To make the State Semifinal four seasons in a row is no easy feat, but that is no solace to the Lax Cats.
The Saint Ignatius varsity lacrosse team experienced a very tough loss on Tuesday, drawing a 15-8 loss to Dublin Coffman.
The Wildcats complete the 2019 season at 18-5, ending a run of three straight state championship title appearances. The 2019 State Championship will be the first in OHSAA history without the Wildcats in the running.
Meanwhile, Coffman avenged a 16-15 overtime loss from last season in the State Semifinal, dealt by the Wildcats at Wooster High School. The Shamrocks will be making their first OHSAA title appearance.
A major key to Coffman's win? Taking a page out of the Saint Ignatius playbook.
The Shamrocks started strong on offense, firing on all cylinders at the start. Coffman scored on two of its first possessions, grabbing an early 2-0 lead. The Wildcats just missed on a couple shots, missing a chance to counter an early blow by the Columbus squad. A lightning delay forced a stoppage with 7:32 left in the first quarter, allowing Coffman to take momentum into the break.
After allowing a goal to drop to 3-0, the Wildcats looked strong in scoring two goals. Michael Boehm and Merick Hartley each fired shots home, drawing to within one. That would be the closest the Cats would come to tying it. The Rocks scored the final three goals of the opening quarter, including a killer with 10 seconds left, rocketing into the second stanza with a 6-2 lead.
"Obviously a tough game for our team and our program. Quite honestly, we got a dose of our own medicine," said Head Coach Mason Wynocker '91 after the game. "Coffman came out today and punched us in the face early, like we've been doing to teams the last couple weeks. We were never really able to recover from some of those blows early. That being said, our kids battled hard. I'm proud of the effort overall. For today, that team played a better game than us, and it is what it is. The good news is that there's always next year. The team is looking forward to the challenge."
Indeed, the Wildcats fought hard. Connor Cmiel tallied a huge goal, narrowing the gap to 6-3. But Coffman landed two haymakers in the final minutes of a defensive struggle in the second quarter. The Rocks dealt a backbreaker with 3 seconds left after a Coffman player made a heroic play to keep the ball in play on the very edge of the sideline. The clutch goal sent the Rocks into halftime with an 8-3 lead.
The Wildcats tried to claw back into the game in the third, but to no avail. The Shamrocks deflected several Saint Ignatius offensive opportunities, turning aside a number of chances. Sean McCourt stood firm in net for Coffman. As any lacrosse or hockey player knows, it's tough to score on a hot goalie. The Wildcats thus endured a lengthy scoring drought extending into the fourth quarter.
In the meantime, the Rocks put it away. Coffman did not relent, tabbing four goals in the third quarter to extend the lead to 12-3. Griff "Biggy" Gerard ended the scoreless stretch at 9:17 of the fourth, but it was too late. Despite goals by Cmiel (2), Kenneth Klubnik, and Jack Moriarity, the Rocks held on by a wide margin, 15-8.
The loss is certainly devastating for the Wildcats. This loss will sting for some time.
But it does not take away from the accomplishments of a very strong senior class. Four straight final four appearances. Three state title games. A Bellringer Award for Ryan Grace. All-Region and All-Midwest honors. These young men have bright futures.
"I can't say enough about the senior class. A great group of men," Wynocker said. "Three of them were captains. They were spread throughout the field, and all good players. More importantly, they're great people and great men for others. They provided good leadership to the juniors and the young guys, and were good role models for the program. They'll all be successful in whatever they do."
After the game, Wynocker and his staff talked about the meaning of family, and reminded the seniors that they will forever be a part of the program.
"We told them at the end of the game today that this is a family. They have a home with our program forever. If they ever need anything – job, a recommendation, guidance, someone to lean on – we'll be there," said Wynocker. "We also told them that when we break through and win the state championship, they're as much a part of it as anyone because they helped to build the foundation. The last four years, the program has been right there. Many of them have been a part of it the whole time. Congratulations to those guys on graduating – I can't wait to see them succeed in their careers."
The Wildcats conclude the 2019 season with an 18-5 record. This team accomplished much, recording plenty of wins and great memories. The Lax Cats established themselves as among the best of the Midwest.
After the first year of the Wynocker era, the future could not be brighter for the Lax Cats.
"Like I said when I was first offered an opportunity to be part of the program, it's an honor to be a part of this. Saint Ignatius has always had a special place in my heart," Wynocker said. "I learned great lessons going through the program, not only lacrosse but in the football program, and the whole Ignatius experience. It's been an important building block of my life, quite frankly. I really enjoy the opportunity to give back to the program and the kids. I think we've put together a tremendous coaching staff with outstanding individuals who are great people and role models for the kids. It's top-notch. The coaches all get along great, and we've had a great time. We've really enjoyed it.
"The kids have bought into what we want to do," Wynocker continued. "We made some changes this year. We focused a lot on the offseason with captains' practices and in the weight room to get bigger, faster, stronger as a team. We've continued to build upon that foundation as a team. I told the kids at the end of the game, 'The offseason starts tomorrow.' Every spot is open right now. There are a lot of opportunities. We're going to be great next year. The question is how great."