Update: San Juan Dragons begin season Saturday at home vs. Mukilteo | Lacrosse

Isaac Taylor, co-captain of the San Juan Dragons lacrosse team, shows off a dessert that was up for bid Tuesday at the team
Isaac Taylor, co-captain of the San Juan Dragons lacrosse team, shows off a dessert that was up for bid Tuesday at the team's annual fund-raiser dinner. The Masonic Hall was packed for the spaghetti dinner and auction, which reportedly raised $6,000 for the team.
— image credit: Richard Walker

It would not be an overstatement to say this is the year the San Juan Dragons lacrosse team plays for a title. Because the Dragons ARE playing for a title, with the confidence that a title is within their grasp.

No longer underdogs, the scrappy team that finished 5-5 last year, tying for first in the Skagit Conference, has more advantages going into this season, which kicks off at home vs. Mukilteo, March 14, 2 p.m. at Friday Harbor High School.

First, the roster consists of 27 varsity players, up from 14 last year. Remember those two games last year that the Dragons lost by 1 (and the two they won by 1)? Some relief from substitutions would have made the difference in the third and fourth quarters.

Second, the Washington High School Boys Lacrosse Association realigned its leagues into four seven-team conferences, from six four-team conferences.

San Juan is in the Skagit Conference with Lynnwood, Mukilteo, North County, Skagit Valley, Stanwood and Whatcom.

That means San Juan doesn't have to face lacrosse giants Northshore, Redmond and Snohomish, who scored a combined 39 goals to San Juan's 6.

"Geographically and size-wise, we're more evenly matched," Dragons Coach Rob Cuomo said.

Third, the players have been training all year, building up endurance and strength, as well as confidence. They work out on physical fitness apparatus they built at Foxhall Field, their training site. And they practice daily, beginning at 3:15 p.m.

"They consider themselves a playoff team this year," Cuomo said. "Last year, it was a goal. This year, they have confidence."

Fourth, the Dragons have some dynamic, experienced players returning this year.

Junior Forest Dayton is back at midfielder. Last season, he was 16th in points (30), 16th in points per game (3) and 17th in goals (22) in the WHSBLA. "If you're playing against San Juan, you have to know where Forest is," Cuomo said.

Senior attackman Isaac Taylor shares the co-captaincy with senior midfielder Conner Johns and junior goalie Calen Mehrer. Last season, Taylor made the WHSBLA's Top 50 in points (18) and points per game (2). Mehrer was one of the best goalies in the WHSBLA: He finished sixth in saves (117).

Others bringing agility and conditioning to the team include Michael Ausilio, quarterback of the 2008 Wolverines football team; and freshman midfielder Michael Davis, who qualified for the state wrestling tournament in his debut year.

"Michael Ausilio and (junior) Brady Sundberg are my two main defenders," Cuomo said.

Also contributing to the team: Adam Allen, freshman midfielder; Josh Buck, junior midfielder; Taylor Budreaux, sophomore midfielder; Jimmy Chaffee, freshman midfielder; Miles Cobos, junior midfielder; Blaine Connelly, senior midfielder; Graham Ellis, junior defender; Dylan Galligan, senior midfielder; Ryan Guard, junior attackman; Weston Hedin, junior midfielder; Dylan Korth, junior midfielder; Anci Melic, junior defender; Nils Nelson, junior attackman; Cameron Paterson, sophomore midfielder; Kyle Skoog, junior attackman; Thomas Smythe, sophomore defender; Alex Michael, junior midfielder; Mike Short, senior midfielder; Matthew Steenkolk, sophomore midfielder; and Cody West, sophomore midfielder.

The San Juan Dragons are affiliated with the Friday Harbor Athletic Association and draws its players from Friday Harbor High School and Spring Street International School. Sandi Guard and Cindy Sundberg are the team moms this year.

While lacrosse is not a "school" sport, its players are held to school district standards. They must sign the co-curricular agreement and they have to take part in fund-raising.

"They understand that playing a sport is a privilege," Cuomo said.

The Dragons were founded in 2003, affiliated with Spring Street School. They finished 7-5 in 2004 and 2005, and went through a rebuilding year as an unaffiliated team in 2006. The Dragons finished 3-11 in 2007. The early team produced two college lacrosse players, Dylan Ellis (Vassar) and Sam Masters (University of Washington).

In 2008, Cuomo joined the team as head coach and Ryan Bennett joined as assistant coach. Under their tutelage, the Dragons finished the regular season 5-5 and tied for the Skagit Conference title. Two members of that team, Josh Christenson and Jens Townsdin, hoped to play for the Huskies.

In addition to the 27 on his varsity roster, another dozen middle-schoolers have joined the Dragons. "We didn't get into the league for middle schools, but we'll be playing in pick-up games during the season," Cuomo said.

Cuomo gives credit for the program's growth to the community and parents. "Now that we have a lot of players, it takes a lot of people to support that," he said. He knows what it costs to run a sports program — his team's expenses are about $10,000, and the team got its jerseys courtesy of monetary donations.

Cuomo — whose daughter, Megan, is on the high school golf team — hopes the high school sports teams are successful in maintaining their funding.

"Everyone must understand the financial responsibility of the district and that it's the community that supports all of these programs, whether directly or indirectly. Lacrosse has been fortunate enough to be surrounded by parents that understand what it takes to run the program. We as a program hope that all of the sports programs are able to find the funding necessary to sustain their programs."

San Juan Dragons
— March 14, 2 p.m.: host Mukilteo
— March 18, 5 p.m.: at Lynnwood (Brier Terrace Middle School)
— March 21, 2 p.m.: host North County
— March 24, 5 p.m.: host Skagit Valley
— March 28, 2 p.m.: host Stanwood
— April 11, 2 p.m.: host Lynnwood
— April 14, 5 p.m.: at Skagit Valley (Skagit River Park)
— April 18, 3 p.m.: at Whatcom (Shuksan Middle School)
— April 23, 5 p.m.: at Stanwood (Stanwood Middle School)
— April 29, 5 p.m.: at North County (Bender Fields)
— May 2, 3 p.m.: at Mukilteo (Kamiak High School)
— May 8, 2 p.m.: host Whatcom

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