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Vic’s Subs Cover Story: Ocean City boys lacrosse team takes pride in playing great defense

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Military recruiters, if they haven’t made a stop at Ocean City High School yet this year, might want to pop in to the high school and talk to some of the boys lacrosse players. They certainly have the mindset the armed forces is looking for. Mitch Boze, a senior defenseman, said the Red Raiders have been preaching to everyone to do their job individually, and that, in turn, will benefit the group. The defense, particularly, has developed a level of trust in each other rarely seen at the high school level. Each player on the Red Raiders’ defense has complete faith that the teammate next to him will do his job and — just like in a military unit — the success of the unit is directly related to the ability of each person to do what is asked of him, and to do it well. “We communicate a lot more this year, we’re talking more. All our middies bought into the defensive sets we are doing, and everybody knows that defense is important this year,” said Boze, a senior. “It’s not about scoring goals, it’s about knowing what the guy next to you is doing, and making sure you do your job. That was one of the mantras this year was ‘do your job.’ We’ve been doing that, and it’s been working out.” To say things have worked out for Ocean City this season might be a bit of an understatement. Last season, the Red Raiders slipped up a bit late in the year and ended up having to share the Cape-Atlantic League title with Oakcrest and Egg Harbor Township. They left no doubt who the top team in the league this year is, going 15-0 and beating their toughest competition — rival Mainland Regional — twice, including a come-from-behind, 11-10 win at Mainland on May 5. In that game, the Mustangs jumped out to a 6-2 halftime lead, but Ocean City’s defense allowed just two goals in the third quarter and two in the fourth, giving the offense a chance to come back. Ocean City outscored Mainland 9-4 in the second half. “One of the things fueling us this year was, every time we ran into kids from Oakcrest or EHT and they had ‘2015 Cape-Atlantic League Champions’ jackets or sweatshirts, and we have the same ones, it kind of bothered us,” coach Joe LaTorre said. “We knew we let last year get away, and I think this year’s seniors understood how big every game in the CAL was and that you can’t overlook anyone. I think they rose to the occasion, and I’m very proud of how they finished the regular season.” Part of Ocean City’s success against Mainland has been the ability of LaTorre to install several versions of a zone defense that gave the Mustangs fits. Normally, lacrosse teams play mostly man-to-man defense, but LaTorre said that with the experience he had on defense, he felt his players could understand and implement the zone concepts quickly. “I’m surprised how quickly they have learned our concepts. We never ran zone prior to this year, and I’m not a very big zone guy. I think a lot of times when people run it, it’s because they know they can’t match up man-to-man with you. This year I bought into the notion that having that extra defensive set could help us in the long run,” LaTorre said. “Mainland is a very talented team and we knew we could hang with them man-to-man, but we knew their bread-and-butter offense is dodging, and it’s very tough to dodge against a zone. You really have to dodge the seams and get the zone out of its shape to have success. We knew the first time we played them they weren’t really preparing for that, and I think that helped us get the win. The second time, we actually played more man. We played some zone at the end, and I think that was the difference in the game. It’s nice to be able to use the zone, and to use multiple zones.” No thanks Playing defense in lacrosse is a pretty thankless job. You rarely get your name in the paper and shutouts are rare. Most kids who pick up the game don’t want to be long poles, they want to be attackers who score. Boze, in typical defenseman fashion, said he doesn’t care that his name is rarely in the paper. Seniors, from left, Mitch Boze, Jack Stoerrle and Will Nickerson helped lead the Ocean City boys lacrosse team to the Cape-Atlantic League championship this season. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Seniors, from left, Mitch Boze, Jack Stoerrle and Will Nickerson helped lead the Ocean City boys lacrosse team to the Cape-Atlantic League championship this season. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “That’s usually a good thing. That means nobody is talking about us, and that’s what we want. We want to be the low-key guys who are being the rock of this team. We want to keep opponents out of the net, and (goalie Mark) Kolmer does a great job at that. We have to talk and we have to communicate,” Boze said. “We’re a good group of guys who band together, and everybody has to have everyone else’s back. It’s all about trust and communication. We’ve been playing together for a while. I’ve been playing alongside Jack (Stoerrle) for four years on this team, so anytime you can have that level of trust in one another, it’s huge for a defense.” “If you look on laxpower.com, they do a good thing with rankings separate from just team rankings. They do offense, defense and net goals, and if you look at the top 10 teams in the state for defense, they are all former state champions or teams that are just dominating lacrosse in New Jersey,” LaTorre said. “I played defense in college, and it’s kind of a thankless job. You’ll never see your name in the paper unless you get a random goal or assist. I like defense so much because it’s like a chess match. Just the different moves. This year, we mixed a lot of man and zone, and it definitely gave teams a hard time. When they plan for man and you throw a zone at them, they don’t know what to do.” Added Kolmer, Ocean City’s outstanding junior goalie, “In the paper, most of the time people will talk about what the offense is doing, but really, what starts our offensive momentum is when the defense gets a big stop. When the other team has offensive momentum and they come down to try to score a goal and the defense stops them, that really gets our offense going. They’ll say, ‘hell yeah, the defense is doing their job, so we have to pick it up and do what we can.'” The right mix Chemistry is so important for a successful lacrosse defense, and Ocean City has a group that includes four seniors, three juniors and a sophomore. Most of these guys have been playing together since their youth lacrosse days, and Boze said that is a huge advantage for the Red Raiders. Consistency at the head coaching position has also been a big factor. “We’ve been with coach LaTorre all four years, so we’ve grown as a team and we’ve grown together in this system,” Boze said. “I think four years in this system has certainly helped, and all these guys have bought in and worked together to make this happen.” “We’ve been playing together for a really long time. Most of us played together at Upper Township, and we have such great chemistry,” Kolmer said. “We play all year round and we all know each other’s tendencies, we all know what we like to do. We’re always working. You can come in with three 100-point scorers and we’re going to be there to stop you. We’re always going to be there, and we don’t care who we are playing against.” Seniors Boze, Jack Stoerrle, Will Nickerson and Shane Stack all have several years of varsity experience, as do juniors Kolmer, Dan Walsh and Jack Salkeld. And sophomore Harry Pfeifle has made a huge impact as a long stick middie. Another senior, Shane Stack, is a defensive-minded midfielder who has had a big impact for the Red Raiders this season. Another senior, Shane Stack, is a defensive-minded midfielder who has had a big impact for the Red Raiders this season. “I knew we had a lot of experience. We only lost one defender from last year, so I knew coming in we would be strong. It doesn’t hurt when you have a Division I goalie who will keep you in virtually any game you play,” LaTorre said. “We’ve also had a lot of younger guys stepping up. Even though we have a lot of seniors leading the defense, we’ve had a sophomore in Harry Pfeifle who has put in a lot of work and has become a key player. I’d say he’s one of the best defenders in the CAL and he’s only a sophomore, so the future is pretty bright for us.” LaTorre said getting guys to want to play defense at Ocean City hasn’t been all that difficult. “When they started this program, usually it was the guys who couldn’t catch or throw who got put on defense. Now, we’re getting to the point where we have defenders who can clear the ball and have pretty good shots,” LaTorre said. “One thing we preach here is that everyone needs to know how to shoot, even if you’re on defense and it’s not really your job to score. I don’t know what it is, but everybody goes nuts when a long pole scores. It’s not a tough sell. I think a lot of these kids enjoy playing defense.” Having Kolmer in net is a huge plus for the Red Raiders. Not many teams in South Jersey have a goalie who can deny 100-goal scorers with regularity. “That’s just us doing our job. We’re just trying to win games, and if we are shutting down (top scorers) to do it, that’s fine, that’s our job,” Boze said. “Kolmer is huge for us. I think he’s much better than just the best goalie in the CAL. He’s great for us. He talks, he communicates, tells us where we need to be all the time and helps clear the ball. He’s a huge asset for us, and that lets us do our job so we don’t have to worry about anything else. The only thing on our mind is what we have to do.” Playing with pride The Red Raiders’ defensive unit also has a militaristic viewpoint in defending its own net. No player wants to be the guy who let his man score, and each player takes his role very seriously. These guys work hard in practice every day, and they don’t even like when their own teammates find the back of the net. “Our offense will get frustrated a lot (in practice),” LaTorre said. “It’s good for both sides. I like the competitive nature of it. If you have a really good offense and a bad defense, it’s not helping anybody. The offense is thinking everything they do works and the defense gets frustrated.” “They are all very experienced players and they are all very talented, and that’s great because sometimes I won’t have to face too many shots. And when I do face a shot, I’m ready to stop it. Having those guys there to play stout defense all the time is great. It really helps my job as a goalie,” Kolmer said. “There are times when Stoerrle will go out and get a ground ball, or Walsh will go and take the ball away from someone, and I’m just sitting there thinking that we have a really good team, and I’m glad they are there in front of me so we can get the job done. I’m always happy whenever they are doing their job.” LaTorre said he gets so into it sometimes that he will pull players aside during their lunch period to break down film. “It helps being in the school. We’ll watch film at lunch and break down a lot of things. I make power-point presentations all fall when I’m jonesing for some lacrosse,” LaTorre said. “I try to outline the principles we want to follow throughout the year. It helps having a good offense, because that makes the defense work harder and gives them good preparation for what they will see in the postseason.” “I switched from attack to defense my sophomore year. For me, I’m a physical guy, I like to hit people, and on defense you can do that. And it’s also a very important part of the team. Knowing that we can be the backstop for the team, and knowing we can stop guys from scoring is a huge boost to the offense. It feels good to know that we are there for the team and can put us in the best position to win games,” Boze said. “When somebody scores on us, we huddle up and talk about it, go over what we did wrong and what we can do better. Sure, it sucks, but you have to have a small rearview mirror and just keep going.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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