Jun. 9—Coach Matt Reynolds estimates that Mt. Blue hasn't had this good of a boys lacrosse season in 13 years.
He credits a middle school feeder program coupled with the Cougars' passion to explain why Mt. Blue reeled off a 10-2 regular-season record to earn the No. 3 seed in the Class B playoffs.
"If my memory serves me correctly, that year (2008) they went undefeated in the regular season," he said. "Before that, we had a bunch of good seasons, and then obviously in the '90s, we went to three state championships.
"But there has been a rebuilding process of the program, if you will, the last couple of years."
The Cougars host No. 14 Mt. Ararat (3-9) in a round of 16 game Thursday, beginning at 5 p.m.
This is Reynolds' first year as head coach of the boys lacrosse team. He previously served as an assistant for the Cougars, and he played at Mt. Blue when lacrosse was a club sport and helped the Cougars reach the state championship in 1995 and 1996 (and helped coach the team when it reached its third state final in 1997). So, he takes pride in seeing the program's growth and success.
"I think a lot of it comes down to our feeder program," Reynolds said. "The previous coach, Kevin Averill, did a great job starting that program. So we are starting to see a lot of the success because kids like (seniors) Keegan Roberts, Adam Loewen, Nick Fraser — all the seniors this year went through that middle school program, and lacrosse has been sort of their first love, first passion.
"So I think we are seeing a lot of that follow-up. I think we would have seen a really good season last year. It has taken some patience to get them there, but our middle school program has definitely helped a lot.
"We say at the high school, 'Now they are playing lacrosse; they are not learning lacrosse.' That makes a big difference. Now our guys are proficient at a new level."
Reynolds added that his players' passion for the sport and commitment has also made a difference this season.
"They are students of lacrosse," he said, "and we keep using the term — lacrosse IQ. We have some really, really good athletes, but I think the difference is, specifically our seniors, they love the game.
"When we are watching game films, they are not watching people score because it is cool. They are watching off-ball movement and seeing how it relates to the play that just happened and how they scored. The understanding of the game is so good right now, and they just love it. You can't coach that into a kid."
Roberts, an attacker who turned in a career-best 48-goal performance this season, is one of the Cougars' go-to players who also provides strong leadership.
Roberts is a veteran of playing for several travel teams as well as the beneficiary of the middle school lacrosse program. For Roberts, team commitment to the sport also explains the Cougars' prosperity.
"This year, more than ever, people have been committed to the game and have been students of the game," Keegan, who is eyeing several colleges including Bentley University, said. "In previous years, freshmen and sophomores, it wasn't people's first sport. This year, everyone is passionate about it. We are the first class to graduate from the middle school feeder program.
"We have a swagger about us and we have just great teammates. We are all good friends and having fun."
"On and off the field," Reynolds said, "(Roberts) definitely leads the team in a lot of what they have accomplished. He is sort of, for lack of a better word, the ringleader. He's the one that motivates the kids ..."
But Reynolds is quick to say that team's the other seniors — Xander Gurney, Trinity Titus, Jack Sullivan and Magnus Augustin — all have had a hand in steering the Cougars to the playoffs.
"Trinity is one of those leaders — he is very, very quiet — and he just goes about his business," Reynolds said. "You almost forget he is there even though he is putting up three or four goals every game."
Titus is enlisting with the U.S. Air Force. He will be training to become a member of the security forces. He said the influx of young, athletic players has certainly been a plus for the Cougars.
"We have a lot of new players so we are just teaching along new people, but they are picking up the sport," Titus said. "We have a lot of athletes. People on our team are quicker and just faster than our opponents. So we have more speed and they are picking up the game really well — a lot of talent coming up."
Loewen, who is dual United States and Canadian citizen, will be attending the University of New Brunswick in Canada, where he plans to study engineering and play for the men's soccer team.
The senior defender is impressed with the way the Cougars jelled as a team and produced a successful season. He also attributes the middle school and other youth lacrosse programs for helping give area athletes a head start.
"We've got a good group of kids on the team," he said. "Everybody is willing to work hard. I know in years past we always had a group of athletes, but lacrosse has been a second or third sport for them.
"The kids that we have now have been really focusing on a lacrosse for a long time. So we have a good group of kids who started at a young age. But I definitely felt we were heading toward something big."