It was approximately a year ago when then-junior Nate Sears walked off the Ocean City High School lacrosse field following a 9-6 sectional final loss — a game that Shawnee had led 5-3 at halftime — and vowed, along with his fellow varsity returners, to get revenge the following season.
Sure enough, Shawnee lived true to its word and defeated Clearview 14-11 in Medford to capture the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 3 sectional title Saturday, May 28. The win marked the Renegades boys lacrosse team’s first sectional championship since 2015 and fourth in program history.
Sears and junior Nick Goeller each scored a team-high four goals apiece for Shawnee in the effort. Clearview’s Mario Leone scored a game-high six goals for the Pioneers.
Last years sectional final loss is one that’s long lingered in the heads of this years Shawnee senior class, including Sears specifically; Shortly following the loss to Ocean City last spring, he changed his phone lock screen to a photo of himself and fellow-senior Ethan Krauss in the foreground while members of the Ocean City team celebrate moments after winning the sectional title in the background.
It was a moment he wanted to make sure was ingrained in his memory before the start of his senior season. Having now been able to finally fulfill the team’s revenge-driven season, Sears said, was a more than a welcome feeling.
“This is one of the best feelings in my 18 years of life,” Sears said. “We were coming out for revenge this year, we were pissed off coming into this season about what happened last year and didn’t want that to happen again.”
Clearview jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in just the first few minutes of this year’s sectional final, prompting Shawnee to call a timeout in an effort to regroup and calm the teams nerves. According to Sears, the message was simple.
“We know how it feels to play in a sectional title game from last year and what it takes over the course of a whole game, but we still came out a little slow and nervous at first,” Sears said. “We talked about it a few days ago that we needed to treat this like any other game and not get too worked up about it ahead of time.
“Coach [Don] Green had us huddle up in that timeout and said we needed to take a deep breath and calm down, so one of our coaches took us through a quick breathing exercise and it felt like we came out firing after that.”
Shawnee had previously lost three straight sectional finals to Moorestown from 2017 to 2019 before the 2019-’20 season was canceled due to the pandemic, before then also losing last year’s sectional final to Ocean City. Therefore, this year’s victory snapped Shawnee’s four-year long sectional final losing streak.
Last year’s team, according to third-year head coach Don Green, was a very talented, but young, varsity group. Being able to make it to the sectional championship last year, the coach said, was a testament to the team’s grit and talent. Last year’s experience played as a big benefit this season.
“From the second that we lost that game last season, this year’s senior class was immediately talking about how we were going to win it this year,” Green said. “There was no way they were going to finish this season without this championship … These guys had so much experience from last year and from playing a number of close games this season too.
“It definitely helped them, especially in what was a close second half in this game,” he added.
Goeller’s four goals tied his career-high, having first done so earlier this postseason in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs against Mainland in a 22-5 win. Approximately midway through the season, he suffered an abdominal injury that forced the junior season to miss about three weeks, leaving him initially unsure as to what role he could play in the postseason as it approached.
“I was worried for a bit there about if I’d be able to come back this season but I just kept rehabbing and staying involved as I could be from the sidelines during games and in practice,” Goeller said. “This was such a big game so it feels awesome to have been able to do this; I’m happy we were finally able to bring back the sectional title to Shawnee since it had been a while since we won it.”
Following the win, Shawnee now moves on to the NJSIAA Group 3 state championship game against Scotch Plains-Fanwood. The Renegades have played that opponent just once in its history, which was a 10-6 loss earlier this season.
Shawnee is looking to, once again, flip the script.
“We’re not done yet… we’re coming for the state title,” Sears said.