By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
VINELAND — After Egg Harbor Township senior Zach Wechsler scored his 100th career goal during the first quarter of the Eagles’ 14-0 win over Vineland on Thursday afternoon, he trotted over to the far sideline to give his mother, Sandy, a hug. It looked as though Sandy Wechsler never wanted to let go, and for good reason. The hugs around the Wechsler household last just a little bit longer these days, and have a little more meaning.
During a game against Ocean City in the second week of April, Wechsler found out that his older brother Tyler — a 21-year-old former EHT lacrosse player — was missing from his post with the U.S. Marine Corps in Hawaii. Zach was so distraught he left the field at halftime and did not return. Less than two weeks later, the Wechslers found out that Tyler’s body had been found on a remote hiking trail. The cause of Tyler’s death remains under investigation, according to several news outlets.
The past several weeks have been emotionally draining for Zach, his mother and his father, Paul. But Thursday’s milestone provided a brief respite from heartache and grief.
“I spoke to a couple of players as the season went on, and one of our goals was to get him to that milestone. It’s very gratifying as a coach to see him reach that. He’s worked so hard the last four years, and for him to get it was really a good thing. To a season that was somewhat disheartening, it brought some happiness to the whole team’s hearts today. It was nice to see,” said EHT coach John Ohlsen. “Even though he was going for his 100th goal, he passed the ball more than ever. He wasn’t taking all the shots. He was working as a teammate for all the other players.”
Wechsler took care of business early. He came in with 99 career goals and scored in the first quarter, making a move from behind the net before ripping a shot past the Vineland goalie. That gave the Eagles a 2-0 lead, and seven different players scored in the first half as EHT sprinted to a 9-0 lead. But the highlight of the day certainly was Wechsler’s milestone goal, and the emotional exchange with his mother a few moments later.
“I have no words for it, honestly. I have to thank my teammates, they really grinded with me. I missed a couple of games and I was struggling, but my teammates really helped me out. It feels great. It’s my biggest milestone,” Wechsler said. “It feels amazing, honestly. I feel like my brother always has my back and I can’t thank him enough for that. I have no words. I’m speechless right now. It’s been a heck of a ride. My teammates have been so supportive and my coaches, my pastor, they’ve all been by my side helping me through every game. There’s been a lot of moral support from everybody.”
“He’s such a team player. He’s always out here for the team. It’s not an individual sport, and he’s out here every day just playing for the team,” said fellow senior captain Zachary Rodriguez, a defenseman. “Even when he got his 100th goal he was like, ‘I wouldn’t have gotten it without you guys.’ So he’s always giving us credit and never taking the reward for it.”
Rodriguez said Wechsler has been holding up well emotionally, and the way he has handled himself has, in turn, provided emotional support for his teammates.
“It’s awesome. We were expecting him to get his 100th, and when it happened we were all excited. We wanted that for him, and it’s just the icing to the cake here at the end of the season. He’s been doing awesome. He’s actually been the anchor to the team. Whenever we get upset, he’s the one saying, ‘hey, keep your head up.’ We should be saying that to him, but he’s the one pulling us up,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been like that since his freshman year. He’s always been a team player and always has so much pride in the team. He loves lacrosse and loves the team, and just wants to play for the team. He turned it into something positive and something beautiful. He took all that grief and turned it into something beautiful and just plays his heart out.”
Ohlsen got a little emotional after the game when talking about the Wechsler family, and how much they’ve meant to his program for nearly a decade.
“It’s been a tough month for the Wechsler family and the EHT lacrosse family, and to come out of it today with something like this is awesome. I’m so happy for him and his mom and dad,” he said. “Sandy has been working with me for the past seven years with the booster club and has put in so much time. I’m going to miss her just as much as I’m going to miss him. I don’t want her to go. Hopefully, somebody can fill her shoes, but it’s going to be tough to find somebody to fill both her shoes and Zach’s shoes.”
As for what Wechsler said to his mother while they were hugging in front of the visitors’ bleachers?
“I went up to her and I said, ‘mom, I did it for you. I love you so much.'”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN