Nike/LM HS South Report: Blue Tornado Weathers the Storm
Troy Kemp has seen some great athletes come through his McCallie (Tenn.) boys' lacrosse program over his 23 years as head coach. He's sent more than 50 of them to college programs.
But without disrespect to past teams, he said his 2015 TSLA state championship team might be the best group he's ever seen.
The 2013 squad ranked high on his list, too, but the Blue Tornado fell short in the state semifinals against a Montgomery Bell Academy (Tenn.) team they had already beaten in the regular season. Last year, Memphis University School (Tenn.) turned them aside 13-6 in the final.
This time, a senior-laden squad wasn't going to accept losing. Tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter, the Blue Tornado dug deep for a 13-11 win over MUS for the program's 10th title and first since 2010.
"We've had good teams, but it takes more than talent to win a championship. It takes chemistry and sacrifice," Kemp said. "We should have won in 2013. We had the ability, talent and chemistry, but the stars didn't align for us. We couldn't prove we were the best that year, but the guys who were sophomores that year are seniors now, and this was our chance to get vindication and show we have all the moving parts, we are well-oiled and we are going to win this thing."
Kemp said he figured it would probably take 15 goals to beat the Owls, but he never doubted his team could win.
Still, he said the score was closer than it should have been Saturday in the championship, as penalties took a toll. The Owls ended up with the possession advantage (holding possession for 53 percent of the game) despite McCallie winning 21 of 28 faceoffs. Zach Stephenson, a Young Harris commit, won 20 of 25 that he attempted.
MUS had seven man-up opportunities, while McCallie had just one, and that enabled the Owls to control the clock and take advantage against the Blue Tornado's tiring zone defense to score.
"Our efficiency on offense is crazy high when we have the ball, but the best way to beat us was to control the ball and keep it out of our offense's hands," Kemp said. "We had penalties, and that gave them a chance to take time off the clock and score. Even when they didn't score in the man-up opportunity, they normally did about 30 seconds later because our defense was tired."
The Blue Tornado trailed 5-3 in the first quarter but scored three straight in a 90-second span to regain the lead and never again trailed, though MUS came back to tie it at 10 in the fourth.
Kemp called timeout to give his defense a rest and chance to regroup.
With 16 players committed or signed to play in college, McCallie finished 19-2 and perfect against Tennessee competition.
Senior attackmen Tyler Wilks (Providence) and Samuel Viscomi (University of the South) answered Kemp's call for two veterans to step up and help on defense, and the Tornado buckled down to regain a three-goal lead. Wilks, the game's offensive MVP, scored the final two goals, and goalie Tate Boyce (Providence) and the defense preserved the win, allowing just one more goal for the final score.
"We weathered the storm," Kemp said.
Wilks finished with four goals and one assist, and Viscomi had three goals. Denver-bound attackman Zach Hutchko (three goals, one assist), Vermont-bound middie Braiden Davis (two goals, one assist) and Boston University-bound long-stick middie Drew Lukacs (one goal, one assist) rounded out the scoring. Boyce recorded 15 saves, and Rutgers recruit Jeff Durden (five takeaways) was named "Defensive MVP."
McCallie, which has 16 players committed or signed to play in college, finished the season 19-2 with a perfect in-state record and just one loss to a South region opponent – a 16-11 decision to Lambert (Ga.), which followed a hard-fought win over a talented Centennial (Ga.) squad the night before.
Kemp still believes his team was better than the five-goal loss, but it wasn't all for nothing.
"I was disappointed when we lost to Lambert (Ga.) because to the world, we were not as good as them," Kemp said. "We played a great Centennial team that Friday night. They were good, but I think we just played them at the wrong time. After that game, I said it was my fault because I thought both teams were playing Friday-Saturday, and I didn't set them up to win. But I said, 'The good thing is this is not the last game.' I told them that loss was going to help them down the road. ... It was the reason we won against MUS because we had the same wet sticks, and we learned from it."
Nike/LM HS South Boys' Top 10
1. Lake Highland Prep (Fla.), 21-3
Cole Haverty scored two goals in Westminster's 7-4 win over Lovett in the Georgia Class 5A title game.
Westminster (Ga.) makes a big jump back into the rankings after claiming its fourth state title in program history by beating Lovett (Ga.) 7-4 in the GHSA Class 5A final. The Wildcats' two losses were to Class 6A Johns Creek and nationally-ranked Boys' Latin (Md.) by a combined three goals. ... McCallie (Tenn.) pulled out a 13-11 win over Memphis University School (Tenn.) to win the TSLA title -- its eighth state title overall and first since 2010. The Blue Tornado's only losses were to Lambert (Ga.) and nationally-ranked Landon (Md.). ... Roswell (Ga.) successfully defended its GHSA Class 6A title, beating Pope (Ga.) 12-9 in the final for its second state championship.
Pope (Ga.) has plenty to be proud of this season but dropped out of a crowded South Top 10 after losing to Roswell (Ga.) -- for a second time this season -- in the GHSA Class 6A final. The Greyhounds trailed 9-3 at halftime but was down just 10-8 going into the fourth quarter. Pope's other losses this season were to Harrison (which it avenged in the semifinals) and sub-.500 Walton (Ga.)
South Boys' Player of the Week
Tyler Wilks, McCallie (Tenn.)
The senior attackman was named the offensive MVP of the TSLA championship after scoring four goals – including his team's final two – and assisting on a fifth to lift the Blue Tornado to a 13-11 win over Memphis University School (Tenn.). "He is the smartest guy on the field," McCallie coach Troy Kemp said. "He sometimes did too much, but he always knew exactly what needed to happen. When we needed goals, he would just outsmart you." It wasn't just his play on offense that stood out, though. The Providence-bound All-American also ran a shift on defense after the Owls tied the game at 10 in the fourth and helped shut them down as McCallie regained a three-goal lead before a late MUS score for the final.
Also notable: Preston Tippett (Roswell, Ga.), Parker LaVelle (Pope, Ga.), Nick Forbes (Cardinal Gibbons, N.C.), Jeff Durden (McCallie, Tenn.), Collin Roppel (Louisville St. Xavier, Ky.)
Games to Watch
NCHSAA Final Four, Tuesday-Saturday
Cardinal Gibbons looks to defend its 2014 Class 3A title, while Charlotte Catholic returns to the final four with a chance to repeat as Class 4A champions.
In the 3A semifinals Tuesday, Cardinal Gibbons (15-4) plays Cedar Ridge (10-7), while Marvin Ridge (17-2) plays Northern Guilford (9-9).
In the 4A semifinals, Charlotte Catholic (20-2) faces R.J. Reynolds (19-0), while Apex (18-2) plays Middle Creek (18-1).
The 3A final is Friday, and the 4A final is Saturday.
Nike/LM South Girls' Top 10
1. Milton (Ga.), 18-4
2. Vero Beach (Fla.), 20-3
3. St. John's (Texas), 21-0
4. Barron Collier (Fla.), 22-2
5. Walton (Ga.), 15-7
6. Ponte Vedra (Fla.), 19-4
7. Lassiter (Ga.), 16-5
8. Kell (Ga.), 19-3
9. Hutchison (Tenn.), 21-4
10. Lake Norman (N.C.), 16-2
Milton (Ga.) won its 10th state title and sixth straight, beating Walton (Ga.) 9-6 in the GHSA Class 6A final. Walton avenged a regular-season loss to Lassiter (Ga.) to get back to the final for a second straight year, beating the Trojans 8-5 in the semifinals. ... Kell (Ga.) repeated as GHSA Class 5A champions, beating Westminster (Ga.) 16-14 in the final and edging Cambridge (Ga.) 15-13 in the semifinals. ... Lake Norman (N.C.) returns to the South Top 10 after beating Charlotte Catholic (N.C.) – for a second time this season – in the state quarterfinals 14-10. The Wildcats' two losses were to Midwest-ranked Hinsdale Central (Ill.) and Marvin Ridge (N.C.), by one.
South Girls' Player of the Week
Haley Swift, Kell (Ga.)
Senior attacker Leslie Ferguson rightfully earned much of the spotlight with her 12 goals in the Final Four, but the Longhorns might not have gotten back to the title game without Swift. The senior midfielder had four goals and four assists to help Kell rally from a three-goal deficit in the second half and beat Cambridge (Ga.) 15-13 in the semifinals. Swift then added a hat trick and three more assists in the championship, as the Longhorns beat Westminster (Ga.) 16-14 for the program's second straight title.
Also notable: Jordan Lappin (Cardinal Gibbons, N.C.), Maddie Langley (Milton, Ga.), Elizabeth Zakas (Westminster, Ga.), Ashley Asbury (Walton, Ga.), Lucy Pedlow (Charlotte Country Day, N.C.), Riley Harrison (Charlotte Country Day, N.C.)
Charlotte Catholic (N.C.) fell out of the rankings with the NCHSAA quarterfinal loss to Lake Norman (N.C.). The Cougars had easily handled Marvin Ridge (N.C.) 16-2 in the previous round.
Games to Watch
NCHSAA Final Four, Tuesday-Saturday
One thing is for certain: A new NCHSAA champion will be crowned this weekend in North Carolina after 2014 winner Charlotte Catholic was ousted by Lake Norman in the quarterfinals.
Four teams remain alive, as the Wildcats (16-2) face Southeast Guilford (16-1) in one semifinal Tuesday and Cardinal Gibbons (18-1) takes on Hoggard (15-3) in the other. The championship is Saturday. Lake Norman already beat Southeast Guilford 19-4 earlier this season, but Gibbons and Hoggard have not met.
South Boys' Notebook
Roswell (Ga.) jumped out to a six-goal lead going into halftime but had to fight off a third-quarter rally from Pope (Ga.) to repeat as the Georgia Class 5A champion.
The Hornets scored the first five goals and led 9-3 at halftime, behind Preston Tippett's hat trick, but were outscored 5-1 in the third quarter as the Greyhounds climbed back into contention. Parker LaVelle sparked the Pope offense and finished with three goals in the third quarter before the game turned to a defensive battle for much of the fourth quarter. Tanner Schneider found the net with about 3:30 left to make it 11-8 for the Hornets, an Tippett scored his fifth goal just 27 seconds later to seal it.
"We just worked on placing our shots because we knew they [Pope] had a fantastic goalie," Roswell coach Alex Chrzanowski told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. "Not letting our passes fall early and not allowing their goalie to get hot early really helped us."
The Hornets won 10 straight to close the season after a 9-8 loss to eventual Class 5A champion Westminster (Ga.). Their only other loss came against Johns Creek (Ga.) in the third game of the season, and Roswell had quality wins over Lambert (Ga.), Mill Creek (Ga.) and Northview (Ga.), as well as Tennessee runner-up Memphis University School.
With the help of a stifling defense, Westminster (Ga.) took a 7-2 lead over Lovett (Ga.) into the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats held on for a 7-4 win in the GHSA Class 5A final. It marked the program's fourth state title.
Jack Patton scored three of the Wildcats' first five goals, and Cole Haverty added two goals for the day. Blake Davis and Chip Wrap each recorded one goal. Westminster outscored its four postseason opponents 51-6.
Milton continued its reign in Georgia with a 9-6 win over Walton for the sixth straight GHSA Class 6A crown for the Eagles. (John Strohsacker)
South Girls' Notebook
The Milton girls' lacrosse team continued its reign in Georgia, beating Walton 9-6 in the GHSA Class 6A final for the program's sixth straight title and 10th in the past 11 years.
Lexie Morton and Maddie Langley, who had five goals and an assist in a 23-10 win in the semifinals, each contributed two goals, and five others chipped in with one goal, but it was the defense that really shined.
"As they say, 'Defense wins championships,' and that's what won it for us," Milton coach Tim Godby said. "Our offense struggled some during the game, but the defense and goalie play were outstanding. We had a good offensive run in the first half, but turnovers and missed shots at key moments in the game kept us from blowing the game wide open and let Walton stay within striking distance.
"I was never in doubt that we would win the game. Our offensive game may not have been as pretty as we would have liked, but you only have to win by one to win a championship."
Milton has been plagued by injuries and sickness over the past month, but Godby said several players stepped up to fill holes.
The Eagles outscored their 12 in-state opponents 246-57 this season. The Raiders were the only Georgia team to hold Milton under 10 goals.
Kell (Ga.) has more than proved that its first state title last year was no fluke.
After beating Westminster (Ga.) by one in the 2014 GHSA Class 5A final, the Longhorns topped the Wildcats twice this season, including a 16-13 win in the championship Saturday.
The Longhorns showed their championship grit, scoring four straight goals to break open a 10-4 lead three minutes into the second half, and held on for the win.
"I think we came out a little nervous in the first half," Kell coach Todd Utt told the Marietta Journal. "We just needed to settle down, and we did that in the second half. It's always tough to beat a team twice in one season, so we knew, after beating Westminster a few weeks ago, that we were going to be in for a fight [Saturday]."
Kell (19-3) beat Westminster (19-3) by a 16-8 margin April 30, as part of the teams' Area 2 schedule. The two teams have combined to win each state title since girls lacrosse was split into different classifications in 2010.
Both teams had tough roads to get a rematch in this year's final. Kell rallied to beat Cambridge, 15-13, in the semifinals, and the Wildcats had advanced with an 11-10 overtime win over Blessed Trinity in the semifinals, behind Elizabeth Zakas' game-winner with 0.3 seconds left.
Westminster goalie Katie McGahan kept her team in Saturday's matchup by stopping seven of Kell's first 16 shots, as Kell held just a 6-4 advantage at halftime. However, Leslie Ferguson scored five of her game-high six goals in the second half to spark the Longhorns' offense. Haley Swift and Izzy Palermo each scored three goals on the day, with Swift assisting on three others.
Hannah Rosen had seven saves for the Longhorns. Annie Calfo led Westminster with four goals.
Jordan Lappin scored seven goals to help Cardinal Gibbons (N.C.) overcome an injury to its starting goalie, as the Crusaders edged Apex (N.C.), 17-16, in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association quarterfinals Friday.
Starting goalie Mogan Sinclair, whose save in the final seconds of a regular-season win over Apex preserved a 15-14 win, went down eight minutes into the first half Friday. Apex took advantage of the unexpected lineup change to go on an early second-half scoring spree against freshman goalie Gabby Young before she settled in.
Gibbons (18-1) has won seven straight match since its only loss to 2014 state champion Charlotte Catholic, a 15-14 decision. Apex (15-3) was the state runner-up to Catholic last year.
Nike/LM HS South Report Archive
- May 12: St. John's Best Ever?
- May 5: Vero Beach's Decade of Dominance
- April 28: Charlotte's Sweet Song
- April 21: Kell Gaining Steam
- April 14: Georgia's First 300 Winner
- April 7: Hutchison Feels the Sting
- March 31: Episcopal Weathers Early Storm
- March 24: Milton's Quick Rebound
- March 17: Playing for a Cause
- March 10: Tragedy in South Carolina
- March 3: Florida to Fall Under New Rules?
- Feb. 25: Region Preview and Players to Watch
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