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Schools of Thought: Johnstown boys’ lax at square one

March 30, 2009
By Bill Cain, The Leader-Herald

Forget Dodgeball, I've got your true underdog story right here.

The Johnstown boys' lacrosse program is about to start a very important season.

The amount of talent that graduated last year, this spring's short roster and the district's decreasing population all are lining up against the program.

Kevin Hunt wasn't the only key loss for this team, but when one player owns the school records for career goals (139), career assists (57), single-game goals (8) and single-game assists (8), it's hard to say goodbye. He's playing his college lacrosse at Division-II St. Michael's College in Vermont this spring.

Consider the Sir Bills also lost Steve Gifford and Phil Satterlee, two of their secondary scoring threats, along with the Tank that was David Sagan.

During one game last season, Johnstown coach Eric Laugen yelled from the sideline, "Sagan, we need Rambo."

The request prompted a change in Sagan's game, sending him careening through - and running over - the opposing defense to the net.

The lost offense will have to be replaced in a hurry. Laugen said midfielders Justin Salvione, Jeff Roth and J.J. Murray are the best bet to do it, but must learn a little more about the team-oriented style of attack instead of one-on-one run and gun.

It remains to be seen whether Laugen can get the offense up and running in time for Friday's opener at Knox Field against Greenwich, a Section II Class C rival. However, he is welcoming the challenge.

Laugen said with just 15 players on the roster and the amount of departed talent, the success of the 2009 team depends on how well he can build it up from scratch. He said he's excited to see what he can do as a coach.

Some have been critical of Laugen after seeing Hunt run huddles during timeouts, but I never had a problem with that. Hunt played in the offseason against and with many of the top players in Section II. He knew their tendencies more than most coaches were likely to know them.

Also, there is such a thing as overcoaching. Especially if you've got a knowledgeable player who steps into a leadership role, it is advantageous to all involved to let that leader lead.

Now, though, it will be Laugen in the middle of every huddle. Now we do get to see what he's really made of.

That doesn't mean if he wins a lot he's great and if he loses a lot he stinks. That's not how coaching works on the high school level.

The tell-tale factor is whether he makes this team better as the season goes on, especially during the first few weeks of the season when the newcomers get to play real games and catch up to the speed of varsity lacrosse.

Another year with a short roster means another year of contending with injuries, academic ineligibility and illness while trying to field a full team. Injuries will happen, but will likely happen less often if the team is well-conditioned before the first faceoff.

Another year with a short roster also means local interest in lacrosse is not exactly booming. The Greater Johnstown School District offers more sports programs than any other local district, but is facing a dwindling population, down 24 percent in the last decade. I would not be surprised if, in the next few years, especially if the current economic climate prevails, the district has to drop a few sports programs. If that happens, sports with low numbers will get a long, hard look.

I'd hate to see lacrosse get the ax for a couple reasons. First, it would stink for those kids who still want to play.

My second and more selfish reason is I really enjoy watching lacrosse. I think if more people checked it out, they would, too. Maybe then the sport would grow a little quicker in Section II.

I think the term underdog is often applied a little too frivolously. Many times, the team labeled "underdog" just hasn't had an opportunity to show what it is capable of when it's up against it.

I'm hoping this is the case with Johnstown lacrosse and they can get past the roadblocks now in front of them.



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