The sidelines of East Chapel Hill High School bring back fond memories for Chandler Zirkle.
When his father, Franklin Zirkle, coached the Wildcats to the 2006 North Carolina Lacrosse Association State Championship, he was a ballboy. Back then, the rivalry between East Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill not only dictated who would earn town bragging rights, it often determined the state men’s lacrosse championship.
Playing under his father, Chandler made the state playoffs every year at East and still holds the North Carolina High School Athletic Association men’s lacrosse record for assists. Unfortunately, the pleasant flashbacks to his high school days didn’t carry over to his new surroundings as a coach on Saturday.
Chandler, now the head coach at Orange, watched his Panthers fall to East Chapel Hill 20-8 in its Conference 7 opener.
“I would prefer to be winning on this field as opposed to losing,” Chandler said. “It’s always good to come back here.”
Orange started the season with consecutive road wins. On March 7, the Panthers won at Rolesville 16-4. On March 12, Orange defeated Eastern Alamance 17-15 in Mebane. Against the Rams, junior Wyatt Jones scored five goals. Sophomore Chase Hawkins earned his first win as goalkeeper, making seven saves. Junior Josh Mauer, in his third season playing lacrosse, won 87% of his faceoffs against Rolesville.
“He gives us the ball consistently,” Zirkle said of Mauer.“Unfortunately, he was hurting this week and had some cramps (coming into the East Chapel Hill game). He’s been doing well for us.”
Jones, who started at quarterback for the Orange football team most of last season, comes into this year as the top returning scorer for a squad that lost only five seniors from last year.
However, one of them is goalkeeper Tyson Wolter, who eventually signed with Division III Pfeiffer. Zirkle is impressed with Jones’ start. “Wyatt, Dylan Boyer, Koren Mangal and Caleb Davis are all on the offensive end,” Zirkle said. “They’re doing an awesome job right now. Duncan Grant has been stellar defensively.”
Longstick midfielder C.T. Lopeman, who signed with NAIA Union College (KY) in December, also provides a body that the Panthers didn’t have last season. In January, Lopeman tore his ACL while wrestling against Northwood in Pittsboro, forcing him to miss lacrosse season. After a hard summer of training and rehabilitation, Lopeman was cleared by doctors in November.
Last season, Orange finished 8-7 overall, and came in 3rd in Conference 7 with a 4-2 record. With East Chapel Hill the consensus favorite to win Conference 7 after they reached the 3A/2A/1A State Championship game last year, Zirkle believes that Orange can compete with their rivals in the southern end of Orange County.
“We’re up there with everyone else,” Zirkle said. “I think we have the ability to play with people. It just depends on how we show up. We didn’t have what we needed to win against East Chapel Hill, but we have a lot of talent. We’ve got some kids who really want to work hard and we’re figuring out the culture and be as successful as possible.”