Thomas Worthington High School boys lacrosse coach Jeff Irwin is optimistic that his team will excel in close games again this season

Thomas Worthington High School boys lacrosse coach Jeff Irwin is optimistic that his team will excel in close games again this season

Last season, the Cardinals finished 10-9 overall, placed fourth (3-3) in the OCC-Buckeye Division behind champion Upper Arlington (6-0) and lost to eventual state champion UA 9-4 in a Division I Central Regional semifinal.

Thomas went 8-1 in games decided by two goals or fewer, including 6-0 in contests decided by one goal, and was 10-3 when allowing nine goals or fewer and 0-6 when giving up 10 goals or more.

"It was exciting to win so many one- and two-goal games last year, but I got a couple of gray hairs in my goatee from coaching in so many close games, so I hope we can show improvement and turn some our closer games into three- or four-goal victories," Irwin said. "I'm hoping we can keep winning close games when we need to, but I also want to see us win more games by a wider margin this year."

The Cardinals, who opened March 26 at New Albany, have returned seven starters in senior Justin May (midfielder), juniors Michael Hilliard (midfielder), Henry Karagory (defender), Luke Porteus (attacker), Michael Schonhiutt (midfielder) and Ian Westfall (attacker) and sophomore Nick Hegarty (attacker).

May is sharing captain duties with seniors Enzo Gianfagna (attacker) and Cody Hootman (defender).

Sophomore Sam MacKenzie is the starting goalkeeper and is being backed up by senior Sam Troper.

Junior P.J. Shotwell is the starting long-stick midfielder and sophomore John Schlichting is his backup.

Senior Kevin Hill, junior Ethan Reed and sophomore Aiden McCarthy also are expected to be key contributors in the midfield.

"We have our top five midfielders back, so we're able to put together two competitive midfield lines," Irwin said. "We also have three returning starters on attack, along with Enzo, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Brian Fernandez (attacker) and Connor Glasgow (defender), junior Alex Wheat (defender) and sophomores Chris DiMarco (midfielder), Liam McGill (attacker), Joshua Molli (midfielder) and Clay St. Pierre (defender).

"If we execute and do our jobs well, we should improve our record and how we finish (in the OCC-Buckeye and postseason)," said Hootman, who has committed to Otterbein University. "We've already improved our clearings and offensive game. We're also doing a better job of keeping possession of the ball."

Wolves countingon defense, midfield

Kilbourne is counting on its defenders and midfielders to build on last year, when it finished 16-5 overall, placed second (5-1) in the OCC-Buckeye and reached a Division I Central Region final before losing to UA 7-5.

Three starting defenders have returned in seniors Dylan Bishop and Taylor Wilson and junior Mike Viera. Bishop, who has committed to Capital University, and Wilson were named second-team all-region and all-league last year, and Viera already has committed to Ohio State.

Senior Matt Lacey, junior Michael Calvert and sophomore Alex Cash also are expected to be key contributors on defense.

The starting goalie is senior Mike Turnbull, who has committed to the University of Detroit Mercy.

"Our team strength is definitely our defense because we've got a lot of experience back there," coach Drew May said.

Kilbourne, which opened March 26 at Cincinnati Moeller and plays host to St. Charles on Saturday, March 29, has returned four starters in the midfield in seniors Josh Happ, Jayce Miller, Sam Shaffer and Cam Watson.

Happ was first-team all-region and second-team all-league a year ago.

Junior John Mack and sophomores Luke LeVette and Jake Weirick also are expected to be key contributors in the midfield.

Junior Joe Davis is Kilbourne's lone returning starter on attack. Shawn Lauderman also was expected to play a key role on attack, but the senior suffered a season-ending knee injury.

"We've got a lot of experience in the midfield and should be very strong there," May said. "We really miss having Shawn on the field, but he's inspired the rest of the team by showing that you can't take this opportunity to play lacrosse for granted."

Kilbourne is hoping to overtake UA in the OCC-Buckeye this season. The Wolves begin league play Tuesday, April 1, at Liberty.

"We were already the top-tier division of the OCC, but we're even better now that we've added Olentangy and Olentangy Liberty (in place of Dublin Scioto)," May said.

Kilbourne originally was supposed to drop down to Division II this season, but will remain in Division I.

"We would've been one of the biggest Division II schools, but instead we're going to be the smallest Division I team," May said. "I actually lobbied for us to play up at Division I because our goal is to win a Division I state title and I believe we can do it."