After reaching the Class AAAAAA semifinals last season, losing by two goals to eventual state champion Centennial, Saturday’s contest against undefeated Westminster will give Harrison coach Jeff Meese a better idea of where his team stands in the early portion of its schedule.
“Last year was an interesting year,” Meese said. “We had the good, the bad and the ugly. We went through so much and battled through a tough schedule, which I think helped us. We grew up as a team and hit our stride in the playoffs. We’re looking at this year as unfinished business after making the semifinals last year.”
Off to a 3-0 start, Harrison returned eight of 10 starters from last year’s 11-9 squad which won the Area 1AAAAAA championship. With four seniors among the starting lineup, Meese is confident that the Hoyas won’t have a drop-off in production.
“We’re bringing back a group of seniors that have a good taste of what it feels like to play and succeed at this level,” Meese said. “I’m in my second year as head coach, and they started with me on junior varsity. They’re a special group. They built this foundation. We have great leadership in those guys and they’ll carry us moving forward.”
Mitchell Barnes, entering his third year as the team’s starting goalkeeper, will anchor the defense, while offensive responsibilities will grow from several different sources.
“Defense has definitely been our bedrock at Harrison,” Meese said. “Ryan Ruff isn’t a vocal captain, but he’s a force and a great example of our spirit on defense.”
Harrison returned two offensive players who totaled more than 30 goals each last year, in Lucas Wittenberg and Zach Danneman. Wittenberg, a junior, had 35 goals and 23 assists, while the sophomore Danneman added 33 goals and 25 assists.
“It’s nice to have those guys back,” Meese said. “Our offense was evenly distributed, and by season’s end, we were great offensively as a team. I didn’t know who was scoring.”
Despite Wittenberg and Danneman’s scoring prowess, Meese expects the offense to continue to not focus on any one single player.
“This year, we have lots of kids doing different things,” Meese said. “I look at this team, and I see that it will be difficult to stop one guy. Our motto is to play team lacrosse and play the way we know how to play.”
Walton and Lassiter should also have strong playoff teams by season’s end. The Raiders are a perennial playoff squad every year, and the Trojans, the 2012 state runner-up, lost by one-point to Centennial in the quarterfinals. Lassiter will start a new goalkeeper, senior Parker Styles, and will be strongest at the midfield position.
Pope, Allatoona, Whitefield Academy and Kell all had success in Class A-AAAAA last season.
Pope returns nearly its entire team and expects to make another deep postseason run after consecutive runner-up finishes in 2011 and ’12.
“We have a pretty small senior class and we have key players at key positions all over the field,” coach Carl Pfaff said. “We have most of our starters back, including midfielders Liam Lynch and Jonny Sexton, and the team has the potential to make a good run.
“We’ve gotten off to a slow start, but once we get some wins under our belt and build on that, I think we’ll be peaking at the right time. We’re definitely a playoff caliber team.”
Whitefield Academy made the playoffs for the first time last season, going 15-4 on the year. The Wolfpack graduated a strong group of seniors, but return a solid core group of players.
“We had some success last year and we hope to build off that,” coach John Hunter said. “We have to develop our young players. They’re young and don’t have a lot of varsity experience. Hopefully, the guys will learn and grow and build an identity and good things will happen to us.”