Nike/US Lacrosse Boys' South Season Rewind
by Laurel Pfahler | LaxMagazine.com
Year-End Top 10
1. Lake Highland Prep (Fla.), 20-5
2. St. Mark's (Texas), 18-3
3. St. Andrew's (Fla.), 20-4
4. Episcopal Dallas (Texas), 15-7
5. Dallas Jesuit (Texas), 14-3
6. Benjamin (Fla.), 17-3
7. Highland Park (Texas), 14-3
8. Ponte Vedra (Fla.), 21-3
9. Centennial (Ga.), 19-3
10. Louisville Trinity (Ky.), 17-1
South Player of the Year
Bear Goldstein, St. Mark's (Texas)
With his team trailing 6-1 in the state championship game, the Lions' senior defender begged his coach to put him on the wing for faceoffs — promising to collect every ground ball and predicting a win if he did so.
Goldstein delivered on his promise and St. Mark's bounced back to beat Episcopal Dallas (Texas) 8-7 in overtime for its first-ever state championship.
Goldstein collected 10 ground balls in that game and proved to be a fit to opposing offenses all season. While always marking the opponent's top player, he finished with a whopping 128 ground balls and 78 caused turnovers this season, an average of 6.1 ground balls per game and 3.7 forced turnovers.
The two-time first-team US Lacrosse All-American led a team best known for its solid defense. St. Mark's did not allow anyone to score in the double digits, and the Lions gave up more than five goals just twice during an 11-game win streak to end the season. Goldstein also sparked the offense, exemplified when he forced a crucial turnover that led to a transition goal for the game-winner against Westlake in the state quarterfinals.
Goldstein, who is signed to play at Princeton University, has a decorated resume that extends beyond this season. A three-time All-State selection and four-time All-Southwestern Preparatory Conference pick, he was chosen as one of 40 of the top underclassmen in the nation last year to play in ESPN High School's Warrior 40 — one of just three players representing the South Region.
Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) coach Chris Spaulding knew his team could do something special when he saw the Highlanders play national powerhouse Boys' Latin (Md.) to within four goals.
It would have been easy to doubt that after they dropped their fourth loss in nine games after a 9-7 decision against Benjamin (Fla.) on March 16.
Senior Billy Roll reminded Spaulding of his original impressions, though, and Lake Highland Prep went on to claim its second state title in three years, winning 15 of its last 16 games.
"He came to me and said, 'We're 5-4, but I feel more confident we're going to win it this year than in the past,'" Spaulding recalled. "I think that was a pretty cool observation that we weren't that far off — we just weren't executing some things. We went on a 15-1 run, so he was pretty accurate in his assessment."
The one loss during that last stretch came against nationally-ranked Calvert Hall (Md.), a 10-6 loss on April 2.
The Highlanders did not allow more than seven goals in any game after that, including an 8-7 win over St. Andrew's, the region's No. 1 team at the time, in the state championship.
"We played amazing team defense," Spaulding said. "We gave up something like  goals the whole seven-game postseason."
Casey Irish was a big part of that defense, finishing with 57 ground balls and 22 takeaways. He was tasked with staying on St. Andrew's leading scorer Conor Whipple (96 goals) in both meetings this season and limited him to one goal over those two games, as the team's traded wins.
The Highlanders had a plethora of standouts who combined to make Lake Highland the "special team" Spaulding believed in. Senior Clay Phillips led the team in scoring with 71 goals and 32 assists, and Roll, named the Orlando Sentinel's Central Florida Player of the Year, added 57 goals and 70 assists for a school-record 127 points. Max Parker dominated face offs, winning 74.4 percent of the 441 he took, and Florida Dairy Farmers Player of the Year Devon Lewis was a beast in the midfield while chipping in 44 goals and 27 assists.
Spaulding said Lake Highland had the talent all along but learned from its mistakes in its five close losses this season.
"They figured it out and worked hard, and that was a tough schedule," Spaulding said. "It was a difficult task. Playing those tough games like Boys' Latin and Calvert Hall, losing some games early and finding a way to bounce back paid off. They put it together down the stretch."
Lake Highland arguably played its best game in the state championship, something Spaulding knew the Highlanders needed in order to beat perennial power St. Andrew's, who had won state titles in 10 of the previous 12 seasons.
The Highlanders had beaten the Scots in the 2011 state championship — their first ever win over St. Andrew's — but lost to them in last year's final.
The 2013 championship was a back-and-forth battle as expected, but Lewis scored the go-ahead goal with about six minutes left and forced a turnover in the final seconds to seal the win.
"It's a testament to our kids and the effort they put in," Spaulding said. "When got that first one we had yet to beat St. Andrew's, so it was a big monkey off our back, then we turned around and lost to them last year in the championship so to come back and win it with this group was truly special. Our seniors finish 60-9 with three state final appearances and two titles. That says a lot about them and how far the program has come."
Note: The Nike/US Lacrosse Regional rankings will not necessarily reflect the same order as the Nike/US Lacrosse National Top 25 poll, which is voted on by US Lacrosse area representatives and Lacrosse Magazine contributors. LM contributors compile the regional rankings.
This concludes the season-long look at the boys' South region.