This is a year of change and transition.
For the Cathedral High School boys lacrosse team, a perennial state and Midwest power, that doesn’t lower the expectations. But Head Coach Andy Gruber said it may mean some learning in the early part of the 2023 season. And Gruber said the team’s outlook is a good one.
“I do like this team,” he said.
The Irish, who have won five Indiana High School Lacrosse Association state championships since 2005, lost 11 seniors from the 2022 team that finished as the state runner-up to Hamilton Southeastern. That experienced team has been replaced by one with potential, with multiple underclassmen starting and several first-year starters among the senior class.
“We’re really young and inexperienced,” Gruber said. “The team has a lot of talent. I think the first half of the year is going to be spent probably learning on the go – baptism by fire, so to speak.
“I think in the end they'll be in a good position to compete for the championship as in years past. They just need to get a lot of experience in the meantime.”
Gruber, the Irish’s longtime head coach, said he expects this year’s team to be strong defensively with much of the program’s experience there.
“This is a group that can really play good defense against top teams,” Gruber said. “It's really going to rely upon the offense learning. That puts a lot of pressure on the defense and not being able to make a lot of mistakes as the offense gets up to speed.
“They just need to go through the process of realizing they have to adhere to some of the constraints we have so they can learn, see the game and let that slow down for them and just trust what they're being told, then turn that into instincts. Then I think we'll be in a good shape.
“It's just a matter of putting it all together and getting prepared for a good run.”
The 2023 Irish will be led by:
•Senior captain/faceoff Jackson Edwards. “He’s having a good year,” Gruber said. “As his confidence improves, he's going to be a big piece of what we want to do.”
*Junior midfielder Campbell Reid, a top returning scorer from last season. “He kind of leads the offense from his experience,” Gruber said.
*Junior defender Joe Konesco, who Gruber said may be the Irish’s best player. “He has shown himself to be typically one of the better players on the field in every game we've played,” Gruber said. “We're really excited about Joe and, and what he can do.”
The group will lead a team that Gruber said will learn to play – and win – together.
“Years like this, it's a lot of coaching, a lot of going back to the basics, a lot of explaining,” Gruber said. “I coach through what they call the Socratic method. I have the kids tell me why we're doing something. It’s not just simply telling them, ‘Hey, in this circumstance, this is what I want you to do.’
“Kids need to know the why, and if they can get the why down, then they can naturally react on the field. That’s the process we're in right now, just having them understand the why.”
The Irish long have played one of the toughest schedules in Indiana, an approach that has prepared them for deep postseason runs. Gruber said that approach won’t change in 2023.
“I told the kids, ‘It does no good to go out and play an easier schedule at which you're not challenged,’’’ Gruber said. “ ‘If you do that, your experience is bad experience because it allows you to cover up your mistakes with your athleticism.’
“This team is incredibly athletic. They're big, fast, strong players. They just lack sometimes the understanding of those higher-level games. So, if we want to win a championship, we have to play at that higher level, even if it means taking a lot of lumps.”
And while this may be a different season for the Irish, Gruber said it absolutely can be a satisfying – and successful – one.
“We’ve had years like this before,” Gruber said. “It's just going to take some lumps, but do they have the talent and the athleticism to compete at a high level? Absolutely. It’s a matter of getting them in a position where they can do it.
“If they learn from their mistakes and they correct those mistakes, how quick they're able to correct those mistakes can really launch this team into the next level.”