There's nothing LAX-adaisical about these guys!

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JF lacrosse program makes run for States

By Mike Forster


It's the little train that could.

Jefferson Forest High School's boys' lacrosse team has come a great ways since its humble beginnings.

Starting out as a twinkle in the eye, growing as a part of the Forest Youth Athletic Association until splitting off to become a club sport at the high school, the team has really hit its stride this year.

In fact, the team's stride is taking it all the way to Midlothian this weekend for the Club State Tournament.  Better yet, the team will arrive at the tournament as the top seeded team from its division.

"The biggest thing is, in our first year (of formally being a part of JF athletics), we showed financial profitability, that we were self-sustaining and we have a very good, young team," said Head Coach Jesse Bickel.  "We've surpassed our expectations."

While Jefferson Forest is well regarded (and rightly so) for its powerful baseball, softball, soccer, tennis and track programs, the lacrosse team is suddenly making some noise among those well-regarded springtime sports.

"From the start, we knew this season was going to be special," said Bickel.

The coach proved prescient when his charges topped club titan Hidden Valley in their first tilt of the season.  That victory was fueled by a Tommy Jennings goal with two seconds left in the contest. 

"That set the tone for the rest of the season," added Bickel.


Youth movement

Jennings, along with Matias Reed, are the only seniors on the 22-man roster.

There are 10 freshmen and sophomores, noted Bickel.  In lacrosse, a game of full-speed contact and flimsy padding, age is a factor.

Yet, the youngish Cavaliers have been able to hang with the big boys, as their 8-4 record reflects.

A good example of the team's effective youth comes in the form of goalie Noah Peltier.  A freshman, Peltier has been solid between the pipes, making 77 saves for the season.  

"He went from taking shots from 14- and 15-year-olds to taking them from 18-year-olds," said Bickel.

Sam Hunter is only a sophomore.  Yet, the young man is leading the team in scoring.  From his attack position, Hunter has scored 26 goals and dished out 37 assists.

The best part of it:  Hunter is not a transplant from Maryland or Long Island (or some other traditional hotbed for lacrosse).  He's from right here, a product of the Forest Youth Athletic Association's lacrosse program.

A third example of youth in action comes from Emory Willoughby.  A freshman, Willoughby has become the primo face-off man for the Cavs.

For the uninitiated, there is a face-off to start the game, as well as after each goal.

The referee places the ball between two opposing players' nets.  Through a mix of strength, hand speed and caginess, Willoughby has won 103 faceoffs this season.  That's a better than 50% success mark for the young man.


What's next?

The Cavs head to the State playoffs as the top-seeded team in its division.  That grouping includes clubs such as Cave Spring, Hidden Valley, Franklin County and others which have been a formal part of their school's athletic programs.

The JF team's success is a product of talent and effort on the field.  But, according to Bickel, parental involvement has been instrumental, as well.

Currently, as a club, its members are assessed a $150 pay-to-play fee.  Players are also responsible for fund raising.

They've obviously done a good job there, as the team is in the process of building its own field, located behind Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.

The building of that field should help alleviate concerns about the lacrosse program displacing JF's soccer teams from their field times.

"The goal is to be a VHSL-sanctioned team in 2016," said Bickel.

But the team has a shorter-term goal.

And that sits in Midlothian.