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Wheeling Central Lacrosse Going for Repeat in State Championship

Photo by Cody Tomer Wheeling Central’s Braxton Anderson and the Maroon Knights will look to repeat as state champs on Saturday against Spring Mills in Morgantown.

WHEELING — Wait no more.

Wheeling Central’s lacrosse team will finally get the opportunity to defend its state title on Saturday when the Maroon Knights take on unbeaten Spring Mills (13-0) at 7 p.m. at Morgantown High School.

It will be a rematch of the 2019 state final in which the Maroon Knights defeated the Cardinals 11-8.

After last year was called off due to COVID, the two teams faced off again on May 7 this year and Spring Mills earned a 12-3 triumph.

“It’s going to be a tough task,” Central coach Kevin Maloney said. “They have a great program and they are extremely well coached. They are on the border of Maryland so it’s not a foreign sport to them. Their team is made up of phenomenal players. They are skilled, fast and they know where to attack to be successful.”

Following this year’s loss to Spring Mills, Central lost to Martinsburg 13-8 in its next game before finishing on a seven-game winning streak.

During the last seven games, the Knights have outscored opponents 101-43.

Central (13-2) punched their second straight ticket to state last week with a triple overtime 11-10 victory over George Washington.

The winning goal came when senior J.D. LaHood found classmate Caleb Karnell to wrap it up.

Karnell has a team-high 71 points this season with 42 goals and 29 assists. He was also the MVP of the state title game in 2019.

LaHood is the team’s leading scorer with 45 goals. He also has 14 assists, while Mason Smith leads the squad with 35 assists to go along with his 22 goals.

John Emmerth has accumulated 31 goals and 14 assists, while Braxton Anderson (29 points), Andrew Komorowski (16 points), Parker Watkins (15 points) and Austin Nestor (12 points) have also been key contributors on offense for the Knights.

Komorowski also leads the team in ground balls with 75, followed by Smith (63), Trey Helms (55) and Andrew Johnson (50).

Senior Hayden Berickman leads the defense with 25 takeaways, while Johnson has 24 and Lorenzo Ferrera has amassed 21.

“It’s been a great year,” Maloney said. “We’ve been able to put together a season after the pandemic and it really put sports into perspective. It put a sense of enjoyment in sports and we’re not taking it for granted.”

At goalie, following the state semifinal win, senior John Johnson left for military boot camp and will not be with the team for the state title matchup.

Johnson has accounted for 126 saves and an 11-2 record this season.

Sophomore Deant Suggs will fill that role and he has been patiently waiting for his chance to shine.

Suggs has a 2-0 mark this year with 13 saves.

“We’re leaning on Suggs,” Maloney said. “He has some experience in goal and he is very capable of stepping up. He is a little younger but he has the talent and can run with what John has been doing.

“Suggs was an understudy last season before it was canceled and he worked with the goalie we had in the past. He knew that Johnson brought a different energy and he just stood by. He is a very smart player willing to sacrifice and work hard to put us in a good position.”

Along with skilled scorers, talented defensemen and hard working goalies, Maloney always has high praise for his coaching staff.

“I lean heavily on guys like Mike Fahey, Travis Luft, Ryan Gossett and Brennen Maloney,” Coach Maloney said. “They are my brain trust. They work with me to develop a game plan that will go along with our players’ tenacity and skill — something that will work.

“I’ve told our guys all week that it’s not going to be a cake walk. You have to hunt for what you want to eat.”

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