There are quite a few coaches in the state who would settle for the Colonial Forge boys lacrosse team’s rebuilding season.
The Eagles have just five players with significant varsity experience after making a run to the Commonwealth District and Region 6B championships last spring.
But three of those five are Free Lance-Star first-team All-Area performers.
Colonial Forge head coach Phil Fant has three major building blocks in attackman Tyler Howard, defender Thomas Chown and goalkeeper Anthony Merida.
Along with fellow co-captain Sam Sharps, the trio will guide the Eagles this season as they hope to advance past the Class 6 state quarterfinals, the round in which they fell to South County last season.
“I do feel this team is capable of reaching the expectations we’ve set for ourselves,” Howard said.
It starts with Howard on offense. The senior racked up 50 goals and 38 assists last season. Fant has implored Howard to take a step back early this season to allow other potential goal-scorers to emerge.
The Eagles have options from their unbeaten 2018 junior varsity team, but they lack varsity experience.
Merida’s younger brother, Daniel Merida, is a promising sophomore.
“One of the things I worry about with Tyler is him feeling he has to do too much for us to be successful,” Fant said. “We have to find these younger guys that are willing to step up, get to the cage and try to score.”
Howard is listed as an attack man but Fant said he’s going to line up all over the field, including defense, to encourage others to become aggressive offensively.
It worked in a 10-6 win over Stafford on Monday in the first round of the Commonwealth District tournament, which is now held at the start of the season. Lesser-known players produced points, giving the Eagles a confidence boost heading into Wednesday’s semifinal meeting against North Stafford at 4:30 p.m. at Mountain View.
“I’m feeling pretty confident about these guys and how they can improve,” Chown said. “I see a lot of potential in them. All that remains is if we can realize it.”
As a junior last season, Chown routinely marked the opposition’s top scorer and forced 22 turnovers. Fant said the three-year starter brings a lot of knowledge of the game in addition to steady play on the field.
“He is even-keeled,” Fant said. “He never gets too high or too low. I would like him to be a little more vociferous, but he’s a quiet kid. He knows what we’re trying to do and he’s willing to work with his teammates to get us success on that side of the field.”
Merida more than makes up for what Chown lacks vocally.
Fant said Merida’s the “fireplug” of the team and “an intense young man.” He was a leader from the cage last season, but will be depended on even more this spring.
“He’s very adept at stopping the ball,” Fant said. “But he does a better job of orchestrating our defense and communicating with our team.”
The Eagles have 13 seniors in total, but most don’t have extensive playing experience. Still, the Commonwealth District is wide open and the Eagles can make a run in the region if their youth catches on early. Fant hopes that’s the case because he knows the experienced players will be there, especially when the season is on the line in May.
“We’re going to have our moments of difficulty this season,” Fant said. “Not a lot of kids are familiar with our pace of play or the speed of the game. They’re going to have to grow up quite quickly for us to be successful.”