JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Four local high school lacrosse teams are headed to the final four. Two boys’ teams and two girls’ teams.
Bartram Trail girls and Ponte Vedra Boys qualified from St. Johns County. More on the Bears and Sharks later. The other two teams are the Bolles’ boys and Episcopal girls’ teams.
Bolles advanced to the Final Four for the second straight year thanks to a 9-5 win over Gainesville Oak Hall in the regional finals on Saturday night. The Bulldogs are 20-2 this year with their two losses coming by a total of three goals. They were that close to an undefeated season. Now, they’re trying to complete the run to a championship. They face Benjamin high out of Palm Beach Gardens at 3 p.m. on Thursday with a spot in the state finals on the line.
It’s been quite a run under head coach Tom West, who took over as the head coach after leading Ponte Vedra to the first state championship in the sport in 2019. He joined the Bolles program this year.
“These boys have worked really hard throughout the season,” West said. “It’s hard with the new coach and staff, you know, coming in, so late in the planning and everything, but I think the boys have really reacted to it. And they’re really bought in and we’re buzzing right now.”
After winning their first nine games, Bolles’ first loss this season came in an 8-6 decision in Charlotte, North Carolina to Myers Park on March 19. After a five-game winning streak, the Bulldogs fell to Monteverde Academy on the road 4-3.
The Bulldogs have averaged over 13 goals per game and the average margin of victory has been an astounding 8.77 goals. But it’s the Bolles defense that has been outstanding. They’ve shut out two opponents in the playoffs and have not allowed as many as 10 goals in a game this year.
“Our defense and our goaltending have been phenomenal,” West said. “We have three great goalies and we have a defense that’s just done a great job and they’ve all stepped up.”
Their final four opponent, Benjamin, has been nearly as stingy. In their current 10-game winning streak, the Buccaneers have held three opponents to 3 or fewer goals.
“We have that kind of underdog mentality,” West said. “We’re ranked number three in the state, and we’re playing the number two. So usually, it’s been the other way around for us up here. So we’re excited. We’re ready to throw some punches, take some punches, and to get a really, really good knockout here for North Florida.”
While Bolles’ boys’ team has final four experience and a head coach with a state title to his name, the Episcopal girls are entering uncharted territory. For the first time in program history, the Eagles have earned a trip to the state semifinals.
The Eagles went 19-3 this year and didn’t lose a game to an in-town opponent. One of their three losses came at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando — which just so happens to be the team they’ll face at 3 p.m. on Friday. Episcopal’s offense has been impressive. They’ve scored 20 goals or more goals in a game five times this year. This season has been the culmination of a stretch of impressive lacrosse. They have lost only seven games in the past three seasons. But there is still more to be accomplished.
“It’s taken development over some years,” said Episcopal head coach Krista Grabher. “It’s taken these girls committing to it and knowing that they’d have this goal. And I kind of asked a couple of years ago what people wanted out of this, and everyone wanted to be state title players. And so they put in the work, they’ve made that commitment. And now we’re here.”
Aside from the loss to Lake Highland Prep on March 28, the only other losses came in a two-day stretch on the road at Vero Beach, another final four team with a 16-3 record and Benjamin, a playoff team that went 14-5 and won three games in the playoffs.
The Eagles are battle-tested. Now, they’ll try to show they can win on the biggest stage.
“I think it takes culture,” Grabher said. “And that’s from parents and all of the support that they’ve given this program. That’s the coaches putting in countless hours watching film, listening to me trying to blink brainstorm, and strategize. That’s been the player is putting in countless hours. And I think when we kind of wrote up this plan to create this team, we had to have all of those parts working. And so it’s been all of those factors.”