The Etowah boys lacrosse program got back to its winning ways this year.
One season after finishing 8-9 and missing the postseason, the Eagles stormed back with a 14-6 record and a home playoff win, and they did so with a young team that was replacing eight seniors from the year before.
“At the beginning of the year, I had no idea who was going to be the main contributors and who would step up and fill the void,” coach Mike Cintineo said. “We had a large senior class the year before. Some of the same guys from the previous year did step up, but we did have to rely on some newcomers. It’s funny to see where we end up after where we were at the beginning of the year.”
Fortunately, Cintineo, the 2018 Cherokee Tribune Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year, saw the rebuild coming and made his schedule accordingly.
Etowah played its first 11 games outside the area, tweaking its lineup and finding what worked, before finally opening Area 4AAAAAA-AAAAAAA play with an 18-0 win over Cherokee March 26.
“We to put together a balanced non-area schedule at the beginning of the year,” Cintineo said. “We try to put most of our area games at the end of the season. Those games obviously count, but we’re trying to figure our team out. We moved our team around a little bit during that time, and come area play in April, we were ready to roll. We just went hard for that last month.”
The most important part of the Eagles’ non-area schedule was a team trip to Nashville in late February.
The trip had some tough games, with Etowah falling 11-7 to Ravenwood and beating Father Ryan 10-8, but it was the experiences away from the field that Cintineo said set the stage for later in the season.
“The guys just like each other,” he said. “We went on a trip to Nashville and played a few games, and it gave them a chance to bond. The guys seem to enjoy practice and enjoy being there. It’s just spilled over to the games. That’s a huge part of it. The Xs and Os are a big part of it too, but if the guys like each other and work hard for each other, you’re going to be successful.”
As well as the Eagles prepared themselves for their bounce-back season, the success of the campaign still came down to the wire.
A 3-0 start in area play positioned Etowah well to return to the postseason, but consecutive losses to eventual state runner-up Lassiter and Walton put those dreams in peril.
With their backs against the wall, the Eagles rose to the occasion, though, and beat Roswell in the regular-season finale, in what was a de facto elimination game to claim the area’s second seed and a home playoff game.
“We just tried to take it one step at a time and focus on that next game,” Cintineo said. “Every team in our area is excellent, so no matter who we were playing we knew we had to bring our A game every game. A lot of teams beat each other. We had a lot of parody, but we were well prepared to get the second seed. It’s nerve wracking sometimes, but we did what we needed to do.”
After rediscovering the winning formula, Etowah will again be challenged next season to maintain it.
Seven more seniors have graduated from the program, but with several key players set to return, Cintineo said expectations for next season are even higher.
“We lose some key players – our goalie, our best attackman and some defenders, but that’s it,” he said. “We have some guys ready to step up and hopefully fill the void. It’ll be a fight for playing time, but that’s what really helped us this year.”