Early as it was, the West Forsyth boys lacrosse team learned almost all they needed to about their potential for this season in just their second game.
It was an 18-6 win against area opponent Chattahoochee, a thorough performance, but also a breakthrough of sorts; the Wolverines had never defeated Chattahoochee before.
So convincing was the win, even West was caught off guard.
“Honestly, we surprised ourselves,” Wolverines senior defenseman Caleb Schmidt said.
By now, West is no longer surprising itself. The Wolverines are 13-1, breaking the school record for wins in a single season reached in 2013 and 2016, and assured of their first state playoff appearance since the program started in 2011.
More revealing is West’s 6-1 record in area games. The Wolverines went 24-47 in area games entering this season. Their last winning record in such games was in 2009.
This breakout season is mostly on the backs of a large senior class that makes up over half of West’s roster, led by college signees Jimmy Martelli (Young Harris), Finn Heidenreich (Centre) and Schmidt (Jacksonville).
“We have a really good senior class that’s shown a tremendous amount of leadership,” West head coach John Laden said. “The seniors have led the way in a nice fashion.”
Martelli and Schmidt see that senior leadership manifested in different ways.
Martelli sees it in the team’s composure. For example, after West’s only loss of the season, a 12-4 setback against Milton. The Wolverines responded in their next game with a 7-6 area victory against Cambridge, one of the up-and-coming programs in the state.
“We didn’t go in to that game all riled up,” Martelli said. “We knew what we had to do. We were really poised and calm.”
“I think just emotion-wise we were able to be even-keeled and not get too high, not get too low,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt also sees that senior leadership manifested in the team’s accountability.
“(That) has been the biggest difference this year,” Schmidt said.
There are more schematic explanations, too. Freshman Richie Moore came in as a middie but has seized the role of faceoff specialist. Senior LSM Michael Rogers has improved in his second season of play, augmenting the Wolverines’ defense and getting quick outlet passes to the offense. Heidenreich moved in from California and has worked with Martelli in a new-look group of attackers.
Laden has benefited, too, from the addition of his brother, Devin, to the coaching staff after working with the junior varsity last season, which has allowed Laden to delegate more.
“I was trying to do too much,” Laden said. “Having my brother here, it gives me the opportunity to work with the defense. … We’re much more improved I think on both ends.”
Indeed, West is a top 10 offensive and defensive team in the state, averaging 15.2 goals a game (fifth) while allowing just 5.9 (ninth).
The biggest question mark left for West is Lambert. In virtually every way, the Longhorns have dominated boys lacrosse in Forsyth County since its genesis, and the gap between the defending Class 6A state champions and the rest of the county has been stark. The teams play at Lambert on April 14.
No matter the outcome, the Wolverines are still in the state playoffs, still confident that much more is to come in this unprecedented season.
“I have a lot of faith in our team,” Martelli said, “and we’re only getting better as the year goes on.”