TAMPA – After two straight district titles, the Jesuit High School lacrosse team is looking for bigger things.
The Tampa Bay area has been behind much of the rest of Florida in building the sport. While teams in South Florida, Jacksonville, Central Florida and the Fort Myers area have grown to the point where they can at least be competitive on the national level, it wasn’t until recently that the game has started to boom in the Tampa Bay area. Jesuit is at the front of the pack.
The Tigers started the season with nine straight wins, including routs of rivals Plant and Tampa Catholic, before a close loss to Gulf Coast to end the streak. The Tigers can win even when they aren’t at the top of their game. After the rout of Plant, scoring three goals in the first minute of the game, the Tigers were flat at home against Tampa Catholic. Still, they won 15-4.
Brian Lemon took over at Jesuit this season. He has a strong lacrosse background after playing in the National Lacrosse League for eight seasons and being the vice president of operations for the NLL.
“Our program has a lot of quality kids and they all want more than just a district this year,” Lemon said. “We’re starting to get some attention and part of that is Tampa getting more attention every year. The coaches up north aren’t overlooking Florida kids anymore. Our travel teams can compete with anybody.”
Two of the main factors in the Jesuit success are attackman Stefano Mastro and middie Noah Menendez. They believe that Lemon is the kind of coach that can put them over the top.
“We are definitely one of the top 10 teams in the state.” Mastro said. “We know we can play with anyone in the country.”
Menendez said, like Lemon, that Tampa Bay lacrosse is catching up not only with the state, but also on the national level.
“I think we might still be a step behind the rest,” Menendez said. “But we are getting there. We have a lot of guys going to college for lacrosse and that didn’t happen before. When you have more than 400 kids going to lacrosse camps down here that means a lot.”
There’s still a ways to go for Jesuit and Tampa Bay. Jesuit might be a big fish in the region but there’s still a matter of getting some love from the rest of Florida and for Florida to get some respect from the rest of the lacrosse world.
“We are not respected as much as we should be,” Mastro said. “But you have to remember that, in other places, especially in the North, families have been playing the game for generations. In Tampa, our dads didn’t even play lacrosse. We played baseball and basketball. Up in the North, they grew up with lacrosse sticks.”
The Tigers are also unafraid to take on the rest of the world. With big games against nationally ranked teams in its own classic last weekend the Tigers got a taste of major high school lacrosse.
The Tigers might be the strongest team in Tampa Bay, but they have their sights on bigger things.