For the past six years, the Brighton boys lacrosse team has ruled the KLAA Lakes Conference. This year, the Bulldogs feel they can rule more. With the squad this season’s team has assembled, they have their eyes on ruling the state.
“We’re going to win a state championship,” said senior captain Ben Finnegan bluntly after a win earlier in the season over Howell.
Of course, there have been other years in which the Bulldogs believed this to be attainable. Having been successful for so long, they come into just about every season circling the state championship game. For whatever reason, it’s been more elusive than perhaps expected.
In fact, the Bulldogs have never played for a state title. They’ve never even played to go to the season’s final game. The furthest Brighton’s made it is the regional final, doing so twice and losing, most recently in 2013. As Finnegan’s confidence suggests, the team feels 2015 is when that all changes.
“We just need them to focus,” Brighton coach Renn Moon said. “We need them to work hard in practice and then we’ll be pretty happy with the results for sure.”
What’s different with the Bulldogs this year is that they might possess the best scoring attack in Brighton’s history. At least that’s how Moon sees it, as he said earlier in the year that his front-line trio of Finnegan, Dylan Mercier and Jake Derosiers is the best offensive-minded group he’s had a privilege of coaching.
The group’s ability to put up points — an ability that’s actually shared with talented midfielders such as Lee Conquest and Nick Brish — has helped cover up some of the weaknesses Brighton continues to work through, such as a defense still learning to play as a cohesive unity after all starters on that side departed from the 2014 squad.
Moon feels with more time, that weakness will become a strength. On Wednesday in what might prove to be the Lakes Conference championship game against Hartland — a game the Bulldogs won, 10-7 — he started to see it transform.
“We’ve really been struggling with transitions, getting the ball on the offense,” Moon said after the win. ‘We know when we can get the ball on the offense we can score. … We’ve had real trouble with transitions, but we did some things in practice to work on it … We were able to make those things happen so a much better showing by us.”
Hartland stands as Brighton’s main competition. But after the Eagles fell to the Bulldogs earlier this week to drop out of first place in the KLAA Lakes Conference, it appears they may have taken themselves out of contention.
Still, Garnet Potter’s squad — led by Ben Parks and Andrew Spisz — has the talent to pull off an upset should they get the opportunity to do so come late May at the Division 1 regionals.
Howell, meanwhile, has fallen off a bit after a hot start. The Highlanders entered Monday at 6-4 overall, but 2-2 in the conference and stuck in the bottom-half of the eight-team group.
“We started out on fire,” Howell coach Scott LaRente said. “We started out where we were playing at a really, really high level. Then we went on spring break and by hte time they came back, we didn’t play that week we came back from break very well. … But we’re getting back on track now.”
For the girls, the season started with the Lakes Conference being Hartland’s division to lose, and it continues to be shaping out that way. After defeating Brighton this past week, 16-6, the Eagles are in control at 4-0 in league play and well ahead of the pack.
Brighton is the next-closest team at 2-1, but it doesn’t appear anyone will be able to challenge Deanna Radcliffe’s group, which appears set to claim its third straight conference championship.
For Hartland, it seems the only questions remaining is if it will be able to overcome its youth and find its way back to at least the state semifinals, where the team’s season came to an end one year ago in a 15-14 loss to Ann Arbor Pioneer.
Radcliffe certainly considered that possible.
“I definitely do have very high expectations, “Radcliffe said.
The Bulldogs have similar hopes, but as first-year Brighton head coach Katie Kozlowski has noted several times, her team is also stocked with young players that in 2014 comprised the junior varsity unit.
Although rapidly maturing, those players, Kozlowski said, are just discovering what it’s like to play at the varsity level and adjusting their games accordingly. That will certainly pay dividends moving forward, but whether or not the Bulldogs will have progressed enough to reap the benefits this year for a postseason run is yet to be seen.
The 2011 state champs are not ruling it out.
“If they can really come together and keep going the pace that they are, I can see it,” Kozlowski said.
Contact Anthony Odoardi at email@example.com or (517) 204-9456.
■COACH: Renn Moon (2nd Year)
■LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 15-3 (1st in KLAA West)
■KEY RETURNERS: Nick Brish, Lee Conquest, Connor Konas, Ben Finnegan
■KEY NEWCOMERS: Blake Baker, Mitch Montagano, Ian Gilliard
■COACH’S OUTLOOK: “We’d like to win,” Moon said. “Our first priority is the conference and then the league and then the state championship. … We just need to play focused. We need to work hard in practice and if they work hard in practice, then we’ll be pretty happy with the results for sure.”
■COACH: Garnet Potter (1st Year)
■ LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 14-3 (2nd in KLAA West)
■KEY RETURNERS: Ben Parks, Andrew Spisz
■COACH: Scott LaRente (9th Year)
■LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-4 (3rd in KLAA West)
■KEY RETURNERS: Nick Pratt, Forest Baker, Alex Moyer, Tyler Vanshoick, Jake Swift
■COACH’S OUTLOOK: “We started out on fire,” LaRente said. “We started out where we were playing at a really, really high level. Then we went on spring break and by hte time they came back, we didn’t play that week we came back from break very well. … But we’re getting back on track now.”
■ COACH: Katie Kozlowski (1st Year)
■ LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-8 (2nd in KLAA West)
■ KEY RETURNERS: Amanda Archer
■ KEY NEWCOMERS: Jordan Bloch, Jessica Daniels, Shannon Walus
■ COACH’S OUTLOOK: “This year, I’m very confident,” Kozlowski said. “We have a young team that’s eager. We’ve only had a handful of practices so far, but they’re learning very fast. We’re going to exponentially progress throughout the season and get better each game.”
■ COACH: Deanna Radcliffe
■ LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 12-4 (1st in KLAA West)
■ KEY RETURNERS: Amy Longe, Annelise Kulpanowski, Danie Porath, Maddie Thornley, Alyssa Hopkins
■ KEY NEWCOMERS: Sam Campanella, Bella D’Arcy
■ COACH’S OUTLOOK: “We’re a very young team,” Radcliffe said. “We did lose a very good group of seniors last year that held the team together … but I think there’s definitely a lot of good talent, and the overall talent of the team has potential to be better.”