For two seasons running the WAHS boys varsity lacrosse team has competed in Virginia’s division 4A state championship game and finished as the runner-up. This year, despite losing seven of his 12 starters, head coach Alex Whitten is excited by the prospects of going all the way.
“We had a tremendous group of seniors who were great leaders and had a lot of success on the field,” said Whitten, who is in his fifth season at WAHS. “We have a number of strong players returning to replace them, but we still have some critical gaps to fill with younger athletes, and that’s our challenge.”
With a lineup of 33 players, the prospect of plugging holes left by starter-captains like attacker Luke Reilly, midfielder Carter Elliott (who’s now playing at Liberty University), defenseman Oliver Herndon (Washington and Lee University) and keeper Jackson Sours isn’t quite so daunting.
“We always ask all our players to lead in their own respective way, which, from an overall standpoint, doesn’t mean you have be the best player, but simply set an example as best you can for the next classes,” said Whitten. “Last season’s guys set a pretty good benchmark. Every team has its own character and personality, and these guys are currently working hard to define their team for themselves. Losing that kind of veteran leadership tends to foster an environment that develops younger players.”
Leading the charge to define the team is its defensive core, senior leaders like Noah Yourkavitch, Chris Valente, Henry Houghton and Kovie Bowen, as well as sophomore Jack Lesemann. A battle is on for the starting keeper slot between sophomores Ben Kunkel and Liam Juilano-Dunn. “That healthy internal competition is energizing the team and inspiring other players to push themselves and get better as well,” said Whitten. Yourkavitch, a captain, is expected to be a standout. “He’s already signed a letter of intent to play football at Hampden Sydney [College] next fall, so that gives you an idea of his athleticism,” said Whitten. “He has great speed and is a very vocal leader.
On the offensive front, the team got a boost from attackman Will Cory, who transferred to Western from the Virginia Episcopal School earlier in the year. He’s joined by senior James Boteaw and junior John Carr Haden. “Will is a great player and James is as strong and as tough as they come, and they both lend major shooting ability to our attack,” said Whitten. “Once you factor in John, who’s a three-year left-handed starter, our scoring ability looks really strong.”
Bridging the gap between front and backfield are middies Jack Weyher, a sophomore, and seniors AJ Donovan and Jarrett Smith, both of whom logged notable performances for other WAHS teams. “I’m a big believer in multi-sport athletes—we like to cross-pollinate with football and other sports, which keeps our players in shape,” explained Whitten. “AJ is a huge offensive threat and was a major swimmer for the school, while Jarrett played football and is just a great all-around-athlete.”
During the preseason, Whitten said the team focused on having fun, chipping off the rust, and building camaraderie and rapport. On a technical level, they drilled the basics. “Our kids at Western play hard, with fervor and a lot of energy, but in lacrosse you have to couple that with strong execution of fundamentals,” he said. “We put in a lot of stick work and worked hard on all the small components of the game like faceoffs, man-up and man-down scenarios, clearing and riding, and transitions.
“Our season is four months long, so we’re always saying: ‘Don’t look too far ahead, the most important game is the next one,’” he said. “We play a challenging schedule. Our goal is ultimately to see where we stack up against everyone else in the state.”