
“One of the toughest things was getting hit with the ball,” Stackhouse said. “The first couple practices I took a couple bumps and bruises. Then you start to get used to it. Lacrosse is a very fast paced, very in-depth sport. Once you pick up how the game works—I watched a lot of lacrosse going into my second season—and I think that helped getting to know the game.”
Stackhouse has followed up a 148-save season last year with 72 through the first five games. He has been more of a leader and more comfortable in the cage behind a largely inexperienced defense.
“Last year, I surprised myself,” said the Yale University-bound Stackhouse. “I had only played one game so I didn’t have that much experience. Definitely my passing has gotten a lot better. I’m more confident. I feel like I’ve really taken over that leadership role and I think I’ve definitely been a leader and that’s made a big difference. When the guys don’t have to worry about a lot of the shots because I’ve gotten a lot better and I’m making a lot more saves this year and I think that’s definitely helping.”
Ewing’s defense is still developing. They are playing new faces there, with the likes of a freshmen Mike Abelowitz, a strong football player and wrestler, who is learning the varsity game and fellow freshman Matt Hedrick. They have had to rely on their senior in goal for communication and guidance.
“If it weren’t for Russ, the three losses we had would have been even worse than they were,” Anderson said. “Russ has been standing on his head for us.”
Anderson said the team has three new young defensive players on defense, after graduating two from least year’s team and one who didn’t go out for the team this year. They include Joe Crozier, a captain, and Trey Zaggi, who was moved from midfield.
“He scored some goals for us last year but he’s got a D pole in his hand and he loves it,” said Anderson of Zaggi.
At the other end of the field, Delaney has moved into a larger role. He has 17 points on 12 goals and five assists through five games, which gives him more points than he had all of last year.
“I think the jump is just coming from having new confidence, being a year older and just taking that role of stepping up and being a leader on the team,” Delaney said. “It goes through into my playing style as far as what I’m trying to tell the team. I’m trying to lead by example. I think that goes a long way.”
Delaney credits his improvements to the work he put in since last year.
“I didn’t take a break,” he said. “I had an injury over the summer, but I was still practicing stick skills as much as I could, almost every day if I could. That continued in the fall and through the winter up the season.”
His development has helped to offset the graduation of the school’s all-time leading scorer, Cameron Potts. Ewing also graduated their second leading scorer of a year ago, Brandon Kowalski.
“I just thought it meant that more people on the team could step up and try to contribute,” Delaney said. “I didn’t exactly know who would be doing it. I did expect it from a couple people.”
The Blue Devils have been thrilled to see him stepping up his play, and it has made a difference on the attack. Delaney has also taken some faceoffs in relief of Alex Jesseman. Delaney will help wherever asked.
“Connor has been one of the hardest working guys on the team,” Anderson said. “I think it’s a combination of his offseason prep. He played in a summer program. He joined a fall team as well. He’s been playing all season. He’s also a cross country runner so that helps keep him in shape. This year he became a lot more assertive and his skill set has just improved. Knowing it was his senior season, I think he worked even harder than he normally does in the offseason and recognized his own talent which he didn’t do as well last year.”
The focus for the second half of the season has been on improving and trying to better some teams that topped them earlier. The leaders are working in their areas to see that they continue to climb.
The offense has been solidified by the addition of Cameron Phillips, who began the year as a defensive midfielder. If the offense can be more efficient, it will take some pressure off the defense and Stackhouse. The defense has been coming together steadily.
“The key thing for us is communication,” Stackhouse said. “Especially with that bit of inexperience, if I see guys out of place it’s important that we keep that communication. That’s one of the reasons we won (against Nottingham) because we were talking. It keeps us moving. When we don’t have that experience, it’s communication that keeps us in these games.”
The Blue Devils picked up experience in the early going. They are hoping to see it translate into a strong finish to the season.
“Seeing the teams once, we’re definitely going to come out and approach certain teams much differently,” Delaney said. “We have a lot better chance against these teams that we didn’t know exactly what to expect the first game. I think we can be ready for the second game and adjust well.”
Added Stackhouse: “We’ve been working together as a team. Communication, we’ve worked on every practice. We’ve also been working on the mental preparedness aspect of the game. There’s some times – like against Lawrence – where we’ve come out and not felt ready. We’re trying to get into the younger guys’ heads and talk about once 2:30 hits, we have to be thinking about game day and lacrosse.”