As a team made up almost entirely of fourth-graders competing in a league comprising mostly fifth-grade teams, the Panthers PeeWee Crusaders-division lacrosse team faced a tough slate of games throughout the 2019 season.
The Panthers didn’t just hold their own, however. They went and won the league championship.
The Panthers, coached by Bryan Fulton, defeated their big-brother Panthers fifth-graders coached by Jon Pisano, 5-1, in the county’s PeeWee Crusaders division championship game at Annapolis High School on May 19.
The team was made up of goalie Brandt Widmer; defensemen Wyatt Thompson, Trace Klapaska, Alex McDonald, Nathan Schreiber, Jeremiah Morton and Rylen Grundy; middies Nolan Behler, Jake Forman, Nicholas Zenker, Chase Cage, Alan McDonald, Eric Bieda, Braylon Tucker, Jaden Humphrey and Jaxon Vardy; and attack men Chase Fulton, Mason Bombard, Davin Inglis, Landon Szymanski, Cayden Carey and Josh Morton and coached by Fulton, middies coach Bill Forman, defense coach Bobby Widmer and attack coach Todd Zenker.
Made up of 20 fourth-graders and two fifth-graders, the team figured to be overmatched in a league of mostly fifth-grade teams, but the Panthers played well from the start, as 11 of them have played for five years, six have played for three years and five were playing their first season. The team went 8-2 in the regular season and was the only fourth-grade team to make the playoffs.
In the playoffs, the Panthers avenged one of their only regular-season losses by defeating Crofton 10-6; Crofton had defeated the Panthers just two weeks earlier. Fulton led the way with seven goals while Tucker, Zenker and McDonald scored a goal apiece.
The Panthers then squared off with Pisano’s 11-0 Panthers team for the championship. Fulton led the way with three goals and Cage had two, and Widmer and the defense locked down to secure a 5-1 win. Widmer surrendered only seven goals on 24 shots in two playoff wins.
In going 10-2 overall, the Panthers scored 76 goals and gave up only 44.
Coach Fulton said the team had high expectations going into the season based on their experience and despite being younger than most of their opponents, and they slowly began to believe in their ability.
“I told the boys on Day 1 of practice and throughout the season, ‘If you want it, we can,’” said Fulton. “They all looked when I said it like I was crazy. When we won the championship, I asked them if they wanted to know what I meant and they all said yes. ‘If you want it, we will win the championship.’”