ATLANTIC CITY — Before Friday’s game, Atlantic City High School boys lacrosse coach Maurice Lozzi sent his team a funny internet meme.
The picture, intended to be a joke to loosen up his team before a tough matchup with Mainland Regional, was something he had done most of the season. Sometimes they’re funny, and other times they’re inspirational.
“I called myself in the one text, ‘The Dalai Lozzi,’ and I sent them a little positive, up-lifting thing,” Lozzi said after Friday’s game.
“If we don’t fail, we don’t learn,” he continued. “You just have to have satisfaction that you put in your best effort, tried your hardest and no one can ever fault you for that.”
The Vikings’ season is going to most likely end Monday when they play Holy Spirit. Despite an 8-7 record, they’re projected to miss the South Jersey Group IV playoffs, which the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association officially seeds Monday morning.
Lozzi said he considers it a successful season for Atlantic City, which will wrap up just its third full year as a varsity program.
“Group IV is one of the toughest groups to get into,” he said. “But you have to look at the positives. We have won more games than last year and scored more goals than last year. We gave up less goals than last year.”
Building a program
Conor Campbell remembers being in eighth grade and finding out that Atlantic City had a new junior varsity lacrosse team in 2014. The following year, the Vikings became a varsity program during his freshman year.
The Vikings went 2-16 in their first full year of varsity in 2015. Last season, they were 5-12, a slight improvement.
“Comparing my freshman year to my junior year, it’s insane,” said Campbell, 16, of Ventnor, during practice last Tuesday. “We’re beating teams we didn’t have a chance against freshman year. It’s the most exciting thing I can think of.”
Heading into this season, Lozzi knew the team would keep getting better, especially as more kids came to the high school that played for the Margate Riptides feeder program. Blending players who already knew the sport with the natural athletes learning in high school was the key to the Vikings’ success.
“You can coach (knowledge of lacrosse), but it’s also something that can be gifted to you through years of playing the sport,” Campbell said. “We get really lucky from the Riptides letting them have that experience beforehand coming to the high school level.”
This season, that came together.
The Vikings are led offensively by Campbell, who has 45 goals. A freshman, Noam Levy-Smith, has 40 goals, and junior Luke McGovern, who began playing as a freshman, has 28 goals and a team-high 34 assists.
Atlantic City also has senior defender Connor Jones, who is going to be a preferred walk-on for NCAA Division I University of Delaware next year.
“It’s good to finally win,” Jones, 18, of Margate, said last Tuesday. “It’s something to build on.”
Though this season’s success was a total surprise to many of the players, they knew they were going to improve.
It began after the first scrimmage against Holy Cross. They competed with a very good team, and the players gained confidence.
That confidence remained despite a 19-5 loss to Mainland. After improving to 2-2 with a win against Vineland on April 17, the Vikings did not fall below .500 again.
“We play more for each other than anything,” said McGovern, 17, of Brigantine, last Tuesday. “We’re less about the stats and more about just playing and having fun.”
Friday’s 18-6 loss to Mainland, though another drubbing on the scoreboard, was a much different game. The Vikings proved to be a good test for Mainland, a team that’s bound to be a high seed in S.J. Group III, Mustangs head coach Clayton Smith said after the game.
And for Lozzi, he was happy with the effort, too, and it showed how far his players have come since being a two-win team two years ago.
“I told them today, ‘you’re a great bunch of guys,’” Lozzi said Friday. “I’m so proud of them in so many ways.”