All-County Boys Lacrosse
Jake Smerka caps career with MVP honor
by CHRIS GOLTERMANN
The 2013 high school lacrosse season was as much a changing of the guard, especially considering 10 seniors from last year’s Newnan Times-Herald All-County boys team graduated at respective schools.
Northgate, however, returned the most experienced player from a group of four returners — one who proved to be invaluable to the Vikings success for his fourth and final varsity campaign.
Much like his older brother Max, currently a junior player at Berry, did two years ago as a senior in 2011, Jake Smerka helped carry the program on his back this spring en route to this year’s Most Valuable Player honors as selected by the NTH sports staff. While the senior midfielder wasn’t the county’s top goal scorer, his 65 points tied for the area lead while as much a vacuum for loose balls on the defensive end of the field.
Headed to play for a new program at Methodist University in Memphis next year, Smerka also scooped up 102 ground balls, second-most in the county this year. He also won 59.2 percent of faceoff draws at midfield.
The 6-2, 215-pound left-handed stick rarely left the field while playing in both man-up and man-down situations. At even strength, he was often double and triple-teamed by defenders while still managing to score 45 goals in 16 games. Goals came from all angles, including two on behind-the-back shots and another from nearly 15 yards in front of the net.
Starting every varsity game at Northgate since arriving as a freshman in 2010, Smerka was equally unselfish this spring, dishing out 20 assists, also tops among this year’s All-County selections. The Vikings finished 7-9 in a tough 1-AAAAA/A lineup led by three private school programs — Holy Innocents, Lovett and Whitefield Academy.
Against top opponents, Smerka continued to shine, scoring 17 goals against six programs that eventually reached the GHSA state playoffs. Among them was a 10-point performance (8G, 2A) in a thrilling 21-16 loss at East Coweta. He also had four against eventual GHSA semifinalist Lovett.
The shootout between East Coweta and Northgate for this year’s Coweta Cup championship also included an impressive nine-goal outing by Indian junior Bryce Durden, who led the county with a school-record 58 goals to eclipse former teammate Bronson Smith’s 51 with eight more in East Coweta’s regular season finale against Archer.
The 2013 team includes six Indian players to go with five Vikings and four standouts from Newnan. Finishing 7-7, East Coweta was the only boys program to reach this year’s GHSA state playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual state-champion Centennial following a fourth-place finish in Area 1-AAAAAA.
Players were selected by the paper following nominations by the county’s three coaching staffs.
Durden helped lead the way while adding seven assists and 17 ground balls to earn to his second consecutive All-County selection.
Joining him was three-time honoree and teammate Conner McMeen. The Indian midfielder averaged nearly two goals a game as a junior while finishing with 21 goals, 14 assists and a team-high 45 ground balls in just 11 games played. The 2011 Times-Herald Newcomer of the Year scored at least three goals in wins against Woodward, Lincoln, Fla., and Northgate this spring.
Last year’s NTH Newcomer — Newnan defenseman Mike McMahon — continued to pick up accolades as a sophomore while helping lead four Cougar All-County selections. During an arduous campaign riddled with injuries to top offensive players, McMahon helped keep Newnan in games by picking up a county-best 124 ground balls while also scoring a pair of goals.
Smerka, Durden, McMeen and McMahon were all honored as First Team selections on this year’s All-Southside boys lacrosse team.
Several other players, meanwhile, continued steady progress while earning their first All-County selections in 2013. They include goalies Brian DeBole from East Coweta and Jordan Surrett of Newnan.
In his first season as a starter, Surrett, a sophomore, stopped 56-percent of his shots for a young Cougars team that finished 4-11.
DeBole, meanwhile, faced 369 shots over 13 games while finishing with a goals against average just over 10.
Joining McMahon among five All-County defenders were Indians Logan Wilson and Jay McKnight. The juniors combined to scoop up 40 ground balls this season.
The Vikings also earned two selections on defense in seniors Gage Wosniak and Cameron Wilson — a pair of future Division II players. Wosniak scored four long-stick goals and finished with 42 ground balls while signing to play at Lees-McRae. He was often assigned to shut down opponents’ top scorers.
Wilson, meanwhile, signed with Brevard following a senior year that included a goal, an assist and 33 ground balls.
Along with McMeen, four All-County middies included two Cougars, a Viking and Indians junior teammate Matthew Hall. The latter newcomer finished with 32 ground balls to go with a goal and an assist while a strong defender.
Northgate was represented in the midfield by junior Cole Johnson, who finished with 10 goals, two assists and 35 ground-ball scoops. He also won 53-percent of faceoff draws for the Vikings.
Newnan midfielders Davis Ozier and J.T. Leake also earned All-County honors for the first time. Ozier, a senior, had nine goals and seven assists while adding 74 ground balls. Leake, a sophomore, also helped offset losses to graduation by finishing with 11 goals and three assists to go with 67 ground balls.
An All-County attack of five players did their job as scorers while combining for 142 goals in 2013, led by Durden’s 58. Alongside the Indian standout, junior Lee Steed posted 25 goals of his own and added nine assists while also finishing with 27 ground balls in 13 games.
Up top, Northgate teammates Mitchell Hutton and David Liberacki did their part to help Smerka with goal-scoring duties. Hutton, a junior, had 23 with three assists while Liberacki added 19 and five assists in his final season. Both finished with at least 26 ground-ball scoops.
Another top newcomer for the Cougars along with Leake and Surrett, senior Drew Winslett led Newnan scorers this spring with 17 goals despite missing four games to injury. He added 12 assists and also picked up 27 ground balls in just nine games.