When asked to define what the Lenape boys lacrosse program is all about, senior captains Will Mercado, Bryce Reece, Rob Pensabene and Matt Soutar were all in sync.
“We’re a blue-collar team,” Pensabene said. “That’s our go-to mantra.”
“(Head coach Bill) Sutphin’s always told us we’re a blue-collar team,” Soutar said. “We come from a small town and we play a lot of the competitive private schools. We’re really prideful that we take the people in the program that we have, we work hard and we really get better as a team.”
Hard work has propelled the four seniors into the captain’s role for Lenape this year. The four will be looked upon to lead the way for a young Indians team featuring only seven seniors and looking to do something the program hasn’t done before: win a state championship.
Lenape’s goal isn’t far-fetched. The Indians have appeared in five straight South Jersey Group 4 finals, winning two of them. Last year, Lenape won its sectional title before losing in the Group 4 state championship to Watchung Hills.
Being a captain for a team recognized as one of the best in South Jersey over the past five years is a huge responsibility, but also a big honor. Mercado said it was an honor to become a captain and follow in the footsteps of other great players.
“I hold it very close to my heart,” Mercado said. “I know the people who have been through this program before, my brother (Joe) being one of them. I know I want to be exactly like the leaders that came before me.”
The four captains are determined to carry on the legacy of past leaders, especially when it comes to building a family-atmosphere. All four have memories of how past captains played a role in their growth. Pensabene still talks of how he looked up to former goalkeeper and 2016 graduate Manny D’Alessio during his freshman year. For Soutar, he still works with another 2016 graduate, Conor Gaffney, on face-offs and also learned a lot from 2018 graduate Zach Cole.
“I’ve had lots of great role models for myself,” Soutar said. “I really just try to take everything that they taught me.”
Reece has also embraced the legacy of Lenape’s captains and got in contact with some of them to receive tips.
“I’ve reached out to past captains on the team and just ask them for guidance, what they would do to play their part,” Reece said. “I would ask them, how can I be a leader off the field?”
For Reece, being a leader off the field is just as important as what goes on between the lines. He believes a family-like culture was critical to the team’s past success and believes the same will hold true this season.
“We have to work to get back to (states) with the pieces we have,” Reece said. “So we just have to pull together with that family culture and help each other out.”
Mercado believes the captain’s job is made easier because of the blue-collar culture Sutphin has entrenched in the program. He said the underclassmen come into the program with a hard-nosed mentality.
“I’m blown away with how mature they are on the field,” Mercado said about the underclassmen. “We have sophomores that are acting way more mature than their age. That speaks volumes about our program.”
“A lot of the guys don’t need to be taught (about the high expectations),” Pensabene added. “They know we’re going to be held to a high standard.”
The blue-collar attitude and maturity could play a key role down the stretch for Lenape. All four captains noted how previous senior leaders have been able to reach new heights for the program. They want to make sure the pattern continues in 2019.
“We’re looking bigger,” Soutar said. “We want to take it to the next level and keep improving this program. There were times where we weren’t making the playoffs and winning playoff games. Now we’re looking for a state championship. It’s something to be proud of.”