Tonight should have been Senior Night for the Saint Ignatius lacrosse program.
What a festive night it would have been.
The Wildcats would be hosting Hudson on a picture-perfect evening. The weather for Wednesday evening will be in the 50's and partly cloudy, without a threat of rain in the forecast. You'll take that weather in the spring without hesitation. But beyond the beautiful atmosphere and the typical excitement of Senior Night, this evening would have been extra special.
The lacrosse program's current senior class is once-in-a-lifetime good.
Without a doubt, plenty of talented senior classes and men have passed through the Saint Ignatius lacrosse program. But the caliber and sheer numbers of this senior class is absolutely remarkable. With a total of 20 seniors, including seven committed to play a sport next year, the depth and breadth of the Class of 2020 is tremendous.
Plus, you can make the argument that Michael Boehm and Connor Cmiel are two of the best lacrosse players in school history. Last season, Boehm set program season records for goals (71), assists (47), and points (118). He ends his career as the school record holder for career goals (181), assists (119), and points (300), and would have challenged for the state records in those three categories this year. Meanwhile, Cmiel is only starting to realize his immense potential.
In 2017, a whopping five members of the class of 2020 made the varsity team as freshmen. Michael Boehm, Merick Hartley, and Connor Cmiel helped to ignite the offense. Joey Morford learned faceoffs from legendary FOGO Anthony Ameo '18, now at The Ohio State University. Jack Welcsh helped to sturdy the defense. Boehm, Cmiel, and Welcsh played significant minutes on varsity all year, while Morford and Hartley joined for the playoff push.
The freshmen provided a huge spark, particularly late in the 2017 campaign. Under then-head coach Garen Distelhorst '96, the Wildcats finished the regular season with an 8-6 record, with losses to Hudson, Upper Arlington, University School, and St. Xavier lingering on their minds.
Following a 10-3 loss to Western Reserve Academy in the MSLCA Tournament, the Wildcats came alive. With the freshmen aiding the effort, the Lax Cats fired off six straight wins on an amazing journey to the inaugural OHSAA State Championship. A 12-4 revenge rout of Hudson was particularly inspiring.
In the end, the championship trophy was just out of reach. Archbishop Moeller scored a goal in overtime to walk away with an 8-7 win, breaking the hearts of the Wildcats. But the future was undoubtedly bright, especially after Boehm scored 43 goals and 27 assists for 70 points.
Seven more members of the 2020 Class joined the varsity squad for the 2018 campaign. Sam Daugstrup, William "Biggie" Gerard, Charlie Kinzel, Camden Kurtz, Greg Langermeier, Charlie Minerd, and KJ Ripich all became contributors for the Wildcats. Gerard and Kinzel provided more firepower at attack. Kurtz, Langermeier, and Ripich added athleticism and power at midfield. Daugstrup provided depth on defense.
As a sophomore, Minerd filled the large shoes left by Carter Blossey '17, who holds the school career mark for saves with 494. Minerd showed flashes of his incredible talent, and slowly developed into a bonafide star.
Across the board, the program's talent was unquestionable. Combined with key veterans, the Wildcats' youngsters were developing into studs. Double-digit wins early in the season over local rivals Solon, University School, St. Edward, Shaker Heights, and North Canton Hoover proved that the Wildcats had become the local alpha dogs.
But close games haunted the Wildcats. The team lost 1-goal games to Torrey Pines (during a fun trip to Southern California), Upper Arlington, and St. Xavier. Once during the regular season and once during the MSLCA Tournament, the Bombers edged the Cats by a lone goal.
The Wildcats rolled into the postseason with a passion. The first three games were a cakewalk. The Lax Cats then snuck by Hudson, 12-11, before the State Semifinal. In a heart-pounding battle with Dublin Coffman, the Wildcats built a lead before watching it evaporate late into a tie. In overtime, as dark clouds lined the sky, Merick Hartley played the hero.
The sophomore scored an incredible goal in extra time that caused the Wildcats to rush the field, and created a memory that many members of the team will never forget. It was an incredible moment.
And then came a rematch with the Bombers in the title bout. In another heartbreaking ending, the Wildcats got a foot in the door but could not push their way through. Again, the Lax Cats shed tears on the field of Ohio Wesleyan University in the final game of the year.
The Class of 2020 rose even more to the fore as juniors. Gabe Duban, Connor Francz, Chris Laska, and Lou Persiani joined the varsity squad, all earning letters. Duban, Francz, and Persiani supplied additional help at defense, while Laska backed up Minerd.
The Wildcats emerged as not only a local and state powerhouse, but a program to contend with on the Midwest level. Wins over MICDS (MO) and Cathedral (IN), and Maryland programs Whitman and Churchill ensured that the Wildcats received plenty of attention. These Clevelanders backed down from no one, challenging national juggernauts Culver (IN), Georgetown Prep (MD), and Brother Rice (IL) in one of the most difficult schedules ever assembled by the lacrosse program at Wildcat High.
Entering the postseason, the Wildcats sat at 12-3, with their only losses to national powerhouses, all despite critical injuries to Langermeier and Daugstrup. The Lax Cats also notched gigantic wins over St. Xavier, 12-9, and Moeller, 20-8. The Wildcats stood 8-0 vs. Ohio teams. The trophy seemed like theirs to win.
The Lax Cats tore through their first four opponents, once again proving themselves the best program in Northeast Ohio. They outscored their first four playoff foes, 69-17.
But then in the State Semifinal, the Wildcats fell to the eventual state champion, Dublin Coffman in a hard-to-swallow loss. The lacrosse team's Class of 2020 seemed snakebit.
Despite the previous shortcomings, the Lax Cats refocused in the offseason. The coaching staff instituted a robust offseason program, with captains practices seeing great attendance.
The theme of "The Man in the Glass" was introduced. Based on a poem by Peter Dale Wimbrow, Sr., the motto emphasized accountability and work ethic. Here is the poem:
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
The Wildcats prepared for the 2020 season in earnest, knowing this was the last shot at a state title. Plenty of talent returned for the 2020 campaign. As juniors in 2019, the Class of 2020 tallied 213 goals (72% of 2019 total), 100 assists (67% of total), 383 groundballs (56% of total), and 102 caused turnovers (54% of total).
Ryan Beane, Pat Conti, Dominic DeVengencie, and Ethan Nejad rounded out the senior class this year as part of the program. Matthew Clement prepared for the season as a manager.
In the midst of preparations for the season, the outbreak of COVID-19 slowly crept into the news. Member of the team began to wonder if the spring might look any different.
And then the news came down in mid-March. The winter sports tournaments would be "indefinitely postponed," affecting several Lax Cats on the hockey squad.
The spring season was also put on hold. The Wildcats held out hope that the pandemic might subside by May and allow a shortened season to be played. But then the heartbreaking news was announced in mid-April: the season was finished.
Hopes of capturing the program's first state championship were dashed. The most talented class in the history of the lacrosse program would be denied a chance to win a state championship.
Thoughts of what might have been will linger for a long time. In about 15 years, as we begin to elect talented members from the Class of 2020 to the Saint Ignatius Athletic Hall of Fame, we will wonder if a trophy might have been raised by this team.
But nothing can be done about it. Instead, all you can do is remember what you've already done. And more importantly, to celebrate the bonds forged over four fun years.
In a letter to the team, the coaching staff echoed that sentiment. The best part about playing a sport at Saint Ignatius is not the wins or success. It's the lifelong bonds of friendship and brotherhood that cannot be broken. This is what the coaching staff (Garen Distelhorst ’96, Joe Boehm ’05, Dave Cerny, John Harrington, Brian Holzheimer ’05, Jim Smith ’94, and Mason Wynocker ’91) wrote to the team.
"While not the way we wanted it to go this season, this class will go down as the best lacrosse class in the history of Saint Ignatius. The talent and athleticism speak for itself. But it is so much more than that. Everyone inside our program and many outside of our program see how much you guys love and respect and care for each other and quite simply love being around each other. Our friendships, that have been formed in part through being a member of the Saint Ignatius Lacrosse team, will continue for years and even decades to come. Words like Ignatius Men Forever and Saint Ignatius Lacrosse Team will have even more meaning for this class...and just like you heard at orientation about four years ago, you will likely be friends for life and in each other’s weddings and godparents to each other’s kids maybe even will be battling it out on the lacrosse field with each other decades from now like your coaches still do weekly despite our very advanced ages."
In closing, the coaching staff included a poem. Instead of mourning what might have been, let us look to the future and be the best version of ourselves. That's the message of Heartsill Wilson, a motivational speaker and accountant from Texas who wrote a version of the poem below. Legendary college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was carrying a version of the poem in his wallet when he died. Here is the version the coaches sent to the Wildcats:
“Today is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will, I can waste it or use it for good. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, so I want this day to be one in which there is gain not loss, good not evil, success not failure, because the future is just a whole string of nows, so make the most of it."
Saint Ignatius Lacrosse Class of 2020:
Ryan Beane: 1 letter; no stats; Planning a career as a real estate agent for Russell Real Estate Services
Michael Boehm: 4 letters; 181 goals, 119 assists, 300 points, 178 groundballs; College destination: University of Michigan
Connor Cmiel: 4 letters; 64 goals, 29 assists, 87 points, 88 groundballs; College destination: The Ohio State University
Matthew Clement: Manager; no stats; College destination: TBD
Pat Conti: 1 letter; no stats; College destination: Ohio University
Sam Daugstrup: 3 letters; 5 groundballs; College destination: Indiana University
Dominic DeVengencie: 1 letter; no stats; College destination: TBD
Gabe Duban: 2 letters; 4 groundballs; College destination: University of Michigan
Connor Francz: 2 letters; 5 groundballs; College destination: University of Akron
William "Biggie" Gerard: 3 letters; 24 goals, 3 assists, 27 points, 9 groundballs; College destination: John Carroll University
Merick Hartley: 4 letters; 100 goals, 14 assists, 114 points, 66 groundballs; College destination: The Ohio State University
Charlie Kinzel: 3 letters; 14 goals, 16 assists, 30 points, 24 groundballs; College destination: Indiana University
Camden Kurtz: 3 letters; 4 goals, 2 assists, 6 points, 11 groundballs; College destination: The Ohio State University
Greg Langermeier: 3 letters; 6 goals, 5 assists, 11 points, 17 groundballs; College destination: The Ohio State University
Chris Laska: 2 letters; 45% save percentage; College destination: Marquette University
Charlie Minerd: 3 letters; 49% save percentage; College destination: Saint Louis University
Joey Morford: 4 letters; 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 147 groundballs, 55.8% faceoffs; College destination: Saint Joseph's University
Ethan Nejad: 1 letter; no stats; College destination: Westminster College
Lou Persiani: 2 letters; 9 groundballs; College destination: University of Dayton
Christian Radke: 2 letters; 8 goals, 4 assists, 12 points, 30 groundballs; College destination: Miami University
KJ Ripich: 3 letters; 6 goals, 3 assists, 9 points, 10 groundballs; College destination: The Ohio State University
Jack Welcsh: 4 letters, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 154 groundballs; College destination: University of Cincinnati