By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Wrapping up their 2021 regular season at 5-6 (1-1 Oakland Activities Association White Division), the Oxford Wildcats boys’ lacrosse team began postseason play on May 21 by squaring off with the Saginaw Heritage Hawks, a member of the Saginaw Valley League, in the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Region No. 8 quarterfinals.
Oxford High School was selected as one of eight Division 1 regional host sites, affording the team the opportunity to play on their home turf.
Extending their lead to five goals with 32.5 seconds to play in the third quarter, the action became tight late, but the fourth-seeded Wildcats were able to hold off fifth-seeded Saginaw Heritage, 8-7.
Senior Jake Dawood, the son of assistant coach Patrick Dawood, led the way offensively with a hat trick, with classmate Nicholas Soukup, who will be continuing his career at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level for the Lawrence Technological Blue Devils, adding two.
Defensemen Drake Biggie, Aidan Regan – third-year head coach Shawn Regan’s son – and Matt Wolfe, all of whom are seniors, came up with several big plays on the back end to help junior goaltender Eric Paternoster keep the Hawk offense in-check.
Like Soukup, Biggie will be playing in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) in 2022, having signed with the Michigan-Dearborn Wolverines.
There was some unfortunate news to come out of the victory, however, as two Wildcats, Dawood and junior long-stick midfielder Luke Williams, were ejected from the game in separate incidents as the contest became more chippy in the fourth quarter.
Dawood’s early exit was the result of a physical scuffle with a couple of Hawks, while Williams’ was for using profanity toward an official.
In accordance with MHSAA guidelines, student-athletes ejected from a game must also sit out the following contest, meaning these two will be unavailable in the regional semifinals.
As for those regional semifinals, up next for Oxford is a date with the winner of the game between the one-seeded Clarkston Wolves and ninth-seeded Lapeer Lightning on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
Following the Wildcats’ regular season finale against the Grosse Pointe South Blue Devils, who belong to the Macomb Area Conference (MAC), on May 17, The Oxford Leader was able to catch up with Coach Regan to discuss the team’s season, which was their first since 2019 with the 2020 season being canceled by concerns over the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Having to deal with an 18-day COVID-19-related pause just two games into their campaign, resulting in the cancelation of five contests, and losing four of their first five games, the team battled their share of challenges.
However, Regan’s young men became stronger as the season progressed, as the Saginaw Heritage triumph marked their fifth victory in their last seven tilts. The coach shared his message to his team and how they kept moving forward.
“Every game could be your last,” he began. “I think the opportunity to play any sport for any athlete right now has been important, and all the coaches on other teams and in our program working together to make sure the kids have a good experience this spring.
“My message really is: This could be your last game. Play every game like it’s your last because this easily could be taken away from you.”
Regan also touched on the on-field factors behind the team’s midseason surge.
“We were scoring really well, our offense has been moving really well,” he said. “Our defense has been solid for weeks, for weeks. Lacrosse is funny, if you’re winning your faceoffs and keeping possession, the other team doesn’t score. If you’re giving up possession every time we go to faceoff, your defense is in the hole.”
As you would expect with a team with a .500 record, Oxford’s goal differential is almost completely even this season, as the team has scored 101 goals and surrendered 98. A three-game win streak over the Brandon Blackhawks, Rochester Falcons, and the Brighton Bulldogs’ Varsity “B” team from May 11-14 was particularly encouraging, though, as the Wildcats outscored the opposition, 42-14, in that span.
With a steady mix of contributing attackers, midfielders, and defensemen, Regan identified a couple of young men who have stood out to him this season and stepped up as leaders on the team.
“Nick Soukup, our season captain, this is his fourth year on varsity, the last three-to-four games, he’s really been coming on strong as a shooter,” he said. “Carl (Bailey), controls it from the ‘X’ position, does a great job of just kind of facilitating things, and when he has the opportunity to shoot, he takes good shots, makes good decisions.”
“Offensively, Jack Wandrie is probably one of the best athletes on the team, he plays midfield, does our faceoffs. When he’s in a groove, he takes good shots and works both ends of the field.”
Bailey, a junior, is the son of the Wildcats’ girls’ tennis coach, Gayle Bailey, and the name of Wandrie, a senior, is likely familiar to readers, as he started at linebacker for Zach Line’s football program, finishing as the team’s leading tackler in 2020, and wrestled for Ross Wingert, as well.
In addition to concluding the regular season, the clash with Grosse Pointe South was significant because it served as the program’s Senior Night, a recognition of the team’s 15 members of the Class of 2021 and their parents. While the student-athletes on the field deservedly draw most of the attention, it is important to recognize their parents, too, for the time and money they have devoted to help their sons reach this point in life.
In the unique position of coaching his son, Regan shared what this group of young men means to him and the program.
“This senior group, I think I coached half of them in Phys Ed class, I coached them in tee ball, flag football, had them for three years of high school football and now three years of lacrosse,” he reminisced. “They’re a special group for me and I don’t want to see it end.”
The clash between the Wolves and Lapeer, determining Oxford’s regional semifinal opponent, took place at 3 p.m. at Clarkston on Sunday.
Ranked as the sixth-best Division 1 team in the state by LaxNumbers.com, the Wolves entered play at 12-4, while the Lightning came in at 5-9.
By Teddy Rydquist