Billy Kroeger mastered his role as a faceoff specialist for the Ocean City High School boys lacrosse team throughout his career.
The position, dubbed FOGO, or “faceoff, get off (the field),” is an important role because the more faceoffs a team wins, the more possessions and scoring opportunities it will have on offense.
This season, Kroeger won a program-record and, according to coach Joe LaTorre, a state-leading 301 faceoffs. Kroeger won 77 percent of his faceoff attempts and had a team-leading 156 ground balls.
The senior finished his career with a program-record 765 faceoff wins.
Kroeger is The Press Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year.
“I take pride in the position,” said Kroeger, 17, of Upper Township. “It makes me happy because by me doing good, it leads to success with the team.
“It puts pressure on me because you always want to do the right thing. But it feels good, honestly, because the pressure helps me get better.”
Unlike in the college game, there is no possession clock in high school. If a team keeps winning faceoffs, the opposing team’s offensive opportunities are limited.
“Having a player like him is a game-changer,” Ocean City coach Joe LaTorre said. “Just off his pure skill and athleticism, you’re getting something special. When I talk to younger faceoff kids about their technique, I’m going to mention him.”
Kroeger led Ocean City to its first-ever appearance in the South Jersey Group III semifinals. The Red Raiders finished 19-3 and were undefeated against Cape-Atlantic League opponents.
“He is a 24/7 lacrosse player,” LaTorre said. “He wasn’t just given all this God-given talent. He is a grinder and works at his craft. It doesn’t surprise me why he is the best faceoff kid in the state.”
Kroeger’s contributions kept the Red Raiders in many games.
On April 25, the Red Raiders were losing 6-1 to Cape Henlopen (Delaware), but Kroeger won 17 straight faceoffs to help his team complete a 13-9 comeback victory.
In the sectional semifinals, Kroeger won the opening faceoff in the fourth quarter and sparked an attempted comeback against eventual South Jersey runner-up Shawnee.
“I’m just doing it for my teammates,” Kroeger said. “A lot of games are won or lost with the groundball and faceoff game. I just wanted to do it for my teammates because I want to see them succeed.”
Kroeger will continue his lacrosse career next season at New Jersey Institute of Technology, an NCAA Division I program.
“I’m really going to miss the kid,” LaTorre said. “I’m more excited to see what he does at the Division I level. I think he’s going to be an instant contributor for NJIT because of his work ethic and drive.”
Kroeger enjoyed his career at Ocean City.
“It’s going to help me tremendously because it prepared me for the future,” he said. “It should be a jump next year, but it should be a fun one.”
Team of the Year
St. Augustine Prep plays outside the CAL as an independent with a tough schedule.
The Hermits finished 14-4 and advanced to the state Non-Public A semifinals, suffering their only in-state loss to eventual-champion Delbarton. It was the ninth season in the last decade they competed in the semifinals.
The Hermits’ other defeats this season were against out-of-state teams, including Penn Charter and Malvern Prep from the talented Inter-Academic League in Pennsylvania.
But they beat comparably talented squads, including Germantown Academy (Inter-Ac), Ocean City, Lenape, Shawnee, Christian Brothers Academy and Moorestown, which won the state Group III championship.
St. Augustine is The Press Team of the Year.
“While we have several program goals in play each year, ending on a win is the ultimate goal, and we fell short of that this year,” he said. “(But) we’re definitely happy with many of the statistical gains that we saw this year in key areas.”
Dave Burr led the team with 44 goals to go with 23 assists. Mikey Vanaman had 41 assists and 33 goals. Steve DelleMonache won 61 percent of his faceoffs, and junior goaltender Joey Serafine posted a .610 save percentage.
The Hermits, ranked ninth in the state by NJ.com, also had key contributions from junior midfielder Logan Hone and defenders Cole Murray and Wil Carpenter, among others.
“Each and every year, we are fully aware of the road that lies ahead, and we aim to meet those challenges head on,” Valore said.
“With a strong and experienced group of underclassmen in place for next year, we will continue to work hard towards ending on a win.”
Coach of the Year
Under LaTorre’s direction this spring, Ocean City achieved many first-time accomplishments.
LaTorre guided the Red Raiders to their first appearance in the S.J. Group III semifinals. The team captured the CAL American Division title and finished as the 15th-ranked team in the state as ranked by NJ.com.
Prior to this season, it had never cracked the top 50.
It was also the first time the Red Raiders beat out-of-state teams — Cape Henlopen (Delaware) and Holy Ghost Prep (Pennsylvania).
LaTorre is The Press Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year.
“I’m one of the luckiest guys in the state,” the seventh-year coach said. “I’ve got a great group of kids that want to work every day and want to become the best they can be.”
LaTorre credited assistant coaches Brent Earl, Bruce Ladd, Chris Clark, Dane Brasslett, Steve Scheffler, John Bellingeri and Shane Rauner.
“I don’t know everything about lacrosse,” LaTorre said. “I do know a lot about it, but the assistant coaches at Ocean City make our program what it is. They are the most knowledgeable guys in South Jersey. I cannot begin to express how much (they) have done to help put our kids in a position to be successful.”