By Olivia Granaiola
As the inaugural season of boys’ lacrosse at Forest High School (Ocala) comes to an end, it looks like the Wildcats have set themselves up for a bright future.
The boys’ team, coached by Kyle Strausser, ended the regular season with a winning record of 7-6, including a 4-2 record in the district which earned them a spot in next week’s district tournament.
This special season was highlighted by a school that took a chance, a dedicated coach, and the players who made it all happen.
Strausser, a native of upstate New York, moved to Florida during his freshman year of high school and made a shocking discovery.
“I was heartbroken to discover little to no lacrosse in the state of Florida,” Strausser said.
After all, upstate New York is the home of lacrosse.
So, when he had the chance, Kyle Strausser became Coach and brought his everlasting New York State of Mind to Ocala, Florida, where he guided everything from boys with years of experience to boys who had never picked up a stick
“As a coach, it has been an honor to see them grow as individual players and as a team overall,” he said. “I have been able to see their love grow for the sport, as well as their overall game knowledge,” he beamed.
But, according to Coach Strausser himself, the team decided the fate of the season instead of allowing the “newness” of the sport to overtake them.
“Each player has seemed to take ownership in some way of this team,” said Strausser. “They push each other in practice, teach each other, learn from each other, and support each other.”
The 27-boy roster is made up of six freshmen, four sophomores, seven juniors, and 10 seniors. And while the younger kids get another chance to build on a stellar first season, the seniors will graduate, leaving their lacrosse careers with them.
Last week, the boys celebrated Senior Night. Each senior processed the end in a different way, but one feeling united the “One-Seasoners”: humility and honor about the opportunity to play lacrosse for the Forest Wildcats.
“Being a first year lacrosse player, but also being on the first ever lacrosse team at Forest is something I surely will never forget,” said Tyler Carr, one of three assistant captains who plays defense. “I definitely regret not starting sooner and really growing into a good lacrosse player, but I am thankful for being able to play at least one year.”
One of Carr’s fellow assistant captains, Jared Grow, is moving onto collegiate lax at Saint Leo University. But, he will never forget his one year in the Florida High School Athletic Association.
“I was, and still am, very excited to play for and represent Forest HS,” he said. “Senior night was awesome, a lot of people came to watch us and we were able to win our game that night 18-5.”
However, as emotions ran high for the entire team, team captain and goalie Josh Austin said it best, as he summed up the season.
“This has been a great season,” he explained. “Making it to the district tournament our very first year is a dream come true. Senior night was very emotional, being the first senior class to play for Forest. I have been dreaming about playing for my high school ever since I started playing. This whole season has been a dream come true.”
In addition to the players, Coach Strausser thanks friends, family, fans, Forest faculty, and more for making this season possible.
And as for next year?
“The journey to being the inaugural team was a long road, but each of us is proud to be a part of it,” he said. “I look forward to a bright future here at Forest for many years and I couldn’t be happier.”
The Wildcats are slated to play Buchholz in the district semifinals on Wednesday, April 18th, at 7:00 p.m. at Citizens Field in Gainesville.