Byrd lacrosse senior Andrew Gill glanced across the school’s new turf field, where the No. 3 seed Yellow Jackets will host No. 6 Catholic-BR on Friday in the state quarterfinals at 7 p.m..
If the undefeated Byrd squad takes care of business, they’ll travel down Youree Drive to Lee Hedges Stadium, host of the lacrosse state semifinals and championships beginning April 25.
So Gill sees no reason why the Yellow Jackets can’t break through for a state championship after losing in the semifinals this past season.
“We have a better facility, so there’s no more excuses. We have everything we need out here to get it done,” Gill said. “We have a lot of young guys who’ve stepped up to fill the spots of everybody who left.
“We didn’t make the playoffs two years ago, but that drove us to make it next year. We lost in the semifinals (last year), and that was so embarassing that we felt like we had to come out strong this year. Hopefully it’ll be different.”
One thing that’s different for this group of six senior starters is the absence of former coach Karl Mitchell, who died of a heart attack July of 2013 at the age of 48.
These seniors were sophomores then, but Colton Grant said the older players and coaches talk about Mitchell regularly.
“He’s definitely in our minds a lot,” said Grant, the leading scorer this season. “Even though we might get distracted during a 14-0 season, we always think back to the things he taught you.
“It’s something special, it’s something more to fight for. It was always something he wanted us to achieve and accomplish.”
Grant is part of an improved Byrd attack that has coach Michael Pabst, who coached with and knew Mitchell for more than a decade, excited that the Jackets can win a state title.
“This is the best attack that I’ve coached in a decade,” Pabst said. “The maturity and offseason work with the youth program and leagues in the summer and fall have really helped.
“The kids love it, and they’re picking up the sticks long before we start practice in January.”
Other impact players include Ross Mainous and Paul Van Hoy among of host of players that have increased Byrd’s depth.
Pabst attributes a growing youth program (Red River Youth Lacrosse Association started in 2012) to success of younger players to mix with the veterans.
He noticed successful programs in Texas when Byrd crossed the border to play lacrosse and more recently in South Louisiana, but the local area could be catching up.
“South Louisiana’s youth program was about three or four years ahead of ours … but our future is really bright,” Pabst said. “Not just our team, but that league is the reason we have South Bossier and Airline teams now.”
Other local lacrosse teams in the 10-team playoff include No. 8 Caddo Magnet (playing at No. 1 Jesuit) and No. 7 Loyola (playing at No. 2 St. Paul’s). Both local teams won play-in games to reach the main playoff bracket.
But if Byrd wins a state championship, the Yellow Jackets will be considered a “real” varsity sport by the school community.
“The fan base is way bigger than it had been,” Grant said about having access to a visible practice field where other students are taking notice. “People are actually talking about it now.
“It feels like we have a place now at the school instead of just being a lacrosse team.”
And that’s all Karl Mitchell ever wanted.