The Pope John Lions boys’ lacrosse team finished with a good 10-9 record in 2022, but they wanted more.
Their biggest goal was bringing home an HWS (Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex) championship which hadn’t been done in the program since 2021. This was achieved this season after sophomore Travis Heller scored the overtime winner on May 13th against the Hunterdon Central Red Devils to win the game 11-10. This was the highlight of the 2023 season for the Lions as they finished 13-3 to end the regular season, but with the state playoffs still to come, they are looking to add another trophy to their collection.
The season had a rocky start for the Lions as they started 1-2 with the second loss coming to the Delbarton Green Wave in a very disappointing 16-3 fashion. The Lions would use that game to turn their season around as they would only lose one more time throughout the rest of the season.
The highlight of the regular season was winning the in-season tournament known as HWS. Entering as the the number one seed, the Lions knew they would be tested on their path to win a championship. Having two byes was nice for the Lions, and they proved that they could handle the lower seeds with ease as they defeated the North Hunterdon Lions 15-6 and the Vernon Vikings 16-4 to reach the championship game. A team that the Lions seemed to struggle against in every sport during this tournament was the Red Devils.
The Red Devils entered the tournament as a number three seed, but crushed the number two seed Delaware Valley Terriers 15-2 to reach the championship game. The Lions fought and never gave up, leading to a 10-10 tie game at the end of the four quarters. In overtime, the Lions worked as a team, and Heller received the ball. With a good shot in sight, Heller scored the game-winning goal to give the Lions an HWS championship. After the game, Heller was very pleased to be the one who scored the goal, but was ecstatic to have won HWS.
“It was one of the best feelings getting that OT goal and winning the trophy for my team,” said Heller. “It feels great to beat Hunterdon Central [the Red Devils], especially because we lost to them last year, and they have been our number one goal to beat in the finals this year. Our goalie (senior) Joe Barnish played great, like always, and when our offense plays like we did, it is very hard for a defense to stop us. I am very happy that we were able to bring home the trophy for our seniors.”
The sophomore class didn’t just have the overtime winner of this game, but the MVP of the game, sophomore Mikey Ramirez, was ecstatic to win MVP, and the team had another thing to celebrate.
“It was a great team win, especially because it was a reward for all the hard work we have put in this season,” said Ramirez. “Winning the MVP was an awesome experience for me, but this was a team win, and we know that we are good enough to win a state championship this season because of the seniors that we have on the team.”
With the state playoffs ahead, the Lions aren’t done in 2023. They look to go all the way and bring home a state championship. Lions head coach Chris Hoffmann is very excited on how the season went, but he knows the team still has some work to do to bring home that state championship.