Loaded for bear, unbeaten Sharks embark on regionals

Trace Davidson unleashes a shot during Gulf Coast's regular-season finale against Naples on April 12. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

The undefeated regular season and runaway district championship were great.

Now, Connor Doyle wants a challenge.

“I want to feel like I won a game,” the Gulf Coast High School senior said nearly two weeks ago after scoring four goals in a 9-2 home win over Naples High that concluded the regular season. “Sometimes it just feels like we came out here (and) we messed around a little bit. I want that fight. I want to have to fight for a win … .”

PHOTO GALLERY: View images of Gulf Coast’s win over Naples

True, the Sharks (15-0) have hardly been tested this season — their margin of victory is more than 15 goals per game — but they should expect a fight Friday night. They’ll visit Barron Collier in a regional quarterfinal rematch from last year.

You remember Barron, the team that just up until last year’s 12-11 overtime loss at Gulf Coast ruled Southwest Florida lacrosse with an iron grip … for an entire decade. (Earlier in the season, the Cougars lost a thriller against Naples — their first-ever loss to a Collier County team since lacrosse was introduced as a varsity sport back in 2008.)

No doubt, the Cougars (10-6) are seeking revenge after being knocked off their perch by the Sharks, and their 12-6 loss at Gulf Coast on March 22 had to tweak them even more. (Barron led that game 5-3 at halftime.)

Doyle said the recent run of success against the Cougars has changed Gulf Coast’s outlook. He said Barron now represents an “obstacle, not a roadblock.”

If the Sharks do get past Barron, Doyle and coach Mark Woodruff believe another likely rematch awaits them.

“We’re looking to Cardinal Mooney; they beat us pretty bad last year,” Doyle said, recalling the Sharks’ 17-4 regional semifinal loss in Sarasota that came four days after the euphoric win over Barron. “That’s the first big dog after Barron.”

Ranked fourth in the state with a 19-1 record, Cardinal Mooney “will be a handful,” Woodruff said, “but this year it’ll be at home, so that will help us a little bit.”

Gulf Coast coach Mark Woodruff addresses his players during halftime of their win over Naples. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Though there have been few challenges on the field this season (the Sharks’ only other tests — other than Barron — were a 13-5 win at Fort Myers and an 11-8 home win over Cardinal Gibbons), Gulf Coast did have to overcome one big hurdle.

It was a change at the top.

Brett Queener, a decorated former lacrosse pro who guided the Sharks to their breakthrough season last year, resigned as Gulf Coast’s head coach in early March. (Queener was hired in December as director of player development for Collier County Lacrosse Association — the main artery to funnel youth players into the county’s high school lacrosse programs; and several weeks later, he was named director of coaching and player development for the Gulf Coast Wahoos, a Naples-based regional development program.)

While Woodruff is the head coach, Joe “Buddha” Meyer — who guided Gulf Coast from 2014-17 — has returned to provide some Xs and Os help.

“Obviously it’s tough. He’s a big part of our team, and we all looked up to him and respected him, and he’s a big part of our success,” Doyle, a four-year starter, said about Queener. “He taught us everything we know. Coach Buddha came here and he saw that we were having our success, and he didn’t want us to change it. We know how to play the game, and (the coaching change) is what it is. We’re going to keep playing our game.”

Prior to the season, the big challenge on the field for Gulf Coast lied at the defensive end. The Sharks were a senior-laden bunch back there last year.

“Our young guys on defense have really stepped up,” Woodruff said after the Naples win. “… Our poles are gelling at the right time; our goalie didn’t face many shots (against the Golden Eagles) because our defense was constantly turning them over (and) regaining position. As long as they can play with that composure and that type of focus, we’re going to be all right moving forward.”

As for junior goalie Dylan Whelan, Woodruff said he’s “having a fantastic year” and called him one of the top two goalies in the area.

Woodruff added: “His clears are right on point. He’s definitely a key to our team.”

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