Zach Cole powers Lenape past Cherokee in lacrosse

Zach Cole (7) led Lenape to a 14-8 win over Cherokee in the boys’ lacrosse season opener for both teams.

Zach Cole didn’t score a goal Wednesday in Lenape’s 14-8 victory over Cherokee in boys’ lacrosse.

He had one assist. He still was the most imposing player on the field.

“He’s a once-in-20-years player,” Lenape coach Bill Sutphin said of Cole after the season opener for the school district rivals on a cool, damp afternoon on the artificial turf at Memorial Park in Mount Laurel.

Cole, a St. Joseph’s recruit, won 21 of 24 faceoffs, enabling the Indians to dominate possession in the final three quarters in rallying from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1.

“Game changer,” Cherokee coach Pete Morelli said of Cole’s work in the faceoff circle. “We couldn’t get possession, couldn’t get any momentum.”

Camera icon Jose Moreno/Staff photographer
Lenape’s Matt Ingersoll (right) tried to get past Cherokee’s Dylan O’Mara. Ingersoll scored three goals for the Indians.

Senior Matt Ingersoll, junior Bryce Reece and freshman Luke Cole, Zach’s brother, each registered a hat trick for Lenape (1-0), which scored all of its goals after falling behind 2-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Senior Ryan Raftery, playing in his first game after missing last season with a wrist injury, scored five goals for Cherokee (0-1).

The Chiefs also got two goals from junior Jordan Hayes and strong work between the pipes from senior T.J. Cooney, who made 10 saves.

“We’re a work in progress,” Corelli said. “We’ve got a chance to be a good team. We have to limit our mistakes.”

Camera icon Jose Moreno/Staff photographer
Ryan Raftery (6) and Jordan Hayes celebrate a Cherokee goal against Lenape.

Cole said he studied faceoffs under former Lenape star Conor Gafney, who now plays for Lehigh University.

“I started to get serious about it in eighth grade,” Cole said. “Then coming in here, I learned a lot from Conor Gafney. He taught me so much.”

Cole, who also was a standout tight end/linebacker for Lenape’s South Jersey Group 5 championship football team, won 82 percent of his faceoffs for the Indians’ lacrosse team last season.

He’s ahead of that percentage after one game.

“You have to have quick hands,” Cole said of the secret of faceoff success. “You have to have composure. You have to stay out of your own head if something goes wrong.

“The big thing with being a good faceoff man is you have to do more than that. You have to be able to help the team on the field.”

Cole barreled into the offensive zone again and again after winning draws against Cherokee, setting up the Indians for a series of quick-strike attacks.

“He’ a remarkable leader,” Sutphin said of Cole. “He does all the intangibles for this team.”

Ingersoll, who scored 96 points last season, led the way at the offensive end with three goals and four assists.

In one sequence, the Indians executed three passes in tic-tac-toe fashion, with the ball moving like a blur from Matt Lajoie to Ingersoll to Luke Cole for a goal.

“I think we were a little nervous at first,” Ingersoll said of the Indians’ slow start. “But we settled down and picked up the intensity.”

Lenape returns 18 letter-winners from a team that went 17-3 last season.

Cole knows the Indians have to stay healthy, improve during the course of the season and take sure, steady steps to be able to challenge North Jersey powerhouse programs for a state title.

But Lenape’s leader believes the success of the football team could translate into something similar in lacrosse.

“Matt Lajoie led us to a state championship in football,” Cole said of the team’s standout quarterback. “I’ll never forget that feeling, Dec. 2, to win that championship that night. I’d love to see us doing the same thing with these guys in early June.”

Cherokee 2 1 1 4 – 8

Lenape 0 4 4 6 – 14

Goals: C-Ryan Raftery 5, Jordan Hayes 2, Ryan Burke; L-Matt Ingersoll 3, Bryce Reece 3, Luke Cole 3, Will Mercado 2, Eric Schutz, Dom Albanese, Matt Soutar.

Saves: C-TJ Cooney, 10; L-Ron Pensabene, 4.