The Eagles, who were quarterfinalists a year ago, are once again among the top contenders in Class AAAAAA with a 13-2 overall record and the top seed in Area 2AAAAAA as well as the No. 3 ranking in the latest laxpower.com poll.
“We had some growing pains at the beginning of the year, trying to get everybody to buy into what we’re doing,” Milton coach Tom Dell said. “But now, it seems everything is starting to come together. The kids are all working hard and buying into the program, working as a team.”
Milton enters the state playoffs with a veteran roster that features 15 seniors.
“This is the most seniors that I ever had,” Dell said. “We’ve got a bunch of seniors and a bunch of juniors and the sophomore and freshmen classes are really strong.”
Dell said that the Eagles’ depth will make them difficult to match up against as they head into the postseason.
“Our strength is our depth,” he said. “The fact that we have a lot of talented players – we’re not relying on one or two guys to carry us. I think it makes us balanced on offense and defense and makes us hard to play against.”
Milton has continued a successful run over the last few seasons that have included state championships in 2010 and ’12 as well as last year’s trip to the quarterfinals.
“We’ve been very luck and very fortunate,” Dell said. “Ever since I’ve been at Milton the last six years, we’ve been blessed to have very talented players. We have a good feeder program that has helped us get that and it’s one of those things that we haven’t had a down year in a long time and that goes to show how hard the kids work, how determined the kids are to making the program a quality lacrosse program.”
Senior attacker Justin Newell, a Tampa signee, led the team with 34 goals and 25 assists as of last Friday, while fellow senior attacker Brandon Davis has contributed 31 goals and 17 assists on the year.
Sophomore midfielder Austin Hawks (15 goals, 11 assists), senior midfielder Nick Newell (16 goals, 5 assists) – Justin Newell’s twin brother – senior midfielder and Rutgers signee Chad Toliver (15 goals, 6 assists), senior midfielder Hunter Sanna (11 goals, 2 assists) and sophomore goalkeeper Griffin Basile are the other key players for the Eagles.
Milton emerged on top of an increasingly competitive 2AAAAAA, finishing ahead of top-10 state-ranked teams Roswell (ninth) and Walton (10th) in the area standings.
“The playing field [in the area] is definitely balancing out,” Dell said. “In year’s past, you had a couple of different teams and they eventually ran through everybody and this year, it seems like more and more of the playing field is balancing to where any team can beat on any day and the minute you don’t show up and don’t play the best game you can, somebody is going to make you pay for it.”
With a successful spring break earlier in the month in Florida — where it won two of three games — under its belt, Dell said he is encouraged by the progress that his team has made as it gets ready for the state playoffs.
“We just got done with our spring break trip and that was a huge success,” Dell said. “We did a great job, did a lot of bonding and came together as a team. That was the first time we played up to our ability and I hope we can continue to play up to our ability and keep the level up every game.”