DeSales High School boys lacrosse players barely had received their Division II state championship rings last June before the incoming seniors made a pact.
As far as the Stallions are concerned, talking about last year's title would be as welcome as not winning a game this season.
"Even at the end of last year during the ring ceremony, we were talking that we have a target on our backs," senior attacker Tommy Clayton said. "(Being the defending state champion is) nice to hear, but I am focused on this year now. I don't really even like to think about last year and I don't really want the other guys thinking about it, either. We don't want to think we're all that because of it."
Clayton, a Jacksonville University recruit who scored a team-high 67 goals last year, leads a deep group of returnees that also includes seniors Carter Hilleary (midfielder), Grant Rodgers (attacker/midfielder) and Connor Thune (goalkeeper) and juniors Dante Fuller (defender) and Carter Hilleary (midfielder). Clayton and Hilleary are fourth-year starters.
DeSales was 2-1 before playing Olentangy Berlin on March 26. The Stallions opened March 17 with a 6-5 loss to Chagrin Falls in the Ohio Machine High School Showcase at Fortress Obetz and followed that up with two nine-goal victories at home, defeating Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy 14-5 on March 19 and Cincinnati Walnut Hills 11-2 on March 23.
The Stallions went 19-3 overall last year, defeating Toledo Ottawa Hills 13-5 in the Division II state final to cap a dominant postseason in which four of their five games were decided by at least eight goals. The state championship was DeSales' first since 2012 and second in program history.
"Normally, you end the year on a loss. We didn't. It's having that mentality that you have to start all over again," 15th-year coach Matt Triplet said. "There is usually finality to a season after losing. Last year, winning on the note that we did, we have to remember that we're starting from ground zero and we need to build ourselves back up."
Hilleary, an Ohio State recruit, had 43 goals and 19 assists last season. Rickens added 38 goals and 22 assists, and those statistics are partly why Triplet expects the offense to be ahead of the defense early in the season. Rickens hopes to return this week after breaking his right ankle in late December.
Among the Stallions' losses to graduation were Jack DeSantis, the state Defender of the Year and first-team All-American who now plays at Maryland, and four-year starting defender Will Mnich and three-year starting long-stick midfielder Anthony Cua.
Fuller scored 25 goals last year as a midfielder.
"We have guys stepping up," Rickens said. "We have a great chemistry with Carter and Tommy. They've been playing together since who knows when. Thune is a great leader on defense. We have a lot of good experience, but a lot of guys are stepping up and being great, too."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Tim Anderson (defender), Dylan Canter (midfielder), Gio Cherichello (midfielder), Barron Froehlich (defender) and Max Irion (defender), juniors Jack Ayers (defender), Jack Denny (defender), Chris Fleisher (midfielder), Noah Swenson (defender/long-stick midfielder), Luke Weithman (midfielder) and Kyle Zevchik (goalie), sophomores Jackson Hartman (defender), Owen Kirk (defender), Kahleb Lang (midfielder), Mike LaPerna (midfielder), Keagan Lilienthal (midfielder), Andrew Mahle (midfielder), Kole Perrine (attacker/midfielder), Mikey Roach (midfielder), Nick Trostel (defender/long-stick midfielder) and Jason Velazquez (midfielder) and freshmen Jackson Carawan (attacker), Jackson Gantz (midfielder) and Maddox Rickens (midfielder).
Girls team trying to sustain success
In one respect, eighth-year girls lacrosse coach Joe Finotti knew a lot about his team entering the season, considering his top two scorers and both goalies returned from last year, when the Stallions won the Division II, Region 7 championship before losing in a state semifinal for the second consecutive season.
In another, the Stallions expected that early games against both of last year's Division I state finalists would reveal even more about their identity.
DeSales is 2-1 overall, having followed up a 10-9 loss to New Albany in their home and season opener March 16 with wins over Worthington Kilbourne, 17-12 on the road March 19, and four-time defending Division I state champion Upper Arlington, 8-5 at home March 21. The win over the Golden Bears snapped UA's 42-game winning streak and a string of 76 wins in a row against in-state opponents.
"We'll be able to look back at these performances and see how much we've progressed and see how much better we are and what we still need to work on," senior attacker Grace Lensmire said. "This will prepare us for anything we see later in the season."
Senior midfielder Sophia Finotti, a Cincinnati recruit, scored a team-high 78 goals last season and Lensmire had 60 goals and 49 assists, as the Stallions went 18-4 overall, 7-0 in the Central Independent League and 3-0 in the CCL and lost to Cincinnati Mariemont 15-14 in overtime in a state semifinal.
Other top returnees include seniors Greta Cargin (defender), Annie Hazelton (goalie) and Leah Richards (defender/midfielder) and sophomore Carmela Cua (goalie). Hazelton was injured during the preseason and hopes to return by early April.
"We've been together since our freshman year and that freshman class was so strong," said Sophia Finotti, who had a team-high 15 goals through three games. "A few of us were lucky enough to be on varsity that year and that helped us working so hard then and being able to see the field to help win a state championship (in 2016)."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Izzy Arbona (defender), Julia Bosco (attacker), Domenica Cua (defender) and Hannah Magold (attacker), juniors Erin Burns (defender), Lily Jones (midfielder), Audrey McPhaden (defender) and Liz Renken (midfielder), sophomores Lauren Clayton (attacker/defender), Delaney Harmon (midfielder), Bella Lomeo (attacker), Gabby Mahaffey (midfielder), Grace Nordmoe (defender) and Izzy Sauer (attacker/midfielder) and freshmen Gianna Cua (attacker/midfielder) and Ava Robey (attacker/midfielder).
DeSales will try to win its fifth consecutive CCL championship and fourth CIL title in a row beginning April 9, when it starts play in both leagues by playing host to Columbus School for Girls.
"We have a really good, solid, strong core group that is skilled," coach Finotti said. "We just need to develop strong role players to support them."
Girls basketball team to have new coach
Brian Cromwell will not return for his 10th season as girls basketball coach, he confirmed March 20.
According to Cromwell, he along with principal Dan Garrick and athletics director Tom Neubert informed the team March 19 of the administration's decision to seek a new coach.
"It's tough leaving, but it's been a lot of fun," said Cromwell, who went 119-94 overall and 37-30 in the CCL, sharing league championships in 2011-12 and 2012-13 and winning the outright title in 2013-14. "Of the eight CCL titles in program history, we won three of them. We accomplished a lot. I've worked with great groups of girls over the years. I'm going to miss and cherish all of those memories at the same time."
This past season, the Stallions went 6-17 overall and 1-6 in the CCL, losing to Upper Arlington 37-19 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
DeSales won a Division II district championship in 2011-12 and lost to Dayton Carroll in a regional semifinal.
Cromwell plans to continue as the football team's offensive coordinator, a role he has held for all but one season since 2007.
Below are the coming schedules for the DeSales baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:
March 28 -- Eastlake North at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
March 29 -- Chagrin Falls at Ripken Experience
April 3 -- At Pickerington North
March 28 -- At Waxhaw (N.C.) Marvin Ridge
March 29 -- At Wakefield (N.C.)
April 2 -- Home vs. Dublin Coffman
March 28 -- Richfield Revere at Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
March 29 -- Parma Padua at Ripken Experience
April 2 -- Home vs. Hilliard Davidson
*April 3 -- At Hartley
April 2 -- At Watkins Memorial
April 3 -- Home vs. Mount Vernon
TRACK & FIELD
April 3 -- At Olentangy Orange with Franklin Heights
April 1 -- At Westerville North
*April 2 -- Home vs. Watterson