WEDDINGTON – Britton Short spent the past two seasons coaching against the Weddington boys lacrosse team, so he knew they were supremely talented when he took over the program at the beginning of this season.
The Warriors had won their first NCHSAA 1A/2A/3A championship last year and had beaten rival Marvin Ridge – where Short spent 2016 and 2017 coaching the Mavs JV team while also serving as a varsity assistant – five of six times during those two seasons.
Even with seeing the Warriors so many times, Short was surprised with what he had when he took over the program.
“I was obviously familiar with the talent they had just from coaching against them for the past two years, but really getting in there and working with them showed me that they are really coachable kids, too,” Short said. “We came in as a new staff this year with the expectation of winning a state championship because they had just won one. Everyone knows the talent on this team, but you never know how that’s going to go. But these kids bought into what we wanted and it was a joy to see.”
The Warriors began the season with eight straight wins, including a 10-9 overtime win over Northwest Guilford. From there, they lost two of their next four games but by design, Weddington’s schedule was absolutely loaded with non-conference foes.
Their two losses came in a 11-9 defeat at the hands of Middle Creek, who went unbeaten until falling in the NCHSAA 4A championship game, and a one-goal setback to Lake Norman, who went 22-2 and beat Middle Creek in the 4A championship game.
“There were a couple of games that really woke us up early on because maybe we were taking teams too lightly,” Short said. “But we played really well in those two games and in particular the Lake Norman game where we had a couple of shots toward the end to tie it, but we just couldn’t capitalize.”
That was also nearly the only time the Warriors didn’t come through as they went 19-2 on the season and closed the year with nine consecutive wins.
Led by an explosive offense that featured 100-point scorers and all-state selections Anthony Todano (72 goals, 43 assists) and James Shipley (an all-American who scored 55 goals and added 47 assists), the Warriors were unstoppable as they tallied 327 goals and averaged 15.6 scores per game.
Michael Burns (43 goals, 22 assists), Eamon Murphy (30 goals), all-state freshman Will Shipley (29 goals, 33 assists), Ryan Goldstein (14 goals, 22 assists) and PJ Johnson (11 goals) also contributed to the offensive firepower that was almost an embarrassment of riches.
“It was huge to have so many weapons on offense,” Short said. “That’s what made us such a threat in so many games that we played and what provided us opportunities in the second half after teams made adjustments from what we did in the first half.”
While the offense was at times scoring at will, the defense was equally adept at thwarting opposing offensive attacks.
The defense allowed just 130 goals, or just over six per contest. For Short, who specializes on the defensive side of the field, it was a magical team effort.
He credited first team all-state players Tanner Cox and Jared Papke, who was also named an all-American. Joining them was Bryce Cheek, who made 151 saves as a senior in goal and is another all-state selection heading to the University of Utah next season. Patrick Burke, who is a senior signed to Babson College, and Colby Barsz switched positions midway through the year. Burke moved from the close position from long stick middle, while Barsz moved from the close position up to long stick.
Everything Short did with his defense seemed to pay off.
“I’m just so proud of our defense,” Short said. “If it wasn’t for them, we legitimately wouldn’t have won three or four games that we ended up winning this year. Some of the games that we did lose, our defense was the reason we even had a shot to come back. They were exceptional.”
All of that talent came together as the Warriors cruised through the playoffs with wins over Hickory (27-0), Charlotte Catholic (12-7), 2016 state champion Marvin Ridge (10-4) and Mount Tabor (11-7) to reach the championship game against East Chapel Hill.
Short said he wanted to come out and make a big statement.
But, he said, his Warriors were a bit nervous as they stepped on the field. The first four Weddington shots were right at the East Chapel Hill goalkeeper, and the Warriors were struggling to score.
“We couldn’t buy a goal,” Short said. “Our first goal from Ryan Goldstein was actually an own goal that hit a kid’s stick and got past their keeper. But after we scored that one, I think the kids were able to relax.”
And pour on the offense.
The Warriors led 3-0 after the first quarter and would go on to take a 12-1 lead before East Chapel Hill could muster another goal with 44 seconds left in the second half.
“Going into the second quarter, I told them that we really need to press the gas pedal,” Short said. “My thought was that if we could get a four or five goal lead, we could really get into the other team’s heads a little and test their will. But, even with that, I don’t know if you’re ever really relieved in a game like that. In the back of my head I’m thinking if we can do what we just did then so can they. It was relieving knowing that if they scored a couple of goals, we still had a nine-goal cushion. That really helped.”
From their 12-1 lead, the Warriors cruised the rest of the way, winning their second consecutive title, 20-6.
Todano was named the championship game MVP after scoring eight goals and adding three assists, but Short said it was once again a total team effort that he can look back on now with great pride.
“The kids did every single thing that we asked them all season long,” he said. “There were never any issues wondering if they were going to show up ready to come to work and get better. They are a resilient group of kids, and I’m just so proud to be their coach.”