The Northwood boys lacrosse team’s standout season has been a long time coming.
In fact, following the Chargers’ 18-7 win over Seaforth last Thursday — which improved Northwood to 11-1 overall — senior defender Taylor Zelhof noted that the root of this year’s success dates back before most of the team was even in high school.
“We’ve been playing for like six years, most of us, together since 6th grade,” he said. “The chemistry on this team is unreal. It’s the best we’ve had in my four years here. I feel like we all know each other’s tendencies and what we want — and we just want to win.”
From the first face-off Thursday, the seamless connection between the Chargers was on full display. In the game’s initial period, Northwood found the back of the cage six times. One quarter later, its goal total had already jumped into the double digits.
Yet, despite the Chargers finding success near the crease early and often, Seaforth clawed its way back. The Hawks registered five goals of their own in the first two quarters of play, including a first-half hat trick from sophomore attackman Cameron Exley.
In the first meeting between the two teams this year in mid-March, the Hawks only scored four goals. It was that stark difference in goals allowed that prompted Zelhof to remind his back unit of a point of emphasis they have preached throughout the year.
“One thing we’ve been trying to work on is playing really tight and having communication,” Zelhof said. “In the first half we didn’t talk.”
As Northwood’s defense regained its confidence out of the halftime break, the Chargers continued to pick apart Seaforth on the attacking end. For a squad that’s seen 10 different players score goals this season, the unit is undoubtedly headlined by seniors Will Smith, Taylor Laberge and Jason Walden — who have combined for 88 goals and 38 assists this season.
The trio served as Northwood’s top scorers last year, but all three have upped their play in their respective senior seasons.
Most importantly — like most of Northwood’s roster this season — the three seniors have played with each other for multiple years.
“They carry the mail for us and they’re great leaders,” head coach Randy Cox said. “We’ve tried to emphasize that since they were at the (Chatham) Cardinals. They’ve been a part of the Northwood program for the last four years.”
The Chatham Cardinals are the name of teams run by North Chatham Youth Lacrosse, which offers leagues and camps for boys in kindergarten all the way through 8th grade. According to its website, NCYL — which is run out of Chapel Hill — is “dedicated to promoting the game of lacrosse in Chatham County and surrounding areas.”
Smith serves as the shifty midfielder who can attack any defender in space. Laberge and Walden, on the other hand, feed off one another to form a potent duo in Northwood’s attack. Laberge’s laser-quick release allows him to fire heaters from upwards of 10 meters out, while Walden’s ability to probe and spin from behind the cage helps him create short-range opportunities.
Both Walden and Laberge found the back of the net within the first four minutes of the third quarter, leading the way in a second half that saw Northwood outscore Seaforth by a dozen points.
According to Zelhof, many of the Chargers are simply “cherishing” their final year together as Northwood hits the home stretch of the regular season. The Chargers hope the next several weeks bring them more late-season success than they had last spring, when they lost in the first round, 12-10, to conference foe Williams.
But for a team that has already won 11 games — one shy of the program record of 12 set back in 2018 — its core of players who have spent almost a decade together just want to make the most of their final games as teammates.
“We’ve never been in this position before,” Zelhof said. “We’re just enjoying the ride while it lasts.”