SCARBOROUGH — The Red Storm are determined to extend their title wave.
But the winners of the past four Class A boys’ lacrosse championships are feeling a little overlooked as the season gets under way.
John Wheeler was the constant in that four-peat, and this year’s Scarborough players know what you’re thinking.
“A lot of people are gunning for us. A lot of people are saying last season we pretty much relied on one player,” senior goalie Jordan Flannery said.
“I think it’s in our benefit that people are thinking down upon us now that we’ve lost John Wheeler (to graduation). I don’t think they realize how many shooters we have.”
Scarborough was 14-1 last year with Wheeler piling up a state-leading 87 points. In his place, Coach Joe Hezlep will roll out nine players he believes are capable of being dynamic scorers.
Among them are Christian Neelon, Austin Doody, Cam Loiselle, Nate Howard and Chris Cyr. Each put up at least 12 points a year ago and will be called upon to do much more.
“What happened in years past is done. It’s a totally new mission this year, totally new group of kids,” Hezlep said.
“We’ll rely on a lot of different players to fill the role of handling the ball. We’ve always had other kids who can play, they just may not have gotten as many touches because (Wheeler) was so good that they didn’t have to.”
Scarborough is expecting strong challenges from Cheverus, South Portland and Thornton Academy, although Hezlep said the talent is so spread out in the state that a host of teams could spring upsets.
Cheverus emerged from the East last year, only to fall 15-4 in the title match. But Coach Bill Bodwell returns seven seniors and will be able to rely on a stout defense as the Stags look to take the next step.
“A big thing we’re working on is just understanding that we can have success by sharing the ball,” Bodwell said. “We’ve got to be selective. In lacrosse, bad shots result in lost possession of the ball. And lacrosse is totally possession-oriented.”
South Portland has been building a tradition under Coach Thomas Fiorini, moving from 4-9 to 11-3 last year as its young players grew up. A pivotal moment last spring came when South Portland fell behind Scarborough 6-0, then regrouped to tie the score before falling, 9-8.
It was a loss but a significant step forward.
“They just came out a little unprepared and a little nervous,” Fiorini said of his players. “When they realized we can run with these guys, they started picking up and running after the ball. We actually had Scarborough on their heels.
“We want that game back.”
Led by attacker Thomas Leddy, midfielder Duncan Preston and goalie T-Moe Hellier, the Red Riots believe they are well-positioned to challenge Scarborough for Western supremacy. But Fiorini is the first to admit that his team has proven nothing yet, even after the best season in the program’s 14-year history.
“We have never gotten into the Western Conference game. We need to actually get there first before we can start talking about state championships,” he said. “Scarborough, it goes through them.”
The Red Storm remember that narrow escape against South Portland. It’s a source of confidence for them as well because it forced Flannery to come of age in net.
Then a junior, he had been the backup to David Pearson for three years. But a thumb injury to Pearson sent Flannery into action for three games, including that showdown with the Red Riots.
“I was definitely shaky,” Flannery said. “Once they started scoring goals, I got a little antsy, but I think that will help this year, knowing that I’ve grown out of that a little bit and will handle the pressure a lot better.”
Neelon said the game was proof that defense is ultimately what wins games. Still, the senior will be called on to fill the scoring void Wheeler leaves, and he’s eager for that opportunity.
“I feel like my role last year was playing under somebody,” he said. “Now I’m being asked to score those goals, or at least assist.
“In my book an assist’s as good as a goal.”
Flannery and Neelon have watched a lacrosse heritage take root in Scarborough. Neelon said when he started playing in fourth grade, there were 22 children practicing once a week.
Last week, Hezlep counted 93 third- through sixth-graders at a session on the high school’s turf field.
“I know that tradition means a lot to this entire team,” said Flannery, whose older brother played on the first Red Storm team to capture a state title in 2006.
“We put a lot of work in in the offseason. I just think we’re ready again, with a lot of people able to step up this year.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: