The first practice of the season for the Southern Regional High School boys lacrosse team was crisp and energetic.
After going 17-4 last season in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Rams have all their starters back and have their sights set on Shore Conference and South Jersey Group IV titles.
“We just got right into it,” senior attackman Tyler Lipositz said in a phone interview last week. “Expectations are high. There’s no messing around anymore.”
Lipositz said he had high expectations last year, too. But with five freshmen in the starting lineup, coach John Pampalone admitted he had his eye on this season.
The Rams came together quickly, though. A veteran defense carried them early, and the attack eventually finished with 121 goals, led by then-freshman Dylan Jinks’ 52.
The Rams won a first-round South Jersey playoff game over Freehold Boro, just their second playoff win ever. Jinks, Lipositz and defender Nick Jinks, Dylan’s brother, all were named first-team Press All-Stars.
The experience of last season has been evident in practice so far this year, Pampalone said.
“It’s not new to them anymore,” the coach said. “They’re established, marquee players now. … They know how to take care of their business on the field now. We look like a veteran team now.”
Lipositz said the team’s goals for this season are simple: “To win every game.”
That’s because the Rams expect to be better in several areas.
Dylan Jinks and goalie Brendan LeFanto both are expected to make significant jumps as sophomores. Jinks said he has matured, and that he should benefit from having nearly the entire team back — including Lipositz, who had 31 goals and 41 assists last season; senior midfielder Al Manzo, who scored 17 goals and has committed to NCAA Division III Gwynedd-Mercy College; and junior attack Brendan Mullen, who had 38 goals and 19 assists.
“I can see people better knowing that all the attack and all the middies really stayed the same,” Dylan Jinks said.
LeFanto had a .749 save percentage and 224 saves last season. But Pampalone and Nick Jinks both said the goalie has more confidence this season.
“Last year he had a lot of help around him, and he still will this year,” Nick Jinks said, “but I expect to see him take more of a role as an individual player and kind of control more for himself.”
Nick Jinks has committed to Division III Eastern University and fellow defender Frank Thissen to Stevens University. Pampalone said the veteran unit’s strength is its communication, adding that it’s “an easy group to coach.”
But even the defense has room for improvement, Nick Jinks said.
“We always need to work on something, whether it’s communicating or when to challenge, when to step off,” Jinks said.
Nick Jinks is a team captain, but his most significant leadership contribution has been to one player — his brother. When teams started gearing their defenses to stop Dylan, Nick made sure his brother’s mindset stayed positive. The brothers also go up against each other every day in practice, a challenge Dylan said was the biggest reason for his success.
“He is a really good mental player, so he figures out your moves and the offensive player has to really figure out, ‘OK, he knows my move, so what am I going to do next?’ ” Dylan Jinks said.
Playing together has been a new experience for the Jinks brothers. Nick Jinks said having Dylan not only on the team but joining him as a key player makes Southern’s success extra special for him.
“It’s one of the better things that I’ve ever gotten to go through,” the elder Jinks said. “As we were growing up, I never really got to play a sport with him. I never really got to watch him play because I always had my stuff going on. We were always separate. … These last two years have just been incredible.”
A Shore Conference or South Jersey title also would be special this year because Southern has 15 seniors. Whether the Rams were rebuilding last year or not, this season is the culmination for many of them.
“This team is really sold out for this season,” Pampalone said. “We know this is a big season for us.”
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