The Windermere High School boys varsity lacrosse team was crowned Class 2A, District 5 champion for the third connective year after defeating West Orange High 8-4 Thursday, April 13.
For head lacrosse coach Darren Fixler, that was the most rewarding moment of the Wolverines’ 2022-23 season.
“When you play West Orange, you want to win that game,” he said. “The (boys) were very focused in the two times that we played (the Warriors) this year. And that’s why you play games and you play sports — to win championships. And so, although it’s not the most important thing — and we try to teach a lot of life lessons in lacrosse — you’re out here to win games. So, it’s always rewarding when you can lift a trophy at the end of the year.”
With four district championship titles in the last five years — 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023 — and two regional runners-up finishes in 2021 and 2022, the Wolverines boys lacrosse team has cemented itself as one of the most dominant in the area.
“I told these kids: ‘It doesn’t matter what happens in the playoffs. When you lift that trophy, nobody could ever take that moment from you,’” Fixler said. “That trophy case will always be in there. So, when you are my age, and you come back to high school and you look at it, you’ll say, ‘Oh, those were our three district championships.’ So I try to tell them, cherish your memories when you are in high school because it goes fast.”
For senior attacker and co-captain Luke Briggs, 18, this season was a surprising one given the team lost 11 seniors to graduation last year.
“It was a big change, because we lost a lot of seniors last year, so we didn’t know how our team would do (this season),” he said. “And then, we saw the group of guys, we went out there, we got it, and we ended up being a pretty good team this season.”
Adapting to a new offensive team altogether and having many new players on the team this year also played a huge part in the team’s success, according to junior defense Max McGonnell, 17.
“Adapting is always a little scary, because you think, ‘I don’t know what we are going to do. We just lost those players. I don’t know how we are going to be good again,’” he said. “But I think once we stuck it out in (our) long practices trying to get these guys better and coach them up as much as you can, then eventually (we all) rise to the occasion and get better.”
Unfortunately, the Wolverines recently exited the postseason play after losing to Viera High School 7-6 Wednesday, April 19.
“Everybody wants to go further, and I obviously wanted to go further,” McGonnell said. “But holding that district championship trophy is something special, and I’m hoping to get it next year too.”
For senior defense and co-captain Alex Garcia, 18, this season is bittersweet; he won’t play another game alongside the team that saw him grow into the person he is today.
“When I was a freshman, I remember coming here to Windermere, and I really didn’t know my path,” he said. “The coaches and the program developed me off the field, (kept) me a good person, developed me as a man and (have really helped me grow into a better) person off the field and keeping right in school. And then, that kind of picked up on the field and it just made me more fundamental, because of what my off-the-field habits were.”
This year, the team is losing its entire starting defense to graduation — about 11 more players — so the team will soon enter a reloading phase to continue its success.
“There (are) guys (who) can step in to take that leadership role,” Fixler said. “People want to beat us when they play us now, because we’ve made a pretty good name for ourselves in lacrosse. … We got to just try to keep the expectations. Like we always say, ‘The first goal of the year is to win districts, and then everything after that is gravy, so we want to lift that first trophy and then you never know what could happen in the playoffs.”
The one word Garcia would describe his team this year: resilient.
“There were times when you go down against some really good teams, and you just didn’t quit,” he said. “We’d be down by a couple of goals, and there was no quitting. We kept fighting back, kept grinding. No one pointed fingers, and I think that’s what brought us so far (this season). … Even when people were hurt or not knowing what they were doing, they were just fighting and working — a resilient team that wouldn’t give up.”