Shawnee boys lacrosse making refinements after strong start

Shawnee boys lacrosse is improving on ground balls and diversifying its offense as it looks to contend for a sectional title in May.

Shawnee’s Jake Barnett, Freddy McAneney and Colin Dougherty swarm Eastern’s Ernie Merriweather during the Renegades’ 15-6 win over the Vikings on Tuesday. The Renegades plan to continue playing an aggressive brand of lacrosse in the second half of the season.

Even the best teams can always make improvements in the middle of the season.

Shawnee boys lacrosse is the perfect example of that. The Renegades have been one of South Jersey’s top teams in the first half of 2019, winning seven of their first eight games and coming through with clutch second-half performances in a number of their wins.

Despite its stellar record, Shawnee recognizes it has room for improvement, especially after suffering its first defeat of the season against Lenape on April 20.

“I think we have a little chip on our shoulder after that,” senior Kyle Korchak said. “We weren’t happy with that loss. We played really well in the second half against Lenape, but it wasn’t enough.”

First-year head coach Don Green has Shawnee focusing on a number of key areas with the start of playoffs just a couple of weeks away on May 15. The biggest area of emphasis is ground balls.

“That’s been our Achilles’ heel the entire season, the lack of effort on ground balls,” Green said. “Ground balls are really just an effort play. We really focus on trying harder. We focus on the technique. We focus on doing them a lot in practice and understanding ground balls are the difference in possession.”

Korchak said the team has been focusing on the Notre Dame ground ball drill in practice.

Shawnee’s Jake Barnett prepares to scoop up a ground ball off of a faceoff during the Renegades’ 15-6 win over Eastern on Tuesday. Shawnee is hoping to win more ground balls in the second half after struggling in that area during the season’s opening weeks.

“It’s a drill where we go from sideline to sideline, picking up ground balls, doing different variations where we kick it, we pick it up and do a move after or we hit it with our stick and pick it up,” he said.

Shawnee is also moving some players around in the lineup heading into the regular season’s final weeks. One of those changes is taking place on offense, where Korchak has swapped spots with senior Grant Pargas. In last Tuesday’s game at Eastern, Korchak made his first start at attack with Pargas moving to midfield.

“We tried it out in practice,” Korchak said. “It worked really well so we did it in the game.”

The move paid dividends when Korchak scored five goals in the Renegades’ 15-6 win over Eastern. After not scoring in Shawnee’s first five games of the season, Korchak tallied nine goals in the Renegades’ next three games.

“I think the switch with me and Grant is really good because he’s faster and has a better dodge from up top,” Korchak said, “I just kind of felt at home down low.”

Shawnee’s Kyle Korchak prepares to fire a shot in a 15-6 win last Tuesday at Eastern. A position change allowed Korchak to contribute more on offense for the Renegades last week.

Shawnee is looking for some more offense to complement junior Chris Lyons, who is among the top scorers in South Jersey with 33 goals in Shawnee’s first eight games. Green recognizes having more weapons on offense will make the Shawnee offense more unpredictable for opponents.

“It makes you very hard to defend,” Green said. “Chris is so good and has scored so much. He’s become a focal point and now, it’s really opening up the other guys.”

Not only does Shawnee have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, but it also has proven itself in the clutch. The Renegades had a run of four consecutive games in mid-April decided by two goals or fewer. Shawnee won three of those games, including a 9-8 overtime win over Haddonfield. In its April 20 loss to Lenape, Shawnee nearly came from behind, outscoring the Indians 8-4 in the second half en route to a 12-10 loss.

“It helps us focus for the end-of-the-game scenarios,” Green said of the close games. “As we go through the playoffs, we know there’s going to be a lot of tight games. Having experienced some of those is going to give us a lot of composure in those moments.”

Shawnee is hoping these improvements will make its already potent team a championship contender in the postseason. The Renegades will be battle-tested prior to the start of playoffs. In addition to its two conference games against Lenape, Shawnee will also be facing off against one of the top teams in the region, St. Augustine, in one of the final games of the regular season on May 10.

“We need more big-game exposure and opportunity, especially for what we hope is going to be a long playoff run,” Green said.