Boys lacrosse: The Eagles have landed, but can they remain a threat to Cougars in future seasons?

Naples senior Christian Drouin (14) gets ready to fire a shot at the Barron Collier net during Thursday night's District 20 championship game at Barron Collier High School. Drouin scored four times in the first half to keep the Golden Eagles within one at intermission, but the host Cougars pulled away to win 11-7. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

Hunter Thornhill had just completed his final game as a member of the Naples High boys lacrosse team.

The Golden Eagles lost to arch-rival (and Collier County’s sole lacrosse powerhouse since the sport reached varsity status some 10 years ago) Barron Collier, 11-7, in the District 20 title game on Thursday night. At halftime, it was anyone’s game as the Cougars led 6-5.

The top seed in the district tournament, disappointment had to be up there in the range of emotions the Golden Eagles were experiencing.

But so was pride. Thornhill put that into words.

“Me and Alex (Lykins) have both been starting on attack since our freshman year, and it’s been a main goal for both of us to beat Barron at least once in our high school career,” Thornhill said. “The next (goal) was (winning) districts — didn’t quite get there, but we’ll leave that for the kids coming up.”

The Golden Eagles came up with the “Play of the Year” (and we’re not just talking within Collier County; no, this was “SportsCenter Top Plays” quality) to check off that first goal on the night of March 28.

Facing a four-goal, fourth-quarter deficit on the Cougars’ home field, Naples took down Barron, 12-11, for the first time ever. They did so thanks to an improbable length-of-the-field pass from Lykins to fellow senior Christian Drouin, who wheeled around and scored with three seconds left. It was the kind of play — the kind of moment — that stays with you long after your high school days are over.

(If you haven’t seen the play or the game’s aftermath yet, check out the video posted that night by the team on Twitter at @LacrosseNaples.)

Another first for Naples this season? They took the momentum from that win over Barron to secure the top seed in their district tournament.

Now comes the hard part for Naples coach Jamie Stoddard. Yes, his team has arrived, but with nine seniors set to graduate, including Thornhill, Lykins and Drouin (who scored four goals Thursday against Barron), can the Golden Eagles continue to pose a serious threat to Barron Collier’s supremacy? (Other key senior contributors include Cade Barrett and Kyle Chambers.)

The good news? The cupboard won’t be bare for Naples in 2019. That’s especially true in the Eagles’ net, which will be blocked by the imposing figure of goalie Zeb Fuller. (A word of warning: If you shake hands with Fuller, you better bring your ‘A’ grip, or he’ll crush you.)

Naples goalie Zeb Fuller shakes hands with Barron Collier’s Jace Etchechury (15) after the Cougars’ 11-7 win over the Golden Eagles. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Widely recognized as the best goalie in Collier County, and one of the best in the entire state, Fuller will return for his senior year.

Then there’s freshman attacker Macky Peck, who showed a knack this season for scoring in bunches — including a two-goal effort Thursday against Barron. Another year of Peck getting bigger, stronger and faster will help mitigate the offensive deficit left by the departure of Thornhill, Lykins and Drouin.

“Macky played great this year — unbelievable,” Fuller said. “We knew going into (the season) that he had a good level of skill, a good background at lacrosse … so we were looking forward to using him more in our offense this year, and it worked out well.”

Stoddard is thrilled at the prospects of having Peck around for three more years. (FYI: In Peck’s senior year, 2021, his young brother — who is already drawing rave reviews as a sixth-grader — will be a freshman.)

“(Peck) has been working with us since the summer,” said Stoddard, who knows all about the younger brother and the small handful of other promising NHS-bound youngsters who are playing at the youth level that he believes could start right now for the JV team if it were allowed. “He was, from the get go, just phenomenal. I design plays specifically for him. He just has that drive. For a freshman, he’s fearless out there. He’s a player.”

Stoddard will also have players returning with varying degrees of experience like Nathan Graney, Zach Woodring, Zac McWilliams, Benji Howard, Pierce Wasmer and Blake Novak.

Naples’ Nathan Graney (12) pursues Barron Collier’s Will Asher during Thursday’s district title game. GREGG HARDY/CSI

The bad news for Naples? It still will have to deal with Barron Collier, which every year seems to have the right mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen, so they’re seemingly never short on experience.

“Now, it’s our turn to get another one (against the Cougars),” Stoddard said. “We got one, they got one; now it’s our turn to get ’em back. … Yeah, there’s going to be a little extra drive next year to get by them to finish what we started this year.

“There’s a lot of youth coming up. We’re going to have an uphill climb next year, but if (the new players) buy into the program and they dig it out, we’ll see what we can do.”

Having proved they can beat Barron Collier in the regular season, Fuller said it’s now up to the Golden Eagles to show it at districts.

“I think next year we’ve just gotta come out ready to win,” he said, admitting that the Golden Eagles could not match the Cougars’ energy level in Thursday night’s decisive second half.

Thornhill won’t be on the field with the Golden Eagles anymore, but he’ll be watching them next year … and beyond.

“Naples is looking good in the next four years,” he said with a big grin.

Email Gregg Hardy at editor@colliersportsinsider.com. Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider.