After years of getting close, St. Thomas Aquinas’ boys became the first FHSAA state lacrosse champions from the Miami-Dade/Broward area last season.
Pine Crest’s girls have come close in recent years.
But this season, the Panthers appear to have what it takes to take their best shot since the last time they reached the final four in 2012.
Longtime Pine Crest coach Eileen Pliske returns several experienced players led by All-American junior midfielder Tara Shecter, who scored 84 goals last season.
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Shecter is the first girls’ player from Florida to commit to the admissions process to play lacrosse at Princeton.
“She’s coming into this season stronger, leaner, faster than she was a year ago,” Pliske said of Shecter. “She plays at a different level than any high school player I’ve seen in South Florida.”
Shecter should provide plenty of firepower for Pine Crest’s attack, along with junior Rachel Zeitz, and will be expected to provide leadership for a young group at the attack position.
Senior midfielders Amanda Anderson and Sofia Caro will also provide solid defense for the Panthers, along with senior Samantha Meade.
The Panthers reached the second round of the state playoffs before losing to Delray Beach American Heritage in overtime.
St. Johns Bartram Trail went on to win the state title.
This season, Pine Crest will take on a daunting schedule that includes games against Delray Heritage, state runner-up Vero Beach, longtime rival St. Thomas Aquinas as well as state powerhouses Naples Barron Collier, Gainesville Oak Hall and Boca Raton St. Andrew’s.
Aquinas’ girls, who were also defeated by Heritage in the playoffs, graduated eight seniors but will still present a formidable challenge with senior midfielder Ali Beckhuizen and sophomore attack Carly Steinlauf returning.
The Raiders’ boys look strong enough to defend their state championship with several starters returning, including Hofstra University signee Kevin Crowley and Furman signee Jimmy Harrington. Joining them is a tough midfield anchored by senior Joey Guglielmo, a Mercy College signee, and Fairfield signee Kevin Justice II.
Columbus, Gulliver and Belen Jesuit all graduated several players from last year’s squads but appear to have enough talent to make a deep playoff push interesting in Miami-Dade County.
Senior midfielders Cole Quigley and Ross Jimenez lead Columbus. Senior goalkeeper Lucas Rego and attack Fran Tonarely lead Gulliver. Senior Josh Lara and junior Ricky Mayo lead Belen.
On the girls’ side, Ransom Everglades returns All-American junior attack Erin Bakes as she and the Raiders figure to face a strong challenge locally from Coral Reef, which will be led by senior midfielder Madison Stricker.
Monday: Season began.
April 3-7: Districts.
April 13: State playoffs — first round.
April 18: State playoffs — second round.
April 21: State playoffs — third round.
April 28-29: State final four at Jupiter High School.
2016 STATE CHAMPIONS
Boys: St. Thomas Aquinas; Girls: St. Johns Bartram Trail
TOP RETURNING BOYS — BROWARD
ATT Kevin Crowley, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; ATT Chris Dunne, Pine Crest, Sr.; ATT Jimmy Harrington, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; MID Matt Becker, Pine Crest, Sr.; MID Jordan Eskenazi, Pine Crest, Jr.; MID Joey Guglielmo, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; MID/FO Kevin Horwitz, Douglas, Sr.; MID Kevin Justice II, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.; GK Joseph Weisberg, American Heritage, Sr.
Others to watch: Nick Countryman, Cypress Bay, Sr.; Ryan Marek, Archbishop McCarthy, Jr.
TOP RETURNING BOYS — DADE
ATT Fran Tonarely, Gulliver, Sr.; MID Alex Balli, Gulliver, Sr.; MID Alberto Diaz, Columbus, Sr.; MID Ross Jimenez, Columbus, Sr.; MID Cole Quigley, Columbus, Sr.; DEF Michael Mata, Columbus, Sr.; DEF Sebi Zelaya, Gulliver, Sr.; LSM Josh Lara, Belen Jesuit, Sr.; F/O Ricky Mayo, Belen Jesuit, Jr.; GK Leo Guerra, Columbus, Sr.; GK Lucas Rego, Gulliver, Sr.
Others to watch: Zach Gassenheimer, Coral Reef, Sr.; Nick Hassan, Gulliver, So.; Andres Labrada, Columbus, Sr.; Joseph Cruz, Belen, Jr.; Robert Fernandez, Belen, Jr.
TOP RETURNING GIRLS — BROWARD
MID Amanda Anderson, Pine Crest, Sr.; MID Ali Beekhuizen, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; MID Casey Geddis, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; DEF Sofia Caro, Pine Crest, Sr.; MID Tara Shecter, Pine Crest, Jr.; GK Kennady Smith, Pine Crest, Jr.; ATT Carley Steinlauf, St. Thomas Aquinas, So.; ATT Rachel Zietz, Pine Crest, Jr.
TOP RETURNING GIRLS — DADE
ATT Erin Bakes, Ransom Everglades, Jr.; ATT Leticia Cohen, Ransom Everglades, Sr.; ATT Valentina Lopez, Palmer Trinity, Sr.; MID Sabrina Lopez, Coral Reef, Sr.; MID Debbie Maldonado, Killian, Sr.; MID Calliste Skouras, Ransom, So.; MID Madison Stricker, Coral Reef, Sr.; DEF Lauryn Bausley, Ransom Everglades, Jr.; DEF Catherine Kolski, Ransom, Jr.; GK Skye Moradi, Ransom Everglades, Sr.; UT Brittney Lary, Palmer Trinity, So.
AMERICAN HERITAGE (Coach Chad Moore, 3rd year at AH, 14th overall). Last year: 11-5. Top players: GK Joe Weisberg, Sr.; D Jason Brown, Sr.; M Jacob Couvertier, Sr.; ATT Matt Kirchmier, Sr.; M Will Welch, Sr.; D Dawson Fisher, Jr.
CARDINAL GIBBONS (Coach Rudy Williams, 3rd year at CG, 4th overall, 20-10). Last year: 12-3. Top players: ATT James Foster, Jr.; ATT Cole O’Halloran, Sr.; M Whitman Hengtgon, Sr.; M Caleb Feilder, Sr.; D Myles Theoharris, Jr.; GK Joe Maguire, Sr.
CORAL REEF (Coach Joell Lemus, 2nd year, 10-6). Last year: 10-6. Top players: M Joshua Duperly, Sr.; D Joshua Grant, Sr.; ATT Zach Gassenheimer, Sr.; M Jon Nicoleau, Sr.; GK Kevin Cordier, Jr.; D Gianni Gonzalez, Sr.
CORAL SPRINGS CHARTER (Coach Andy Groothuis, 2nd year, 1-13). Last year: 1-13. Top players: ATT Patrick Heekin, Sr.; M Mitchell Bertazon, Jr.; M Devon Shelton, So.; M Justin Aurora, Sr.
FLORIDA CHRISTIAN (Coach Joe Burmeister, 3rd year, 20-3). Last year: 13-2. Top players: LSM Ian Mendez, Sr.; ATT Diego Coviella, Sr.; ATT Michael Cabanas, Sr.; M-A Jose Rocha, Sr.; ATT Chase Campos, Jr.; LSM-ATT Marc Montero, Sr.
LA SALLE (Coach Anthony Vuono, 4th year). Last year: N/A. Top players: M Jesse Fuchs, Jr.; D Alex Puig, Jr.; ATT Alessandro Capua, Jr.; D Albi Hernandez, Jr.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY (Coach Chaka Bainbridge, 5th year, 44-21). Last year: 7-9. Top players: D Matthew Hanson, Jr.; M Ryan Finvarb, Jr.; ATT Sam Robins, Sr.; M Blaise Pronesti, Jr.; GK David Burger, So.
NSU UNIVERSITY SCHOOL (Coach Jan Northrop). Last year: 7-8. Top players: D Isaiah Schechtman, Sr.; ATT Max Hormann, Sr.; M Dante Trapani, Sr.; GK Jeremy Lapayowker, Jr.; D Mikey Lipsky, So.; M Deon Hoffman, So.
PALMETTO (Coach Connor Jacobson, 1st year at PAL, 5th overall). Last year: 2-12. Top players: M Jordan Mckee, Jr.; M Austin Rodriguez, Sr.; D Jake Love, Sr.; ATT Colson Pelletier, Jr.; M Nick Sacusa, Jr.; D Austin Himenez, Sr.
PINE CREST (Coach George Harris, 4th year). Last year: 13-5. Top players: ATT Chris Dunne, Sr.; M Jordan Eskenazi, Jr.; M Matt Becker, Sr.; LSM Jacob Schiff, Jr.; D Jonny Snyder, Jr.; GK Ryan Fiedler, Sr.
ST. BRENDAN (Coach Raffy Lazo, 1st year). Last year: N/A. Top players: M Paul Pfeiffer, Jr.; ATT Alex McIvor, Fr.; D Jose Collera, Jr.; D Marco Martory, Jr.; M Zachary Cabrera, Jr.; GK Michael Lavin, So.
SOUTH PLANTATION (Coach Mike Collins, 6th year, 44-42). Last year: 7-12. Top players: ATT Silvio Leal, Sr.; M Dillon Keffer, So.; D David Alberan, Sr.; M Ritchie Timothee, So.; GK Jayce Collins, So.; D Travis Bentley, So.
ARCHBISHOP MCCARTHY (Coach Robert Marek, 1st year). Last year: N/A. Top players: M Kylie Marek, So.; M Megan Whitaker, So.; M Olivia Krings, So.; D Katelyn Saxton, So.; M Michelle Tran, So.
COOPER CITY (Coach Bill O’Connell, 2nd year at CC, 6th overall, 36-30). Last year: 13-5 (District champions). Top players: M Olivia Lewis, So.; ATT Amanda Rivas, Jr.; ATT Florence Andrieu, Sr.; GK Natalia Aguirre, So.; D Cecilia Sosa, Sr.; D-M Grace Barr, Fr.
CORAL REEF (Coach Erin Shelow, 5th year, 18-27). Last year: 5-7. Top players: M Madison Stricker, Sr.; M Sabrina Lopez, Sr.; M Jaylin Labiste, Sr.; M-A Sarah Boger, Sr.; D Kylie Lopez, Jr.; ATT Vicky Frenero, Sr.
CORAL SPRINGS CHARTER (Coach Gina Careccia, 2nd year, 4-12). Last year: 4-12. Top players: A-M Jacqueline Careccia, Sr.; M Rianne Mersch, Sr.; D Lauren Torres, Jr.; A-M Nikki Griffin, So.; ATT Jolie Horowitz, 7th.
CYPRESS BAY (Coach Corey Engelhard, 1st year). Last year: 9-4. Top players: M-A Emmalee Forristall, Jr.; M Rebecca Hale, So.; M-D Chloe Wain, Fr.; GK Melanie Louis, Jr.
PINE CREST (Coach Eileen Pliske, 13th year at PC, 16th overall, 133-57). Last year: 12-7 (Second round). Top players: M Tara Shecter, Jr.; GK Kennady Smith, Jr.; M Amanda Anderson, Sr.; M-D Sofia Caro, Sr.; ATT Rachel Zietz, Jr.; D Samantha Meade, Sr.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (Coach Samantha MacCurdy, 2nd year, 15-4). Last year: 15-4 (Third round). Top players: M Ali Beckhuizen, Sr.; ATT Carly Steinlauf, So.