Whitefield follows script for success
by Carlton D. White
cwhite@mdjonline.com
April 14, 2013 12:02 AM | 1535 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One of the players who were around for the Whitefield lacrosse team’s fledgling start, senior attacker Preston Blair is now seeing the fruits of the program’s labor.
<Br>Staff photo by Kelly J. Huff
One of the players who were around for the Whitefield lacrosse team’s fledgling start, senior attacker Preston Blair is now seeing the fruits of the program’s labor.
Staff photo by Kelly J. Huff
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The success of Whitefield Academy’s boys lacrosse team has been scripted from the beginning.

It stems from a plan put in place by former athletic director John East five years ago.

Interested in seeing what sport or sports should be added at Whitefield, East and his staff had students fill out a survey, which led to some very telling results.

“We did a survey the year before and recognized the potential of having a middle-school (lacrosse) team,” said East, who later left Whitefield and is now the football coach at the Walker School. “We saw the numbers. There were a number of players in youth-league lacrosse that would allow us to field a team.

“So the next year, in 2009, we started a middle-school lacrosse team. We had about 25 guys, mostly eighth- and seventh-graders on the team that first year, and we had a pretty successful season.”

East was the coach that first season, and he remained on board the next two years as the program shifted to junior varsity in 2010, to its first varsity campaign in 2011.

Currently in its third varsity season, Whitefield is ranked among the top 10 in Class A-AAAAA, 11-2 overall and riding an eight-game winning streak. Attempting to make the state playoffs for the first time, the Wolfpack are second with a 5-1 record in Area 1A-AAAAA and in control of their own destiny with three area games remaining.

“That was the plan,” East said. “We saw the interest and passion those kids had for the sport, and the plan was to get them to this point in five years.

“The current junior and senior classes were with me for that first season in middle school, and I’m really proud of how this has worked out for them. I’m still close to a lot of them. They’re having a phenomenal year, and coach (John) Hunter is doing a fantastic job. He’s taken the program to the next level.”

In his second season at the helm, Hunter has transformed a young, but talented, four-win varsity team into a unit that finished last season 11-5 overall and one game under .500 in area play. The veteran lacrosse coach started the program at Harrison, where he coached for 16 seasons, and he also spent two seasons as the coach at Allatoona.

Entering the 2013 season, Hunter felt like Whitefield had the potential to be successful, as long as the players put in the hard work in the offseason. It also helped that last year’s team won its final seven games.

“I felt like we could be competitive,” Hunter said. “The kids took things to heart, doing stuff own their own time in the offseason to get better without me getting on them about it. I thought we had the talent, and since the kids embraced their talent, that told me that we could do something special this year.

“We’re still in that process, so it’s not a done deal yet, but we’re blessed and fortunate to be in this position. These kids are committed and want to make lacrosse as a viable program at Whitefield. Unity, focus and passion have been the keys for us this year, and the guys want to do what they said they wanted to do and be a part of something special.

“I have great kids and a great coaching staff. I’m just along for the ride.”

Senior attackers Preston Blair and Dallas Darling have played important roles on offense, while senior midfielder Max Rieves and senior defenders Brennan Saul and Chris Washington have helped build the Wolfpack’s transition game into a point of pride. Senior goalkeeper Matt Milburn has been strong in the net, allowing only 10 or more goals in a game three times this year.

“We like to transition as much as possible and set up like a fast-break team,” Hunter said, “but we’re smart enough to work the ball around to take good shots. Our defense sets our tempo. They’re an aggressive unit that works well together.”

“Our defense has definitely been clicking, and that leads to us having good transitions,” Darling added. “We’re hustling for ground balls and causing turnovers, and that effort on defense leads to our offense.

“We lost a lot last year, but the guys that came back have stepped up, and other guys have pulled their weight, too. Guys worked really hard during the offseason. We’ve bonded as a team, and we feel like we’ll keep getting better.”

Two of Whitefield’s final three area opponents have a combined record of 5-16, so if the Wolfpack can take care of business and win twice, they would guarantee themselves a state playoff berth.

“I’d be at a lack of words if we make the state playoffs,” Darling said. “It would be awesome to have that legacy, especially as seniors. We were the first to have a team, and to be the first to make state would be incredible for us.”
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