Lacrosse: Wesleyan boys still young, still contenders

ajc.com

Most Wolves’ offensive weapons return next year as team eyes first state title

If it seems the Wesleyan Wolves have been young for years, it’s because they have. Attack Lawson Jones, who leads the team with 51 goals, is a three-year starter, yet only a junior. Another attack, Jameson Meyer – second on the team with 41 goals – is a freshman. Of their top four in points scored, none are seniors.

The good news for them is that despite being younger, the Wolves are state title contenders. Ranked No. 2 in 1A-5A, the Wolves are 14-1, 4-1 in Area 1. Though they’ve never won a state title, on Thursday they can take home the unofficial 1A championship against No. 6 Fellowship Christian in the Gannon Cup, an in-season tournament among 1A schools that’s at least seven years in the running, according to Wolves coach Connor Breslin.

A 2011 graduate of Wesleyan, Breslin played for the Wolves and Birmingham Southern before launching the Mount Pisgah program in 2017. He returned to Wesleyan to coach his alma mater in 2020.

“We're jacked up for the playoffs. We truly believe we have a chance to win it all, and we're excited for that opportunity."

- Wolves coach Connor Breslin

Though it’s the non-seniors leading the offense, there are plenty of senior contributors.

“We actually have a big senior class,” Breslin said, referring to the 12 seniors on the team. “They’ve bought in to the team, and they’re always showing leadership, even if they’re coming off the bench.”

The Wolves opened on a 12-game win streak, collecting their first loss, 8-4, at home to unranked Marist in area play. The setback means they’ll need St. Pius to beat Decatur on Friday in order to emerge from a three-way tie for first place as the No. 1 seed.

The No. 1 seed aside, the Wolves have already accomplished plenty. Most notable might be their 6-5 road win over area and crosstown rivals GAC on March 31. It was the first time in 11 years the Wolves beat the Spartans.

“GAC was up 4-2 at one point, and it was nice to see our kids take their best shot,” Breslin said. “It would have been easy to say, ‘Here we go again,’ but they flipped the script. Our playmakers made plays, and no one was passive or scared. They just went out and did the right thing, from a playmaker standpoint.”

It’s that type of growth that programs chasing championships need. With the Wolves being young, maturity was a point of emphasis for Breslin and his staff. The maturity process was made difficult, however, by all the early winning.

The team is starting to come around now, however.

“(Opening 12-0) maybe wasn’t the perfect developmental model for young players,” Breslin said. “They thought they could get their shot whenever they wanted, so we had to pick spots in transition and really learn. The last 4-5 games, we’ve really found a healthy balance, and we’re playing with a greater level of discipline and poise.”

The playoffs begin next week, and this year the Wolves are aiming for unprecedented territory, having never been past the quarterfinals. Should the Wolves get the top seed, however, their path to the championship game could be difficult. Opponents in the way are likely to be No. 5 Blessed Trinity and No. 4 Westminster, among others.

“It will be a gauntlet, but if we make it out, we’ll be well-prepared,” Breslin said.

As the sport continues to grow at the GHSA level, more teams are entering title-contending status. Just a few years ago, it was only the same usual suspects reaching the playoffs and winning 1A-5A. Since the GHSA began recognizing lacrosse champions in 2005, 11 of the 17 champions have either been Westminster (six), current No. 1 Lovett (three) and Blessed Trinity (two).

Breslin said there’s now enough parity in the sport for other non-traditional programs to compete for a title, and he believes the Wolves can be one of those.

“We’re jacked up for the playoffs,” he said. “We truly believe we have a chance to win it all, and we’re excited for that opportunity.”