Hopewell lacrosse team enjoying breakout season

Titans’ six wins match past three years

by Cliff Mehrtens

Hopewell High’s boys lacrosse program has come a long way in its four years.

The Titans admittedly aren’t a championship contender, but that’s not the accurate measure. It’s about progress – where Hopewell began and where it seems to be headed.

The team’s 6-8 record isn’t flashy, until you consider Hopewell’s six victories this year match the total victories from the team’s first three seasons.

“Our progress has been amazing,” said Ben James, a senior midfielder. “We’ve set a (school) record for number of wins, and we’re making new ground. You can see the growth of the program.”

Not many Titans had lacrosse experience when the program began in 2009, a distinct disadvantage against most opponents. Hopewell coaches had to teach the basics of the sport instead of fine-tuning techniques and strategies.

The inaugural team was 1-15. The second-year Titans went 3-11, but then the program was dealt another obstacle. Hough High opened nearby, in 2010, and redistricting siphoned about half of Hopewell’s players. In essence, the program had to start over.

In 2011, the under-manned Titans went 2-13.

This season, that’s changed to six victories, and a near-win in a 17-16 loss to South Mecklenburg.

“The kids have bought into it,” Hopewell coach Michael Staub said. “Our team saying is ‘Process,’ which is more about the process and not results. We want to do things the right way. We want them to ask what happened instead of why did that happen?”

Staub has been with the program since the beginning. He was a varsity assistant the first year, then the junior varsity coach. He took over the varsity team last season.

Staub and assistants Andrew Sink and Mark Di’Ambra watched a lot of game film in the off-season to identify problems and strengths.

“We’re not anywhere where we want to be, by a long stretch,” Staub said. “But six wins this season is a step. The players are extremely coachable.”

Hopewell doesn’t have a middle-school feeder program, which means that five or six players are new to the sport every season when they sign up. The upside is they get to play a lot.

“We’d like to get more and more players involved with the game,” Staub said. “We’d like to establish some type of middle school program. We want to win games. We want to win championships. We don’t want to just say we play lacrosse.”

James leads Hopewell in goals (21), assists (14), points (35) and ground balls (84). He’s won 75 of 112 face-offs, a team-leading .670 percentage.

“Ben really is the warrior of our team,” Staub said. “He’s the heart and soul. He plays offense, defense and takes face-offs. He’s a hustle player.”

Goalkeeper Jake Lissy is a three-year starter and has been in net for all six victories this season. Defender Josh Shipman usually guards the other team’s top offensive threat. He’s also fielded 25 ground balls, third-most on the team.

Max McGee (19 goals) and Justin Sly, both seniors, have been valuable midfielders, Staub said. Attackers Clay Spivey (eight goals, six assists) and Connor Wilson (five goals, five assists) are offensive threats.

“Connor is our super sophomore,” Staub said. “He has the most upside. I think he’s definitely bound to play in college.”

Seniors Dylan Moses, Alex Acosta and James are the Titans’ seniors who’ve been there from the beginning. James said knowing the program is on the upswing has offset the struggles.

“At the beginning it was really rough,” said James, who began playing at age 9. “We had players who’d never played and didn’t know the rules. Now we have a couple of (scoring) lines who are teaching other kids. It’s fun to be part of pioneering the program. Sure, when we play experienced teams like Lake Norman and Lake Norman Charter, we get crushed. But our mentality is the saying coach has been using with us all season –‘never get too high and never get too low.’”

Students and teachers at Hopewell take notice when the players wear their jerseys, James said. Many ask questions, say they’d like to learn more about lacrosse and inquire about game times.

Hopewell closed the regular season with a 19-7 victory against Mooresville on Senior Night April 27.

“I think Hopewell lacrosse is going up from here,” James said. “We’re accomplishing things we’ve never done before, and that’s been fun.”

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