By Bob Nuse
The Hun School boys’ lacrosse team was challenged on several occasions during its state Prep A final against Lawrenceville on Monday.
And each time the Raiders rose to the challenge.
“We were confident in the guys and the game plan,” said Hun coach MV Whitlow, whose team held off the Big Red for a 10-7 victory in the state Prep A championship game that was played in Princeton. “We made a couple of halftime adjustments and with the senior leadership we have with our captains Devin Cowan and Jack Ruddy, we were confident that they were going to execute those adjustments. They’ve come a long way and their lacrosse IQs are high. They are just young student athletes of great character.”
Grant Hansen scored three goals, while Jackson Barletta, Jake Wright and Cowan each scored twice to spark the host Raiders to their second straight state Prep A title.
“This is what we worked all year for, to win the state championship,” said Ruddy, a senior defender. “It felt great last year and we really wanted to do it again. We always know it is going to be a battle with Lawrenceville. We respect them as an opponent. They are a great team and you have to give them credit. We just know we have to give a great effort to be able to beat them.”
The Raiders trailed, 3-2, after the first quarter and turned that into a 5-4 halftime lead. The game was tied, 6-6, before Hun scored two goals in the closing minutes of the third quarter to open up an 8-6 lead.
“I am proud of the guys,” said Whitlow, whose team improved to 10-2 on the season. “I told them before the game that it is their championship. It belongs to them. It’s this senior class’ championship. I had alums reach out to me today and say good luck in the game. And that means a lot. Part of that is the opponent. It is a worthy opponent. Lawrenceville has great players and we respect them a great deal. It makes winning the championship that much better.”
Ruddy has been a captain for each of the last two titles. He’s been a part the program since playing for the middle school team and has grown into his role as a leader.
“I have always been a multi-sport athlete, but lacrosse has always been my in my heart number one,” said Ruddy, who will next play at Johns Hopkins University. “My dad played at North Carolina, so that has always been my favorite. I love playing the other sports. It helps me as an athlete become a better lacrosse player.
“Coach Whitlow gives us a great schedule to play with great opponents. In practice I am always going against great players who play at a high level. We have great offensive players and great guys on defense. So everything we do is high level. Coach runs a great practice and everything we do is just high level.”
Ruddy and Cowan are part of a senior class that also includes Barletta, Wright, Hansen Blake, James Hundley, Nicholas Ramsey, Karson Schellscheidt and Donald Nestlerode.
“Jack and Devon have been great senior captains,” Whitlow said. “They have done everything behind the scenes that captains do. They have helped guys with things. They have led by example. They have given great speeches. They’re great players on the field, but they are also great people off the field. That’s a product of the school and a credit to our program. I am really proud of both of those guys.”
The Raiders began their preparation for the Prep A title during the offseason and then challenged themselves against a tough regular season schedule, with their lone losses coming against IMG Academy and Episcopal Academy.
“I thought we were very well conditioned,” Whitlow said. “That comes down to the senior leadership and the culture. The culture is in place to where the guys really want to work hard and the the conditioning aspect was there. Our strength and conditioning coach, Coach (Na’ati Akauola), does a great job with the guys. But the seniors led them. And our depth was there also. I thought we got great play out of our second midfield, which was huge.”
Added Ruddy: “We definitely got better playing against those great teams. I feel like it showed today playing against that high level competition.”
Hun will play the Hill School on Friday and Bergen Catholic next Monday before beginning the National Prep Championship Tournament on May 16. The national tournament will mean facing some more tough competition.
“These guys like being together,” Whitlow said. “It will be a hard adjustment. This is a big championship. But this group is pretty galvanized and they are pretty together. So we’ll hit the reset button and get ready for that. We still have two regular season games left.”
As long as the Raiders can keep playing, they’ll keep attacking the games the same way. They have a special chemistry that comes from the bond the players have formed over the years.
“I think part of it is the school and how small we are and nurturing,” Whitlow said. “A lot of the coaches at Hun do a good job. You have to give some credit to Bill Quirk, who is a great athletic director and so supportive. They feel a closeness and are willing to sacrifice for each other and that is something you just can’t fake.”