By Wayne Witkowski
Jackson Memorial High School’s boys’ lacrosse team is looking to get back into the Shore Conference Tournament after falling short of qualifying the past four years.
In stark contrast, the Jaguars reached the championship game two straight years prior to that. Veteran starting goalkeeper Dylan Furnback remembers those glory years when he and his six senior classmates were middle school students.
“When that class graduated, it was irreplaceable,” Furnback said “We want to definitely get back into the swing of things, to settle into a groove. This is a great group of seniors who set a good example. These guys want to be here, to be the best and work the hardest. We’re tired of losing, of struggling.”
Furnback would like to be part of a group that leaves its mark before he embarks on a college career at Mount St. Mary’s University as the first Jackson Memorial player to play in an NCAA Division I program.
“I hadn’t heard about the school until the coaches contacted me and when I went there [on an official recruiting visit], I loved being around the coaches and the atmosphere,” Furnback said.
He said he likes that he can major in chemistry there and that it has a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) that many college do not offer as he prepares for a career in the U.S. Army.
“He’s a leader and a leader on the field, which is why we rely on him,” said coach Joe Pienkowski, whose staff of assistant coaches include former Jackson Memorial lacrosse player Tyler DeStefano, Pat Conti and Bob Wyskowski.
Jackson Memorial will rely first on its experience in the back, where defenders Mitch Mills (senior), Sean Duggan (junior) and Jake Bryson (sophomore) draw on a year’s experience as starters with senior long stick middie Tom Olenik to minimize scoring threats against Furnback. Sophomore Joe DeRosa will see action as a long stick middie, while junior defensemen Joe Grimaldi, Jack Mezejy and Tom Campbell will provide depth.
Junior Yael Bonilla and sophomore Ethan Davis back up Furnback in goal.
“Last year, we focused on getting the defense where we wanted it to play,” said Pienkowski, whose team won only four games.
The middies also have depth behind the first unit that includes senior Spencer Swain and juniors Logan Reese and Matt Perillo. The reserves include juniors Rob Stiuso and Tim Schindler, sophomores Aaron Hutchinson and Hunter Lobelle and freshmen Brayden Kukan and Joe Iacobono.
Justin Mayer, the leading scorer last year, is graduated, along with attackman Greg McKay and standout long stick middie Chip Strainer, but there are others ready to carry the load for this season, including senior attackmen John Chitren and Dakota Neron and sophomore Santo Porazzo. Backing them up are senior Kyle Housey and freshmen Sean Laverty and Nick Perillo.
“In the past, we had the talent but not a whole team effort like this team,” Pienkowski said. “They have a good positive attitude. They’re starting to come together.”
Jackson Memorial opened March 29 at home against Shore Conference A South Division opponent Toms River High School East. It plays at crosstown rival Jackson Liberty High School April 12. Jackson Liberty has won the last two meetings.
“I think we can compete,” Pienkowski said. “These guys are hungry and have the right mindset. They’re excited for the season to start, and I’m excited to see what they can do.”
Jackson Liberty faces a contrasting situation from Jackson Memorial, as it looks to rebuild from losing 11 players to graduation off last year’s 13-7 team that lost in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Group III state semifinals.
Coach Anthony Dzienkiewicz said he saw better a performance in an evenly played scrimmage against Red Bank Catholic High School than in the opening one against Freehold Township High School.
The Lions will look to replace a talented graduated group that includes attackman Tyler Kalmowitz, who scored 64 goals last year and is at Ocean County Community College; middie Walter Matthies, who is at DeSales University; defender Christian Stefanowitz, who is at Cabrini College; and goalkeeper Chris Mulholland, who is at Georgian Court University.
“This team has a lot of character, a good group of hard workers,” said Dzienkiewicz, who has as his assistant coaches Connor Cunningham and Ryan Totin, a former player at Jackson Memorial and Montclair State University.
Junior Max Matthies is expected to be one of the leaders of this year’s team. He had 22 goals, three assists and 33 ground balls last season.
Sophomore Sean Reid has stepped in as goalkeeper.
Senior attackman Dylan O’Connor recorded 16 goals, seven assists and 31 ground balls last season.
Middie Brad McKelvey and defender George Frueh are two seniors who will provide leadership as team captains. Also expected to figure in heavily are senior long pole middie Steve Schuster and junior middie Tom Ferullo, who tallied six goals, three assists and 33 ground balls last year.
Giving depth to the attack are junior Nick LaBianca and sophomore Gavin Ferullo.