High School Season Starts with Florida Shockers
Vero Beach girls' streak ended at 145 consecutive wins
The Nike/Lacrosse Magazine high school preseason rankings don't come out for another two weeks. In-season updates start March 5.
And yet, we've already seen significant power shifts in the South — namely in Florida, where the Vero Beach girls' 145-game in-state winning streak came to a halt, the Lake Brantley boys upended defending state champ Lake Highland Prep and St. Andrew's notched an impressive win over IMG Academy Varsity.
What a way to start the season in the Sunshine State.
Of those three storylines, none was more surprising than Orlando-Bishop Moore Catholic's 14-6 rout of Vero Beach last Thursday. The Fighting Indians, winners of 10 straight state finals, hadn't lost to a Florida opponent since 2007 and their 145-game streak was by far the longest in Florida lacrosse history. Bishop Moore was coming off a 10-7 season and playing under a new coach, but returned eight starters from last year.
"It was very exciting," Bishop Moore first-year coach Kelly Blystone said. "For some, it maybe didn't sink in right away, but like I told the girls, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so why not take it? We even had a running clock for a while – I don't think that's probably ever happened to them. It was the first game of the season, so we still have a lot more boxes to check off, but it was definitely thrilling."
Leading just 4-2 at intermission, Bishop Moore broke the game open with sophomore Cate Curry winning the first eight draws of the second half. The Hornets scored on each possession Curry gave them to build a 12-2 lead. A frustrated Vero Beach ended up playing down two girls to finish the game as the result of five yellow cards.
Sarah Larkin, a senior and University of Southern California signee, had five goals and four assists to lead the Hornets, who also got 10 saves from sophomore goalkeeper Sophia Villalonga.
"I knew we have a lot of talent on our team," said Blystone, who spent the last three years coaching the Bishop Moore junior varsity team. "Even in fall ball, going to tournaments, they would go out and win games people didn't think they should win. They play with amazing heart and really are a team.
"When I scheduled that game as our first game of the season, people questioned it. I said, 'We want to see them at the end of the season, so why not at the beginning too?' We became confident: Why not us? We have the skills, the talent and the heart. They believed we could win. I've seen people never believe they could beat Vero and we just weren't intimidated."
Vero Beach's closest call during its 145-game roll was a 10-9 win against Lake Brantley in the 2010 state championship game, though Ponte Vedra and Barron Collier also threatened in both final four games last season before the Indians pulled away.
Before Thursday, Lake Brantley was the last Florida team to defeat Vero Beach, a 7-6 win on Feb. 16, 2007, which the Indians avenged later that season in the state championship game.
The Indians entered this season having to replace 11 graduated seniors, 10 who contributed regularly. Despite returning only four players who started games last season, they opened with a 15-1 win over Lake Brantley on Feb. 9.
The loss to Bishop Moore certainly was a shock, but coaches familiar with Vero Beach don't think any less of the perennial power. Vero Beach is set to play three teams who finished in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine National Top 25 last year, including defending national champion McDonogh (Md.), No. 14 Milton (Ga.) and No. 18 St. Anthony's (N.Y.), as well as Cold Springs Harbor (N.Y.) and Radnor (Pa.), who also were ranked late last season.
"Vero is a great program, and one loss against a very excellent opponent doesn't mean the end of a dynasty," said Martin County (Fla.) High School coach Matt Livings, whose Tigers face Vero Beach on Wednesday. "Someone was able to play a good game against them and win. Sure, it will bring some excitement back to the state, making people believe they have a shot. By no means do we expect anything less of them or expect them not to come out ready to play."
Jared Bernhardt, shown here in the U.S. under-19 men's team's scrimmage against Canada in January, scored three goals and had four assists in a 15-12 win for Lake Brantley (Fla.) over St. Thomas Aquinas. (Scott McCall)
Inside Lake Brantley's Upset
Meanwhile, on the boys' side, the competition has been so stiff in recent years there are few true upsets anymore – or at least they aren't unexpected. Even Lake Highland had three in-state losses last year – including an 11-10 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in the second game – before winning its third straight title, fourth in the last five years.
However, the first team to beat the defending champion almost always does so as an underdog, and that was the situation Lake Brantley found itself in Friday before handing the Highlanders a 15-12 loss. The Patriots were 10-6 last year and had lost a midseason tilt against Lake Highland, 16-10.
This time, Lake Brantley limited the Highlanders' chances with Ashton Ceppos winning the faceoff battle, and Maryland-bound attackman and U.S. under-19 men's team midfielder Jared Bernhardt (three goals, four assists) set the tone on offense.
Lake Highland then took another hit Monday with an 11-6 loss to Ponte Vedra, who last year missed out on a fifth straight final four.
IMG's Head-Turning Result
IMG Academy's 10-6 home loss to St. Andrew's on Saturday also turned some heads. The Ascenders, whose program draws talent from all over the country, had beaten the Scots 17-8 last year, and their only loss was to Jupiter, 12-9. IMG does not compete in an FHSAA district and thus is not able to compete for a state title.
So, what do these early results mean? It's too early to tell.
As Lake Brantley coach Jake Bernhardt, Jared's older brother, told FloridaLacrosseNews.com after his win, "[It's] a good jump-start for us, but the season just started."
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