Even before it joined the Florida High School Athletic Association’s state series last season, Columbus’ lacrosse team had already enjoyed success locally.
The Explorers, much like the sport in Miami-Dade County, hopes to continue to grow this season.
Coming off a 15-4 season, a district championship and advancement to the round of 16, Columbus is the favorite to come out of Dade again this season and try to make a deeper playoff push among the state’s best.
The Explorers figure to compete with some of the county’s best such as Gulliver, Ransom Everglades and a much-improved Belen Jesuit to name a few.
But Columbus will test itself right away this season.
The Explorers will face Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year, on Friday night at 7 p.m. in their season-opener. Also on the schedule are Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest, North Palm Benjamin, Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy and Boca Raton Spanish River.
“We only graduated three seniors off last year’s squad and we feel like we have a lot of depth returning to compete,” Columbus coach James DeLang said. “We’re looking for one signature win this season to show we can move our program to the next level.”
Columbus graduated its top scorer Nicky Rodrigo (62 goals, 26 assists), but brings back plenty of firepower especially in the midfield.
Seniors Grant Nordlund and Steven Hernandez combined for 81 goals and 61 assists last season. They will be backed in the midfield by junior Sebastian Cancio and senior Jake Quigley.
Senior Omar Shahbaz is also back and is considered one of the better defenders in the county.
DeLang also said senior goalkeeper Michael Davide could have one of the best seasons of any player at his position in South Florida.
“We’re deep in the midfield and we should be able to wear down a lot of opponents,” DeLang said.
Ransom Everglades returns one of the top overall players in the county in senior and five-year starter Jay Fuster, who owns all the school offensive records in the sport.
Belen could be the most improved team in the county after losing only two starters. The Wolverines are led by senior Matt Cristobal and added two former coaches from Boca Raton St. Andrews (Alan Bellando and Brian Cost) to their staff. Belen coach John Okunski hopes to run a more up-tempo offense and pressure defense.
True state championship contention for the Explorers and anyone else in Dade figures to take time, however. Many of the state’s powerhouses, such as Boca Raton St. Andrews, are still far ahead in terms of participation and player development.
“We’ve had good turnout in recent years here at Columbus, but overall at the youth level we sometimes only get 20 or so young kids to come out to learn the sport while up in Palm Beach, their youth programs get around 500 kids that learn the game since their little,” DeLang said. “It will take years to close the gap, but the sport is growing and there’s more interest each year.”