Three seniors. Thirteen juniors. Four sophomores. Five freshmen.
That was the breakdown of last year’s opening day roster for the Southern Regional boys lacrosse team.
The Rams were supposed to go through a rebuilding season with so much youth on their roster. But that didn’t happen. Southern embraced its youth and turned in the best season in school history.
Now seventh-year coach John Pampalone wants to shift the theme of the program.
“There is definitely a little bit more pressure this year coming into the season because there are expectations. I think we caught some people off guard last year who really didn’t know what we had because we were so young in certain spots,” said Pampalone, who has a career record of 47-39. “We are marked this year. I think we are considered one of the better teams in the Shore Conference and every day we come we are going to have a target on our back.”
The Rams debut as the second-ranked team in the Asbury Park Press boys lacrosse top 10 behind top-ranked and defending Shore Conference Tournament champion Rumson-Fair Haven, which is the favorite to win the SCT again. According to Pampalone, the Rams have copied former Jackson Memorial coach Nick Caruso’s blueprint by building up the school district’s youth program, hoping one day it will reap benefits at the high school level.
“Lacrosse has become something that kids at Southern Regional and in this area want to compete in,” Pampalone said. “We get a lot of athletes that come into Southern Regional that may not have played before but want to make the transition over to lacrosse because the game has become so popular. Also, our success over the three or four years has really contributed to that.”
Last year was a remarkable year for the program. The Rams went 17-4 overall and 7-1 in Class A South. They finished one game behind division champion Jackson Memorial, which will be one of their top rivals for the division title this season.
But the success didn’t stop there.
Southern was the No. 5 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament and advanced to the semifinals for the first time. However, the Rams lost to top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven 12-6 in the semifinals.
“I think this year’s team is capable of a lot. We are looking to compete for our division title with Jackson Memorial and Toms River East probably being our main competition. We would love to at least get back to the SCT semifinals. We would love to make it to the SCT finals and win the whole thing but that depends a lot on matchups as we go into the SCT. And now with the new state alignment, we feel we can compete for an NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV crown.”
This year, Pampalone has 16 key returning players highlighted by senior captains defenseman Nick Jinks, attackman Tyler Lipositz, midfielder Al Manzo and defenseman Frank Thissen.
“We want to overpower teams with our defense because we are very experienced group,” Thissen said. “We also want our offense to finish when they get opportunities.”
That shouldn’t be a problem as sophomore attackman Dylan Jinks (52 goals, 30 assists in 2012), Lipositz (31 goals, 41 assists) and junior attackman Brendan Mullen (38 goals, 19 assists) are back to lead the offense.
The Rams hope they have the right formula of experience and talent that will translate into some of their goals this season.
“We want trophies. Shore Conference and NJSIAA. We want big wins,” Manzo said. “Every game is always a big game and you can’t take any opponent lightly.”
With this year’s roster featuring 14 seniors, four juniors and five sophomores, the Rams should be focused on achieving their goals this season.