PITTSBORO — If you’re interested in attending a skills clinic on ball movement, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to learn than Northwood High School during a men’s …
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PITTSBORO — If you’re interested in attending a skills clinic on ball movement, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to learn than Northwood High School during a men’s lacrosse game.
The Chargers racked up 12 assists in their 17-6 win over the Carrboro Jaguars on Tuesday night, a commanding victory that bodes well for Northwood as they head to the postseason as a wild card team.
“Everyone touch!” Chargers Head Coach Randy Cox could be heard yelling throughout the night. And that they would.
Northwood spent many of its possessions throwing the ball around in circles or semicircles, playing a 1-4-1 offense and methodically swinging the ball around until it was time for one of the Chargers’ attackers to, well, attack.
“If we have the ball, then we can control the pace of the game,” said Cox after the game. “And really get people in a place where they’re comfortable and they’re moving the ball and then we can go into our offense.”
Saying the Chargers controlled the game would be an understatement.
With around a minute remaining in the first quarter, Northwood took a 5-0 lead on a goal by sophomore attacker Taylor Laberge. Senior goalkeeper Hunter Klingel made a great save, then got into position and threw a beautiful, 65-yard pass downfield that landed right in Laberge’s stick as he went one-on-one with Carrboro’s goalkeeper for an easy score.
The Jaguars would tack on a goal with 12.1 seconds left in the period to avoid the first-quarter shutout, but the Chargers fired right back in the start of the second with four goals in the first 2 minutes, 42 seconds — two by Laberge, one by sophomore midfielder Will Smith and another by senior midfielder Kade Little — to take a 9-1 lead, that goal total already surpassing what Carrboro would score in the entire contest.
“I challenged the boys before the game that it wasn’t about whether or not we beat them, it wasn’t about how many goals we beat them by, it was more about our discipline as a team to make sure that when we had the ball, we managed the ball,” Cox said. “So I think I was impressed with the fact that they actually played the way we asked them to play.”
Jaguars’ sophomore goalkeeper Will Naismith was no match for Laberge, who was dialed-in all night long, acting as a powerful force near the net and scoring six goals in the first three quarters, many of which were from point-blank range just outside of the attack area.
Laberge is one of just five non-seniors on the Chargers’ roster, which is loaded with upperclassmen, many that are starters and massive contributors to Northwood’s success.
“I think it’s certainly a positive to have that many upperclassmen,” Cox said. “The game has so many different levels to it and so what we’re trying to do is, even with their skill level, to advance them even further to understand the game a bit more. So it certainly helps to have that level of skill from a stick-skill standpoint.”
In addition to its ball movement, Northwood’s aggressive defense was another standout point from the Chargers’ win, with defenders getting in midfielders’ faces immediately, interrupting passing lanes with their sticks and cross-checking Carrboro to force them to lose possession or miss out on loose ground balls.
Northwood out-shot Carrboro, 28-16, with Klingel making 10 saves compared to Naismith’s six, in part because the Chargers’ defense tightened up and rarely allowed the opposition to take shots.
“We want to go ahead and challenge them to move the ball,” said Cox. “We want to challenge them so that the ball ends up being on the ground and then we want to win the ground ball game.”
Cox wasn’t satisfied with parts of the Chargers’ passing game, most notably the few times a pass sailed just over a player’s head, out of reach. Even though they were playing the Jaguars, who ended the year with a 1-7 record after the loss, he said the team still needed to “elevate your game and play at a pretty high level,” which he doesn’t think they did consistently.
The Chargers led Carrboro, 17-4, at the end of the third quarter and wouldn’t score for the remainder of the contest. But in reality, they didn’t need to.
A day later, on Wednesday, Northwood visited the Apex Cougars, where it lost its last game of the regular season, 18-7.
Despite the non-conference loss, however, the Chargers (5-4 overall, 2-3 in the Conference-10) are poised to get into the playoffs as one of the 10 wild card teams in the East Region of the NCHSAA 1A/2A/3A playoffs. Seeding will be determined during the bracketing process on Saturday.
In preparation for the postseason, Cox explained his team needs to “play bigger,” being more confident in their size and their ability to move the ball. He wants them to eliminate any sloppiness he saw against Carrboro since they’ll be playing much tougher teams next week.
“Everything is really in preparation for what lies ahead,” Cox said. “Leave everything on the field, loser goes home. We have a talented group of upperclassmen. If they don’t play collectively as a team, we will all go home as a team.”