photos by Seth Austin (note, when we get the names for Atlantic’s #8 and #45 we will update this)
Independent is the term used for Florida schools that play the sport but do not compete for the FHSAA State title. IMG is the best known of these, as they realized they were more attuned to competing nationally than for state championships. There are a number of reasons for a school to go this route and the most likely is that they are either new to the sport or just prefer a lower key approach to it.
I don’t remember how long Atlantic has been playing but I do think they did try varsity status a few times, only to go back to Independent status. Olympic Heights is in their third season but with Covid last year and lingering this year, they haven’t had a full season yet. I remember the original roadblocks that OH went through to start the sport (both on the Boy’s and Girl’s side) and given it is located in Boca Raton, where there are plenty of players available and a thriving youth program, you would think there was no reason for that. But internal politics at the school had to be overcome and that took a big step when former Boca Raton HC Chris Holly came to the school as the Athletic Director, hiring his former player Brian LeJeune to coach the team.
And the Girl’s program is also competing as an Independent so the attempt to stillborn the program by a few who didn’t want to see the sport there failed.
Atlantic was facing some issues heading into this season too, most notably a lack of a head coach. Finally, just before the season, Jamaal Hunte was brought in to run the team.
The life of the Independent.
There are not enough Independents for them to just play each other so a number of their games are played against varsity programs. Atlantic scheduled Suncoast, Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach Central and South Fork this year. OH played similar games plus Park Vista and Martin County.
One thing you should NOT assume is that the talent at an Independent is lacking, because I saw a number of kids last night that could make just about any roster in the state. One OH player is transferring to SJP next season to play and a number of Atlantic kids are of that caliber too.
And another thing that stood out last night was the game was as intense and competitive as their varsity brothers and the coaches wanted to win just as much. And the stands were not empty, which was a welcome sign.
Hopefully we will see both programs in full varsity status in the near future.
Roster depth is a bit of an issue and the game played out based on who had the deeper roster. In this type of game four really good players are going to beat two as many of the others are really at an early learning stage. Fundamentals are a work in progress, as is strategy on things like clears and off-ball movement. Atlantic had a few extra kids at that level and as the game went on the difference came through. OH struggled with clears most of the game and a number of those turnovers were converted in the second half Atlantic run.
Shot attempts were lopsided against OH but goalie Kevin Baker played a heck of a game in net with 16 saves.
At times the flow on offense was off but at times the IQ showed through.
No matter what, I’m glad I got to cover this game . . . these kids deserve to get their due too.
Atlantic took the 1-0 lead at 10:10 as James Fogarty found Questt Taylor in front from the right wing for the low left shot. OH responded with four straight goals over the next 13 minutes to take a 4-1 lead early in the second quarter. Jake Brooks took advantage of a passive defense on EMO to step in on the left wing and rifle a right hand to the far side to tie it with 4:12 left. Zach McCormick gave OH the lead a little over a minute later as his right alley dodge finished low and with 0:04 left on the clock it was Brooks finding Kaito Murata up top from left wing for the step down bounce shot that hit the left side for 3-1 OH after one.
9:21 into the second it was 4-1 as Murata took the McCormick pass up top for another step down to the low left on the EMO. Atlantic responded at 7:20 (I need the last name of #8 and the name of #45 as they weren’t on the MaxPreps roster) as the feed from right wing found it’s way to the middle for the low left shot. Atlantic cut it to one at 4:58 as Garret Reed found Fogarty alone in front from behind the cage for the one timer only to have JJ Jacobowitz feed Bruno Giordano to make it 5-3 just 24 seconds later.
Atlantic made it 5-4 at 3:01 as they converted the EMO with #8 finishing behind the back in front and then they tied it 27 seconds later as Fogarty face-dodged down the middle for the left hand low shot. Atlantic then took the halftime lead on a failed OH clear, with Adrian Najarro picking off the clear and finding a wide open Fogarty with a lengthy pass with 45 seconds to go for the breakaway goal and 6-5 at the half.
Atlantic continued the run in the 3rd, with the first 3 goals. Another turnover on a clear led to Taylor finishing all alone after #8 picked off the pass. Less than a minute later it was #45 dodging middle from top right for the left hand to the top right corner and at 6:37 it was Reed again finding Fogarty on the crease cut from behind the net to lengthen the lead to 9-5. OH got one back with 53 seconds left as McCormick went down the right alley and his right hand found the bottom of the cage for 9-6 entering the fourth.
Unfortunately, that was the last gasp for OH, as Atlantic went on a 5-0 run in the fourth to put the game away and ran off clock in the last minutes. Taylor scored three times in the period, with Najarro assisting on two of them and #8 assisting on the 3rd. Fogarty added his 5th and #8 also netted one, as OH had to struggle with an extended man-down situation, including a rare 6 on 3 man-down during the five goal run.
After the game I finally noticed one big difference between Varsity and Independent status. Atlantic Head Coach Hunte chipped in with gathering the balls after the game . . . something his underclassmen should have handled fully.
I don’t think Tony or Stan are going to do that anytime soon.
Faceoffs: Atlantic 12-10
Shots: Atlantic 50-15
Shots on Goal: Atlantic 30-11
Turnovers: Olympic Heights 24-21
Penalties: Olympic Heights 5-4
James Fogarty 5G/1A
Questt Taylor 5G
Alex (#8) 2G/2A
Adrian Najarro 3A
Garret Reed 2A
Logan Chandler with 5 saves
Zach McCormick 2G/1A
Kaito Murata 2G
Jake Brooks 1G/1A
Bruno Giordano 1G
JJ Jacobowitz 1A
Kevin Baker with 16 saves
Thanks to Coach LeJeune and Coach Hunte for talking to me before and after the game and a special thanks to Randy Kurtz, a long-time FLN reader, for helping out on roster names!