The latest sign that the Wilson boys’ lacrosse program is on the rise was the group of players celebrating in the middle of a swampy field in Northeast Washington on Wednesday afternoon.
The celebration came after the Tigers defeated St. Anselm’s, 18-11, in the Washington Independent Lacrosse League final. Wilson is one of just two schools competing in varsity lacrosse in the D.C. Public Schools system, and the sport isn’t a priority for the athletic department of the school in Northwest. Junior midfielder Jalen Coleman went as far as calling it a “club team” because the program does a lot on its own.
But in the WILL championship game, as they picked apart the Panthers’ defense and maintained a lead from the first whistle to the last, the Tigers not only looked like a real team, but a good one.
Junior attacker Ignatius Linde led the Tigers with nine goals. Wilson’s offense seemed to have an answer for the Panthers all day, their lead never reaching less than two.
“Maybe [our offense is] less dynamic than most, but we make it work. We get the ball in the net,” Linde said.
Coach Damian Begley agreed with that assessment, calling the Tigers’ style “unsettled” at times. But it can also be both aggressive and intimidating. The team’s bench players stood and screamed throughout the game, some of them going hoarse in the fourth quarter.
At one point a bench player yelled, “They weren’t ready for it!”
The Panthers had every reason to come into the game confident. They defeated Wilson in last year’s WILL title game and thrived under first-year Coach Blair Sutton, the school’s art teacher. They were undefeated before running into the aggressive offense of the Tigers, who scored the first three goals.
“We aim to play fast, up and down the field,” Begley said. “We don’t like to hold the ball; we like to go to the goal.”
The team’s cohesion on the field is connected to the unique challenges it faces off it. The Tigers have to share the field at Wilson with five other teams, so they often practice before school at 6 a.m. They often provide their own equipment and receive little funding from the school.
Goalie Dev Hippenstiel, new to the team this year from St. John’s, said a lot of players bring their own balls to practice, and little things like that bring the team closer together.
“The main thing that pushes us forward is the commitment to it,” he said. “Having people that actually want to go out at 6 a.m. Not many people would do it, so the people who do want to play and be a part of it and push themselves are out here.”
Linde was also a new addition this year, coming from a boarding school in Massachusetts. After his game-changing championship performance, he admitted that Wilson took some getting used to.
“When I arrived, I heard that lacrosse wasn’t really a priority for the school, and that was definitely right,” he said. “It was noticeable that the program wasn’t well established. But the kids on the team all love the sport, so that makes up for it.”
After the game, Begley squished his way through the mud to the locker room with a handful of equipment. He said he was happy with his team’s performance and invigorated by its potential.
“If we were able to meet at 3 in the afternoon, on a field like this, with a couple more coaches — my team could play and really compete in a conference like the MAC,” he said. “The talent is here.”