Seniors Drive Lake Orion Lax Turnaround

May 16, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Brad Thomas and his coaching staff did their best last May to make practices fun. But that wasn’t always easy with his Lake Orion boys lacrosse team heading toward the end of a second straight sub-.500 season.

A year later, everything has changed.

The Dragons are 14-1 and have clinched the Oakland Activities Association Red championship – and are the Applebee’s Team of the Month for April after starting the season with 10 straight wins through April 30.

Lake Orion was 7-12 in 2014 and 5-14 last spring after starting 2-8 both of those seasons. But the Dragons showed signs of emerging near the end of 2015, winning three of their final six games. And five of their losses last season were by four goals or fewer.

“We have a lot of upperclassmen who have been up (on varsity) the last couple of years and experienced a lot of close losses,” said Thomas, who is in his sixth season leading the program. “It would be a one or two-goal game, and we wouldn’t make a play at the end.

“This year, we’ve had a lot of close games. But we’ve found ways to make plays, and that’s been driven by the seniors. … Whether it’s been locking in defensively, or scoring more goals on offense or finding a way to get a ground ball. And the younger guys have bought in and see how special we can be.”

The turnaround has included first wins in program history over Birmingham, Clarkston, Troy Athens and Rochester Adams. Lake Orion is ranked No. 8 in Division 1, with its only loss by a goal to Division 2 No. 8 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on May 3.

That Birmingham win – 9-8 in overtime on April 15 – gave Thomas an idea that the just-miss experiences of the last two seasons might pay off. The Dragons have seven wins by four or fewer goals and two one-goal wins over their last four games, including a double-overtime edging of Bloomfield Hills.

Lake Orion has eight seniors, including four who have been on the varsity three seasons – goalie Zach Daining, defender Jack McClear, midfielder Cole Schaefer and attack Jake Chapie. 

This senior class also is the first to play in the middle school program, and the community’s 5-year-old youth program now starts at 9-and-under.

The team has worked to become part of its greater community as well, last season playing a “Lacrosse for a Cause” game that raised money for ALS of Michigan after the mother of a player died after suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. 

Two weeks ago, the team through fundraising and the dedication of its game against Oxford raised more than $6,000 for the Fallen and Wounded Solider Fund, a Bloomfield Hills-based effort that provides financial assistance to veterans and their families.

“They’re just good people,” Thomas said of his players, “just a great group of guys who work hard and are dedicated to being good to each other – a great example of what we want the program to be here.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2015-16:
March: Hancock ice hockey – Report
Petoskey boys skiing – Report
January: Spring Lake boys swimming & diving – Report
Saginaw Heritage girls basketball – Report
November: Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard volleyball – Report
October: Benton Harbor football – Report

September: Mason and Okemos boys soccer – Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Lake Orion boys lacrosse players line up before a game this season. (Middle) Dragons attack Jake Chapie (13) looks for an opening. (Photos courtesy of Lake Orion boys lacrosse program.)

Future Has Arrived as Port Huron United Continues Impressive Climb

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 8, 2024

Brad McDougal knew when he returned to the Port Huron United lacrosse program in 2019 that in order to grow it to what he thought it could be, he’d have to build for the future.

Bay & ThumbHis plan was simple and time-tested: Start a youth program that would get players within the school system playing together more frequently and against better competition, preparing them to one day be varsity players.

It didn’t take long to see that it could work, and perhaps better and faster than he had hoped.

“We’ve known for a while (this was the year),” McDougal said. “Basically, when I started with that youth team, my ambition was if I can get four or five kids that have been coached, then build around them for the varsity program, that would be great. It turned out to be 15 of them.”

Behind 15 seniors, the majority of whom were part of McDougal’s original youth team, Port Huron United is competing at a level it never has before. United is ranked No. 9 in the Division 1 MPR following a 10-3 start, and won the Macomb Area Conference Red title for the first time in program history.

It’s a history that McDougal is plenty familiar with, having been a high school junior when the program began in 2006. McDougals have been part of the program ever since, whether it was him as a coach fresh out of high school and now, his brother Ben as a player, or his father Brian as a coach at various levels throughout all of it.

“Being around it as long as I have, that has sunk in,” he said. “The amount of teams that are reaching out to us now that never would have before – teams reaching out for film, ‘How were you able to defend this?’ Teams reaching out for scheduling that I think would have just ignored the email a couple years back. It’s definitely not lost on me.”

It’s also not lost on the players, who have heard McDougal talk about the program’s beginnings and have also seen first-hand a quick ascent.

As freshmen, this current group of seniors were a major part of a varsity team that played in the MAC Blue – the MAC’s divisions are based on performance, with Red being the highest – dominating it and earning promotion to the MAC White the following season. Another unbeaten league season put United into the MAC Red in 2023, and while there were some growing pains in going 2-3 against higher-level competition, there were signs of better things to come.

Matt Graham (12) maintains possession against the Cougars. “The second my class joined, we just dominated our leagues,” senior goalie Danny Moore said. “We went from Blue to White to Red in three years. Last year in the Red, we went 2-3, but it wasn’t without close games. I think (the rise) definitely stunned us a little bit. Not a week goes by that I don’t think about the giant leap we took. It’s like a world record long jump.”

Moore said the team started this season “like a cannonball out of the cannon with too much gun powder” as this group of seniors knew it was their last opportunity to play with one another.

United was dominant in its MAC Red season, going 5-0 and out-scoring opponents 61-12, not allowing more than three goals in any single game.

On the season, it has outscored opponents 136-50, led by senior goal-scoring threats Silas Klink, Jacob O’Hare, Nate DeLand, Matt Graham and Tim Monaghan. Moore is stopping more than 80 percent of the shots he’s faced, behind the defense of seniors Jack Bennett and Max Williams, and junior Parker Quinn, among others.

That’s despite a beefed-up nonconference schedule, which McDougal put together to better prepare his team for the upcoming postseason.

“We have a way harder schedule this year,” Klink said. “We haven’t ever made it to the Regional Final in all the program’s history, so that’s a big goal. I think scheduling all these teams, Coach McDougal knew what he was doing to get us battle-tested.”

Boys Lacrosse Regionals open May 16, and Lake Orion – which defeated Port Huron 11-4 in the season opener – is the host of United’s bracket.

Winning a Regional is the next goal for Port Huron, and McDougal repeatedly tells his team he wants a Michigan trophy. They’re ready to do all they can to make that happen, but also aren’t shying away from the possibility of blowing away his expectations once again.

“State champs,” said Bennett, who has committed to play lacrosse at Albion College along with Moore. “We want to go all the way. It would just be like – I don’t even know how to describe it. For the program, it would further push lacrosse at my high school and Port Huron. Twenty years ago, we didn’t even have a lacrosse team, so I think it would really push lacrosse in Port Huron.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Port Huron United’s Silas Klink (1) makes a run at the goal against Macomb Dakota. (Middle) Matt Graham (12) maintains possession against the Cougars. (Photos by Margaret Quinn.)