There were plenty of teams across the realm of athletics that were ready and anxious to compete in their chosen sport this spring. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the shutdown of sports this season.
Beyond being ready and anxious to compete are those teams, like the Pope John High School boy’s lacrosse program who was chasing championships this year.
Top returning student athletes for the Lions this season were Dane Armstrong (senior, midfield and forward, nine goals, six assists, multiple First Team honors in 2019, committed to University Maryland Baltimore County), Michael Zavaglia (senior, attack, 27 goals and 23 assists in 2019, committed to the University of Tampa), Gabriel Cummins (junior, goal keeper, Team Most Valuable Player in 2019, 221 saves in 2019), Sean Brennan (junior, defense and long stick midfield) and David Jagiello (junior, midfield, 14 goals and four assists in 2019). A promising newcomer to the varsity level was junior midfielder Jack Clifford.
Pope John had a winning overall record of 11-9 and advanced to the championship round of the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament last season. They also advanced to the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA State Non Public Group A Tournament last season before losing to top seeded Seton Hall Prep. Pope John seeded ninth, downed eighth seeded Notre Dame in the opening round of the State Tournament.
“Pope John was poised to have a great year and be solid contenders for the league championship,’’ Pope John head coach Chris Hoffman said. “Teams to beat in North Jersey Interscholastic Lacrosse League (NJILL) Rizk Division include Randolph and Sparta. Teams to beat in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) were West Morris and Madison.’’
The Lions competed in the Rizk Division along with Sparta, Randolph, Morris Knolls, Kinnelon, Mount Olive, Montville and Roxbury in 2019.
“We have a solid returning core of varsity players that got a lot of experience last year as sophomores and juniors,’’ Hoffman said. “Having beat the No. 1 seed Delaware Valley in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex semifinal game was a milestone for the program because it brought us to the H/W/S Championship game for the first time in program history. Unfortunately we lost to Hunterdon Central, 9-6, but played them down to the wire.’’
Notes: Head coach Chris Hoffman entered 2020 with 65 career victories and he earned 2019 New Jersey Herald Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year honors last season.