The season ended in a familiar place.
And if it took a difficult road to arrive there for the 2023 Cathedral High School boys lacrosse team, that adversity made the Irish stronger. And it made them one of the state’s best programs yet again.
“It’s baptism by fire – that’s what these guys had to do,” longtime Irish boys lacrosse coach Andy Gruber said.
The Irish, long one of Indiana’s top high school boys lacrosse programs, finished an injury-plagued 2023 season with a 6-13 regular-season record. They remained one of the top programs in Indiana against one of the state’s toughest schedules, finishing the regular season No. 3 in the state rankings.
They then advanced to the Indiana High School Lacrosse Association final four, losing 12-7 to Carmel in a state semifinal. They beat Zionsville, 11-8, in a state quarterfinal.
“We had some ups and downs,” Gruber said. “Our strength of schedule still put us in a good position this year. It gave us an opportunity to get experience. We were very happy for that.”
While the program’s long-standing approach of playing one of the tougher schedules in the state and Midwest made the season difficult, Gruber said it also made for a stronger team – and stronger players.
“I told them that the entire time,” Gruber said. “That's what they had to deal with. It was really difficult on some of these seniors, but in the long run, they will not be as good of lacrosse players or as good of a team. If they played a weaker schedule, racked up wins, they would have kept some bad habits, some ways of thinking that really don't get them those big wins.
“Taking the hard losses, going out there, playing the hard games, particularly with a lot of injuries and doing it with their heads high, I think it’s going to teach these guys a lot.”
The Irish in 2023 overcame the midseason loss of junior Jack Bedich – the team’s leading scorer – for four-to-five games to a concussion. Sophomore goalkeeper Brian Panzer missed eight-and-a-half weeks with a hip injury.
“We had a host of other guys missing a game here or a game there,” Gruber said. “We didn't really get any cohesiveness in a practice or in a game with the full complement of players. We got that late in the season and gained some momentum into the playoffs with players playing well. Those two injuries really set this team back a bit.”
Irish’s Lacrosse’s 2023 senior class: Attacker/midfielder Grant Betner, attacker Aden Reyes, defensive midfielder Zach Miller, defensive midfielder JJ Gaines, longstick midfielder Dominic Dager, defender Henry Staggs, midfielder Jackson Edwards, defender Andrew Trobridge.
“All the seniors played under tough circumstances,” Gruber said.
Betner scored 20 goals with three assists, junior midfielder Ian Bonacuse scored 11 goals with four assists and Bedich scored 31 goals with 10 assists. Junior attacker Campbell Reid scored 32 goals with 12 assists and freshman attacker/midfielder Gus Art scored 17 goals with 54 assists. Sophomore Austin Clark scored 12 goals with four assists and Reyes scored 13 goals with two assists.
“We wanted a lot out of this team,” Gruber said. “It wanted a lot out of itself and we just needed to find some momentum and start building. These guys battled all the way through and did their best under some tough circumstances dealing with a lot of tough injuries.”
The ’23 season not only ended with a successful tournament run, it set the tone for what Gruber said should be a strong future for a perennially powerful program.
“The younger guys are going to be well-positioned next year to make a long push into the playoffs with a lot of good games under their belts,” Gruber said. “Particularly the younger guys, they're going to be battle tested, so when they come in next year, they're going to be in a lot better position. That goes all the way down to the freshmen who played for us. They're going to come back as sophomores understanding that the level of play that's necessary to win.”
Added Gruber, “Our junior varsity team had a phenomenal season. A lot of young guys really developed there. We had a lot of really strong sophomores and a few freshmen who played well given the opportunity to compete and push the younger players.
“We're excited to see what the future holds and I think it's only going to be positive.”