West Forsyth boys lacrosse coach John Laden has faced his fair share of challenges in recent months. The Wolverines’ game against Brookwood wasn’t one of them.
Freshman attacker Justin Kabo scored five of West’s first nine goals as the Wolverines cruised to a 17-5 victory over the Broncos on Wednesday at The Wolverine Den.
Laden, who is in his first year as the Wolverines coach, won five high school state titles in New York, four NCAA Division II championships at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and coached the Bulgarian men’s national lacrosse team from 2010-2011.
Since arriving at West, Laden has realized that the Wolverines, who have never had a winning season, need more fundamental work than he first thought, but the head coach has the team off to a 3-2 start and remains optimistic about the challenge.
"We’re trying to come together as a team both offensively, defensively. ... Every phase of the game, we’re trying to [use] a more team-like approach," Laden said.
"Some of the philosophies that I use, maybe I always assumed [the players] would know, but it’s [actually been] more of an adjustment period and we’re trying to get better each day, each moment as we move forward. It’s real exciting for me coming from Long Island ... to address this challenge and what lies ahead for this program."
West never trailed the Broncos but needed a little time to get going. The Wolverines missed their five shots before freshman midfielder Reed Bagwell put the ball in the back of the net at the 7:55 mark in the first quarter.
Kabo added two goals during the next 2:12 of play and senior midfielder Grayson Smith followed the second with his first goal to increase the lead to 4-0.
Brookwood showed signs of life by answering with two goals in a 34-second span, but Kabo responded with three goals during a 5-0 run that put West ahead 9-2.
Though West’s underclassmen did the bulk of the scoring damage against Brookwood, Laden credited his senior leaders for what they are bringing to the program this season.
"We have some younger guys that have stepped up ... but I think the strength of this year’s team is some of the senior leadership we’re getting," Laden said. "A lot of people I think in the region haven’t given our seniors enough credit for the trials and tribulations of the program here at West Forsyth. Those are the guys I look to for greatness and leadership ... guys I admire who have hung in through thick and thin with this program, and we’re trying to make it a special year for them."
The Wolverines went into halftime ahead 11-4 and forced a running clock for the remainder of the game when junior midfielder William Harris scored his second goal in the first three minutes of the second half to boost the lead to 14-4.
West has outscored opponents by an average of 16-4 in its three wins this season.
"We’ve done a nice job in those wins and [in] the losses we’ve played opponents that were pretty good," Laden said. "We weren’t ready to step up and [challenge] some of the upper teams in the [area]."
In many ways Laden is just happy to be able to focus on lacrosse and not his health, after being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing surgery to remove a melanoma on his left arm in December. The coach said he was touched by the outpouring of support he received from friends and former players, which included a YouTube video titled "I am John Laden."
"My friends ... in the European Lacrosse Federation as well as the Bulgarian Lacrosse Federation caught wind of my cancer and surgery and they were real supportive and made a video on YouTube," Laden said. "It was the support they threw [my way] that made it kind of an emotional thing for me. [The doctors] got all the cancer [removed] and I’m moving forward in my life."
West is scheduled to host Druid Hills at 3 p.m. on Saturday.