Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
On the surface, a final record of 5-10 might not seem like something to celebrate.
But in retrospect, the Strongsville boys lacrosse team will surely look back at the 2015 season with a sense of accomplishment.
The Mustangs took a huge step this past season, competing for the first time as an official varsity team. The program was promoted from club status a year ago thanks to a vote of the Strongsville School Board.
Former club team assistant coach Adam Wiggins was named head coach, and the Mustangs embarked on their new journey.
"It was pretty monumental to come under the wing of the athletic department, and for a lot of these kids, to win a varsity letter," said Wiggins, a former player at Medina and a graduate of Loyola University in Chicago.
"Last year's seniors started our youth program," Wiggins continued. "They were the first group to go all the way through. They just missed having varsity status by one year.
"But in terms of growing this sport and, more specifically, growing this sport in Strongsville, this will give us a lot more utilities. We'll have a lot more ammunition than we've had before, like better fields, nicer goals and more people involved," he said.
The historic 2015 season got off to a good enough start. Strongsville opened up at Pat Catan Stadium on March 28 with a 12-3 win over Cardinal Mooney. The Mustangs followed that up with another home win, 13-8, over the Eastlake Lacrosse Club.
Things got a bit tougher after that, however, as the Mustangs dropped their next eight games. It started with a 15-6 loss to Massillon Jackson and included a tough 5-4 loss at Rocky River in which Strongsville lost a fourth-quarter lead.
But through it all, Wiggins said his players hung tough.
"If you look at the season from a 30,000-foot view, it probably doesn't look too good," Wiggins said. "We were 5-10, so it was a tough year.
"But we had two freshmen goalies, and you could see their growth as the season went on. Our freshmen and sophomores, who made up the bulk of this team, got got exponentially better as well. And our seniors, despite having a bad season, were still setting up the team for success in the future.
"Everybody showed up, everybody worked hard and put in their reps. You couldn't tell we were having a losing season. You never would have known by watching them work," he added.
The Mustangs' work ethic and persistence paid off. They broke the losing streak with a 17-7 win over Cleveland Heights, then came right back with a strong 13-7 victory over a solid Brunswick squad.
Strongsville dropped a narrow 19-18 decision at Wooster, but returned home to defeat Benedictine 10-7 in the regular season finale. The season concluded in the first round of the OHSLA playoffs with a 19-7 loss at Medina.
Seniors on this year's team were Sam Sherman, Ron Farah, Robbie Berardi, Greg Heiser, Josh McLean, Matt Reddinger and Eli Homan.
Berardi, a midfielder, had 31 goals, 45 assists and 227 ground balls while winning 74 percent of his face-offs. He earned first team regional honors and will continue his playing career at the University of Indianapolis this fall.
Sophomore Zach Delisio led the Mustangs in scoring with 64 goals while dishing out 25 assists. He had five assists in the win over Brunswick and earned honorable mention honors in the region.
Mason Reynolds, one of two juniors on the team, returned from a foot injury just in time to help the Mustangs push past Brunswick. He and fellow junior James Napoli will be back next spring to lead the team into its second varsity campaign.
As the season went along, Wiggins said there were obvious differences from club status and being a full-fledged varsity sport.
"It was great this year to have the support, use of the facilities and the trainers," Wiggins said. "It was awesome. It was a big step.
"As a first-year program, the biggest challenge was just kind of finding your spot in the Strongsville athletic order," Wiggins said. "I was probably low man on the totem pole, which was fine. I had to figure out how to work within the system, where before there was no system. It was just me.
"Now there are five or six other spring sports, with lacrosse being the smallest of all of them now. But it was the smallest with the highest liability. Other than pole vaulting, lacrosse is the highest liability sport. Then there was field use. We had our practice field moved a number of times because they didn't anticipate what we do to a field.
"In football, the action is all in one spot, where as we pretty much tear up the whole field. Plus it's a spring sport, so it's always wet. The creases are always messed up, the face-off area is messed up, the box in and out is just destroyed. We were pond hopping from field to field," he said.
What was the biggest noticeable difference in gaining varsity status?
"The trainers," said Wiggins, without hesitation.
"With a team of 22, we had one player tear an ACL the first day of practice, then we lost another player after that with an injury. So we we were running a varsity team, with no junior varsity, with around 18-19 players. Half of them were in the trainers room practically all day.
"Without the trainers, we probably would of had a team of 14 players, which is nearly impossible to be successful with. At that point, I had to structure practice completely different because I didn't want to push them too hard and get more guys hurt.
"Our trainers were lifesavers. Absolutely lifesavers," he said.
The next step, according to Wiggins, is to bring more players into the program.
"It was a tough season, but we still had fun," Wiggins said. "We had a blast. And we're hoping those kids go out and recruit more of their friends to come join us.
"We want to increase the numbers and get a junior varsity team going. Once we get to 30 to 35 kids in the program, we can do that."
Wiggins felt that having varsity status would also convince more home-grown lacrosse players to stay home and play for the Mustangs.
"Right now, we lose a lot of players to the private schools," he said. "I think we had something like 15 incoming freshmen, and we only wound up with six.
"So, I'm hoping that building this within the reputation of the schools and its athletics will get people to say 'I don't need to go to St. Edward or St. ignatius.' People will send their kids where they want, but we're hoping to keep a few more here at home," he said.
Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from the Brunswick-Strongsville game: