Lake Norman puts another 'tight' boys’ lacrosse team in state playoffs
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Tuesday, May. 13, 2014

Lake Norman puts another 'tight' boys’ lacrosse team in state playoffs

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- BILL KISER
Lake Norman High boys lacrosse coach James Brugger, center, with senior captains Shane Gottberg, left, and Bryan Gibson, right, on the Wildcats' practice field at Cornelius Road Park in Mooresville. Gottberg and Gibson both played and Brugger was an assistant coach on the Lake Norman team that won the NCHSAA state championship in 2012.

Lake Norman High boys’ lacrosse coach James Brugger knows there are a lot of differences between this year’s Wildcats team and the one that won a state championship two years ago.

But Brugger also said there was one thing that was very much the same about the two teams: a factor that could help Lake Norman get back to the NCHSAA state title game for the third consecutive year.

“They’re as tight as (the 2012 team) … and that team was as tight as this,” said Brugger, crossing his fingers for emphasis. “Last year, it was the remaining guys (from the 2012 team) and these guys. Now, it’s these guys, and they’re all tight.

“Look at them – they’re all sitting together. Last year, it would’ve been certain kids sitting over here, certain kids over there. I actually had to enforce sitting rules just to get kids to sit together. I haven’t had to do any of that this year.”

The similarities have also been noticed by the Wildcats’ handful of seniors, some of whom played on the 2012 team.

“It’s pretty obvious this year that we’ve got a group of guys who want to be around each other,” said team captain Bryan Gibson. “It plays a huge part, both on and off the field.

“Last year, that was a big problem, something we wanted to fix this year. That was one of our main talking points from the beginning of the year, that we were a family, and we needed to stick together. It’s been night and day.”

The Wildcats finished the regular season with a 10-6 record (6-0 conference), including a first-round loss to Lake Norman Charter in the league tournament. But a closer look at the some of the teams Lake Norman faced – state contenders Charlotte Catholic and Raleigh’s Cardinals Gibbons, and regional powers Memphis (Tenn.) University and Roswell (Ga.) Centennial – shows the Wildcats had a tougher-than-usual schedule.

That was by design, according to Brugger, an assistant coach with then-head coach Kevin Gowan on the 2012 state championship team.

“Everybody’s been licking their chops to take a shot at us,” Brugger said. “Before, when a team would take a punch at us, we had the attitude that we were going to punch back harder. But these guys, when they’d take a team’s best shot, they didn’t know how to react – it was like, ‘Hey, we just got punched – what do we do?’ But they’ve been getting better at it as the season’s gone.

“Our schedule’s never been tougher. If I could have made it even tougher, I would’ve. As long as we’re getting better, we could have lost all of our non-conference games and I wouldn’t have cared.”

The method to Brugger’s madness hasn’t been lost on Lake Norman’s players, especially the handful who were on the Wildcats’ 2012 state title winning team and last year’s state runner-up.

“The past couple years since we’ve been on the varsity team, we haven’t played teams that had this much talent,” said team captain Shane Gottberg. “We’re definitely not used to losing games like we have, but we’ve been handling it pretty well.

“Now that we’re down a few guys this year, it’s really paying off. We’re all working hard in practice, and we’re coming together as a family. It really helps on the field.”

Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at bkisercltobs@gmail.com.

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