WOODSTOCK -- Etowah has been Cherokee County’s most successful boys lacrosse program by a wide margin in recent years, but coach Mike Cintineo found a way to take the Eagles to the next level this season.
Etowah lost a lot to graduation after the 2018 season, but under Cintineo, it was able to set a program mark for wins and capture their its area championship on their way to the Class 6A/7A state quarterfinals.
“It seems like we graduate a decent amount every year, but we always have kids who have been working hard in practice and are ready to step up, even if they didn’t play in too many games the year before,” said Cintineo, the 2019 Cherokee Tribune Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year. “You always have to make sure your players are ready to take that next step when you need them.”
Despite the losses in the offseason, Cintineo said expectations were as high as ever entering the season.
Etowah made the move to Area 5-6A/7A, and while Cintineo said he knew his team would have a shot at its first area title, going out and making it a reality would be a challenge.
“I kept telling the kids we could talk about it all we want, but talk is cheap,” he said. “We have to go out there and earn it, and there’s other teams out there doing just what we’re doing. The seniors really led us. They all liked each other and jelled toward the same goal, and that’s just as important as the skill level.”
Etowah’s run began in non-area play, where it went 9-1. Staying focused presented a new challenge, though, as Cintineo’s group won six of those games by 10 or more goals.
“They all know I care,” Cintineo said. “We do film and scouting reports, and that’s a big part of it. If they know the staff cares and knows what they’re talking about, they’ll put forth maximum effort, no matter who we’re playing against.”
Behind those performances, Etowah built up momentum early with six straight wins to open the season. The biggest lesson, however, may have come in a 10-9 loss to Blessed Trinity that gave the Eagles their first loss of the season.
“The turning point was the one-goal loss to Blessed Trinity,” Cintineo said. “We could have gone and felt sorry for ourselves, but it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We needed to be humbled a little bit, but we got hungry. We got into area play and really pushed ourselves to get our first area title.”
Following the loss, Etowah won its final 10 games of the regular season, including a 7-0 run in area play, in which the Eagles outscored their opposition 133-22.
“It’s exciting,” Cintineo said. “A few other programs here have done it and won area or region titles, but we wanted to really put ourselves on the map as a lacrosse program across the state. I think people now are going to see Etowah and know they have to bring their 'A' game. That’s a good thing to have.”
The dominance continued into the opening round of the playoffs, as Etowah tied a team record with two postseason wins. The Eagles beat Evans and South Forsyth by a combined 35-6 margin before falling to eventual state champion Walton 8-5 in the quarterfinals.
“It’s good to know we lost to the eventual state champion, but it’s hard,” Cintineo said. “Going back and watching the film, there were mistakes we made we usually don't make. That’s what happens. Walton is really good. Their defense shut down the top three offenses in the state in the playoffs, and that always gives you a chance to win. The kids saw how close we could have been, but no one can take away what we did as a unit.”
Etowah will once again have to deal with losses to graduation before next season, but after this year’s performance, Cintineo expects nothing less.
“Expectations are high no matter who graduates,” he said. “We’ve had this before with final-four teams, but we need new guys to step up and keep the expectation the same. Hopefully, we can come back, win the area again and challenge for a state championship.”