Cathedral High School boys lacrosse is good as the 2021 season begins. As usual.
As Head Coach Andy Gruber sees it, the task for the Irish is to keep improving in usual circumstances – and to reach the standard the program has set for a decade and half.
“This is a good team,” Gruber said. “It’s a very good team. With us, there’s an expectation as to where we want to be. Our players also hold that expectation.”
The Irish, Indiana state champions in 2013, 2016-2017 and 2019, began the 2021 season 4-4. They were 3-0 against high school teams from Indiana.
“Success for us always is a state championship,” Gruber said. “This is the kind of team that can do that.”
Gruber, the program’s head coach since its inception, said the key to doing that is for a young team to grow quickly – and to overcome tricky circumstances.
Irish boys lacrosse has achieved elite status with seniors playing key roles more often than not. Underclassmen often play reserve roles while waiting for their senior seasons to have a chance to play key roles.
With the 2020 season essentially lost to COVID-19, the Irish therefore entered 2021 extraordinarily inexperienced – with even the seniors having played sparingly at the varsity level.
“We heavily rely on guys building up into their position,” Gruber said. “We had a team last year that was very senior heavy and didn’t get to play. You didn’t have that year of guys learning under the tutelage of those seniors. While we have seniors and juniors on the field this year, what we really have are kids who the last time they played a game for Cathedral were freshman and sophomores. There’s a big leap there.
“You take a year of experience away, take a year of culture away and take a year of training away and it impacts it. Everybody has this to varying degrees. We’re all dealing with it. We’re not complaining.”
The result, Gruber said, has been a shakier start to the season than normal.
“We have a circumstance in which guys come in and lost a year,” Gruber said. “They still have that expectation and that impacted our confidence early. We’re starting to turn the corner a bit on that. It’s hard to match that expectation taking a year of time and it’s all built on year after year after year.
“This is a team that is very talented, but it lacks both confidence and connective tissue. Those two factors are attributable to missing last season. We haven’t had a bad year but we’re balancing expectations with a very inexperienced team.”
The Irish in 2021 are what Gruber calls a junior-heavy team, a group that also features senior leaders such as goaltender and captain Jack Emkow, long-stick middle Jared Bocchinfuso, defender Oliver Ossip and defender Jack Caldwell. Key juniors include midfielder Kevin Berutich, midfielder and captain Jeffrey Utzinger (captain, football player), defender Reid Betner and long-tick middle Jack Wajda.
“It’s a big junior class, a talented junior class,” Gruber said. “We have tested ourselves pretty hard with our schedule – as usual. We’re getting to the point that we’re trying to figure out all those little details and gain that confidence so we can continue to play strong inside the state of Indiana.
“It’s a question of, ‘Are we going to make that next step and be able to play at the highest level that we expect.’ ”
Gruber said the key to doing that is learning to play to team strengths and avoiding team weakness, something the team has done in the past and something Gruber said it can do again.
“We can’t run and gun with teams,” he said. “We have the offense to do it, but we don’t have the other pieces of the puzzle. We’re reconfiguring ourselves and there’s a solution there. We’re excited to see how this team responds. The talent’s there. We’re just trying to find our right identity. Teams in the past have always tried to figure themselves out. This is no different than any other year. If we figure it out from our vantagepoint, we’re going to be a really good team.”
And Gruber said he is confident that the makeup of the 2021 Irish can make such development and growth possible.
“You always have a couple of knuckleheads on a team,” he said. “This team is nothing but a great group of kids. They’re excited about playing. They want to get better. They want to figure it out. They want to be coached. They want to uphold the tradition of this program.
“We’re trying to take that off their shoulders so they can be the best team they could be. They’re going to be a really good team.”