‘How the South was won’

Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: IRHS lacrosse coaches and captains celebrate a belated victory. Pictured, from left, are: co-captains Griffin McCormick and Hayden McWilliams, head coach Jim Dietsch, and co-captains Gianni Gottschalk and George ‘G-Mart’ Martin with the Henlopen South trophy.Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: IRHS lacrosse coaches and captains celebrate a belated victory. Pictured, from left, are: co-captains Griffin McCormick and Hayden McWilliams, head coach Jim Dietsch, and co-captains Gianni Gottschalk and George ‘G-Mart’ Martin with the Henlopen South trophy.They were even in the categories of division record, head-to-head record and head-to-head points differential. They even had an edge by holding one more win in the category of record overall.

So, considering the evenness, it was odd when the Indian River High School boys’ lacrosse team saw the bid to the 2017 Henlopen Conference Championship game and automatic ticket to the DIAA state tournament go to rival Milford after a committee decided to defer to “record against common opponents” for the official Henlopen South division tie-breaker late last month.

For the team’s 12 soon-to-be graduating senior leaders — who, during the pre-season, had made it their own personal business to bring home the school’s first-ever division title for lacrosse — the news was admittedly hard to take in as they hung up their cleats for what would be the final time in green and gold.

“I remember walking out of school on the second-to-last day with Hayden [McWilliams], pretty disappointed,” said George “G-Mart” Martin of the day he received the news. “Honestly, we just wanted to play Milford again.”

“I’ll be honest with you — I was sad,” added McWilliams. “That one hurt.”

Despite their disappointment, the Class of 2017 took some solace in the fact that they had made history for the lacrosse program at IR, because, undeniably, they had.

During the course of the 2017 season alone, the team had helped set new school records and made program firsts that included but were not limited to:

• Best overall record (10-5),

• Best start to a season (7-0) and longest win streak (7)

• Best division record (5-1),

• Most All-Conference selections (five: Martin, McWilliams, Joey Ciriello, Sam Nitz, Griffin McCormick)

• Most and first-ever All-State selections (Martin and Nitz)

• Most and first-ever Blue-White All-Star selections (Martin and McWilliams)

• Most points in a season (244) and highest-scoring team in the state for 2017,

• Highest points-scorer in a season and highest points-scorer in the state for 2017 (Martin, 125),

• First 300-career-points scorer and most career points (Martin, 309)

• Best face-off percentage during a season (Nitz, 71 percent)

• Most career all-time saves (McWilliams, 729), and

• The school’s first-ever Bob Scott Award recipient (Gianni Gottschalk, 2017).

In fact, by the end of the season, being able to hang a Henlopen South Championship lacrosse banner in the school’s gymnasium was about the only milestone still left unturned.

Or so they thought.

It was almost a month after the initial ruling that the Henlopen Conference committee delivered some different news, officially naming the Indians co-Henlopen South champions, along with Milford, for the 2017 season.

“They talked about it early on, and then nothing came of it,” said IR head coach Jim Dietsch of the decision. “The good thing is we kept saying we wanted to make history, and we did. When they put that banner up in the gym, it won’t say ‘co-‘ on it. I was co-national champs at Maryland, with Hopkins, and it just says, ‘National Champs.’ You look in their books, it says ‘National Championship’ there, too.”

“I am so proud of the boys and the program,” said IR Athletic Director Todd Fuhrmann. “Very well-earned and deserved. Thank you to the coaches, the parents and the boys for a great season.”

While the Indians would have still rather been able to represent the South in the Henlopen Conference championship game and DIAA playoffs, being able to check off one more program-first and pre-season goal from their list further solidifies the legacy of this year’s senior class and sets a new bar for the future of lacrosse at IR.

“We’re definitely still excited to get to add the first banner for lacrosse in the gym,” said McWilliams. “Hopefully, it’ll be the first of many and it just helps propel the program forward.”

“We’re obviously upset that we didn’t get to play for the title, but at the same time it is nice to get some sort of recognition for what we did this year,” added Martin.

“I know everyone put in a lot of hard work, and to come out with a trophy — coach said it best, ‘It just says ‘champions’ on it.’ It’s better to look at it halfway-full than half-empty, because, at the end of the day, we did what we set out to do.”

Next season, the Indians return not only Dietsch and offensive coach Dave Spencer, defensive coach Shane Forrey and face-off coach Arian Curcio, but several key contributors from the 2017 squad ready to step up to help defend the title in 2018.

The team is slated to return All-Conference attackmen Cole Josetti and Wyatt Kovatch for their senior seasons, as well as attackman Garrett Bomhardt, midfielder Dylan Sopko, and defensemen Patrick Spencer, Ethan Forrey and John “J-Mart” Martin. Rising junior goalkeeper Sam Miltner will take over for McWilliams, with several eighth-graders with lacrosse experience expected to join the squad as well, as freshmen. With local youth programs, such as Tribe, and Sharp Shooter Lax Camps starting to take off, the team’s graduating seniors were more than hopeful regarding the future of the program.

“As we’ve built over the last four years, we obviously had our setbacks, but we’ve come together as a team and as a program. We’ve really started to see some true lacrosse players on the team,” said McWilliams. “With the work Coach [Dietsch] has done with the youth program and everything, obviously he wants to push the program forward, and I think the [lacrosse] culture around this area is starting to change.”

“We’re losing a ton of seniors, but we’ve still got a lot of talent on this team. Hopefully, they’ll stick together and keep the IR tradition strong,” added Martin, going on to note the leadership from Dietsch.

“As much as these medals and this trophy is for us, it’s also for him. He’s put a ton of work into us, and I know we’re all grateful for that. Hopefully, the younger guys understand that as well — he’s just a guy that you want to go out there and play for.”

While the seniors are confident in the program’s future behind the leadership of Diestch, he said he’ll miss the leadership of the seniors leaving their legacy on the program.

“They’re the core. They’re the backbone of the team. They’re leaders. You can always count on them, and you can always count on them to do the right thing,” said Dietsch. “They’re just character kids and great lacrosse players, and that’s what we’re trying to do here — develop great lacrosse players and better people.”