The North Stafford boys lacrosse team is enjoying the most successful season in the program's six-year history heading into the Northwestern Region final.
North Stafford, 16-0 after Thursday night's 14-12 semifinal victory over Woodbridge, will host Albemarle this Thursday at 7 p.m. The winner will play the Northern Region champion June 5 at R.E. Lee High School in Springfield.
The Wolverines' success comes as a bit of a surprise to Coach Bill Ayres, whose team made it to the region semifinals last year behind senior midfielder Jeff Dailey, who scored 137 goals in his career.
"One of the big questions we had was about the offense. We had everyone returning on defense, and it was unclear who would step up on offense," Ayres said. "As it turned out, a bunch of them have stepped up after working hard in the offseason."
The Wolverines have used scoring by committee to replace Dailey's output. Seniors Beau Ballou and Matt Thompson lead the team with 49 and 48 goals, respectively. Thompson is two goals away from 100 in his career. Midfielders Kris Kimmell (26 goals, 16 assists) and Paul Fink (38, 11) also have stepped up offensively.
That foursome accounted for all the goals against Woodbridge, with Ballou and Kimmell leading the way with four each. In the game, the Wolverines jumped out to a 3-0 lead, which "erased any doubts in the kids' minds that they could play with Woodbridge," Ayres said.
The Vikings rallied, cutting North Stafford's lead to 13-12 with under a minute remaining, but Ballou sealed the game with his fourth goal with 11 seconds left.
"I'm real proud of them," Ayres said. "They didn't fold; they didn't get nervous."
The Cardinal District champion Vikings finished the season 10-5.
Albemarle (12-4), which beat Woodbridge in the regional final a year ago, is led by senior attackmen Matt James (52 goals, 10 assists) and Freddie Shmoyer (45, 26).
Win or lose on Thursday, North Stafford's players already have advanced further than any of their predecessors. Ayres sees that as important in the long run.
"We're struggling to get a youth program off the ground" in Stafford County, said Ayres, who helped start high school lacrosse in the county in the early 1990s. "We're hoping the notoriety will entice other kids to get started."
CAPTION: Above, North Stafford's Kris Kimmell, left, gets by Woodbridge's Rick Bradish during the Wolverines' 14-12 victory over the Vikings on Thursday in a Northwestern Region semifinal. Kimmel scored four goals in the win. At left, teammate Mike Shannon focuses his attention on catching the ball. North Stafford (16-0) hosts Albemarle this Thursday in the region championship.