Everyone knows the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”
Most of the time the phrase has a negative connotation implying that when your wish is granted, it is more than you bargained for and not the outcome your wanted.
Some may think that the saying could apply to Sparta’s boys lacrosse team which joined one of the top divisions in the state this year the Fitch-Pitt in the North Jersey Interscholastic Lacrosse League.
But don’t tell that to Sparta coach Tyler Meth whose plan to the join the ‘big dogs” began when he took over Sussex County’s top program four years ago and he couldn’t be happier playing the Chathams, Mountain Lakes and the Delbartons of the world.
Sparta, which went 20-1 last year, winning the Rizk Division and the county’s and the school’s first Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex championship, is off to a 1-2 start this season with setbacks to Chatham and Mountain Lakes and a tough OT win over West Essex.
But there is no panic on the Sparta sideline, and rightfully so. Despite key injuries to Jesse West, Devin McIntyre, Harry Francisco and projected starting goalie Reed McCall, Sparta stood toe-to-toe with Mountain Lakes on Saturday at Wilkins Field in Mountain Lakes in a 9-4 loss.
In fact, add those players and take away six minutes of penalties due to illegal sticks and we may have seen a different outcome or a closer game goalwise.
I came away impressed with the mental toughness of the Spartans, which shouldn’t surprise me, but more importantly, the Spartans earned the respect of the Lakers and their Hall-of Fame and legendary coach Tim Flynn.
One of the first things Flynn said to me after the game was how impressed he was with the Spartans in the programs’ first-ever meeting. And it wasn’t coach speak. Flynn is a straight-shooter if there ever was one.
“Take away the penalties and it is a different game,” said Meth after the game. “Especially in a game where we needed every possession we could get. We gave away too many opportunities.”
Sparta, in fact, was tied with the Lakers after one quarter thanks to a goal from Brendan Puszcz. But penalties did in the Spartans as the Lakers scored four goals in the man-up.
“I think we need to put forth more of a team effort together and start doing the little things right,” said Meth. “Playing in this conference for the first time we can play with anybody. It just comes down to the little things.”
Leaving the Rizk was the right move, in my opinion. The Spartans had nothing left to prove in the Rizk and it was time for them to take the next step if they ever want to win a state title.
It was just bad luck that the Spartans suffered some key injuries to start the season. But the program has enough depth to be competitive and showed it in the win over West Essex and the loss against the Lakers.
“We have a couple of main key guys injured and it is the next man up philosophy, said Meth. “The guys who have stepped up are younger and it is a great experience for them and I hope it helps us in the long run.”
The Spartans have plenty of talented senior leaders in Alex Milliken, Will McKenna, Jack Valentine, Puszcz, Travis Tracy, Mike Freeman and Paddy Finnegan to hold the fort. But due to the injuries it’s a junior that has a target on his back when it comes to the attack.
Stelios Kroudis, who combined with West for 144 goals last year and is committed to Villanova, has been terrific with eight goals including five in the West Essex game including the game-winner in OT.
He scored twice in the loss to Mountain Lakes even with the Lakers’ top long pole Ben Kaplan draped all over him.
“He is just a gamer and he wants the ball in his stick when the game is on the line. When you need one he is going to come through,” said Meth. “He just puts the team right on his back. He is unbelievable. He is a guy who wants to get better every single day.”
And that is all the Spartans should concentrate on at this point. Looking at their schedule could be overwhelming as they still have to play Summit, Delbarton, West Morris, Seton Hall Prep and Westfield.
But if Saturday’s game is any indication, the Spartans are ready for the challenge. It may not translate into 20 wins this season, but it will pay off in the states and the H/W/S.
The Spartans are playing for May and hoping to end their losing streak in the states to Chatham which has bounced the Spartans the last four years.
“We knew what we were getting ourselves into,” said Meth. “This is for the long run but I think we can still compete this year and have a very, very good season.
“But we aren’t afraid of losing games,” he added. “We knew we were going to take a couple on the chin early on. I think the past three games, even Chatham (14-1 loss), we know we can compete. We just have to pick it up and it is all fixable stuff.”
It certainly is fixable and I have no doubt the Spartans will figure it out. The mistakes they made against Mt. Lakes they probably would have gotten away with against t a Rizk Division team. But this is a whole new world.
So if you are Sparta fan you have to look at the big picture which is is extremely bright. The township has a terrific feeder program and the top-flight players play year round so it is just a matter of time before the Spartans break through and win a section and possibly a state title.
And that is something that the Spartans will be wishing for and will be more than happy to receive.
That’s it for now see you on the sidelines.