College lacrosse recruit Will Dahl, headed to UMass Lowell, fires a shot during St. Thomas Academy lacrosse practice Friday, April 4, 2014, at the West St. Paul Sports Dome in West St. Paul, MN.](DAVID JOLES/STARTRIBUNE) firstname.lastname@example.org **Will Da
Each player has the same six letters in a decal on the back of his helmet. It’s on their warm-up T-shirts as well.
Six letters that the St. Thomas Academy boys’ lacrosse team believes spell out everything its season is about.
“It’s real simple,” coach John Barnes said. “It’s family, as in F-A-M-I-L-Y: Forget About Me, I Love You.”
“We want to come together as a team, and we know that’s the only way we’re going to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” senior James Riley said.
That would be a run to the state tournament.
St. Thomas has never made it out of the Section 6 playoffs. But the program has progressed over four seasons of Barnes’ tenure. The Cadets won three games in his first year, 11 last year.
This spring, with a talented and experienced senior class — coupled with a solid crop of up-and-comers — the St. Thomas players feel poised for a breakthrough.
“Right now, it’s just putting those pieces together,” Barnes said. “We have great senior leadership, but you can’t win with just a few guys. … That’s where that word comes in: family.”
Riley is expected to sign a national letter of intent in the coming weeks to play at Duke. Fellow senior Stephen “Will” Dahl will play at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, also a Division I program.
They serve as the team’s co-captains and, with fellow seniors Grant Oncay, Mike Smilanich and Sam Rudisill, make up the Cadets’ core leadership group.
This senior class, Barnes said, is special — athletically, in the classroom and in their ability to lead and affect the younger players. They’ve been a part of teams with double-digit wins in each of the past two seasons.
While Dahl emphasizes the goal of “leaving behind a legacy,” he said his team is able to balance a sharp focus on the field with camaraderie and laid-back team chemistry off of it.
“We play hard, but we have fun,” said Dahl, the team’s leading scorer a year ago.
“That’s one of the more important parts of our team because it keeps you motivated and makes us want to go to practice and work together.”
Leading the way
Section 6 is one of the state’s toughest in boys’ lacrosse. With perennial powers Blake and Benilde-St. Margaret’s to contend with, the Cadets don’t have an easy road to the state tournament in Chanhassen.
“We have 13, 14 weeks to really jell and come together,” Barnes said. “Then we’ll see what happens.”
Barnes has put a lot of responsibility on his co-captains to make their goals a reality.
Riley and Dahl lead the team’s first 20-30 minutes of practice each day.
“The coaches can only say so much,” Dahl said. “At some point we have to come together and rely on each other to get things done. We all have to be in it together.”
Just like a family.