Boys lacrosse: Erie eager to fix things after loss to Air Academy

Apr. 4—ERIE — A Thursday night suitable for short or long sleeves, with temperatures resting in the high 60s, was much more restrictive for Erie's lacrosse team in its 11-8 loss to visiting Air Academy.

This wasn't supposed to happen, the Tigers' frustrated coach, Nick Mandia, told his team afterward.

Now comes the questions that need answering by the 2023 Class 4A runner-ups. "And we got to do it really fast," Mandia said, "because these good teams are holding us accountable."

Against the Kadets, a team off to a strong 4-1 start but one the Tigers believe they should have beaten, Mandia said his team fell flat.

An expected high-powered offense led by Division-I commits Liam Connors and Charlie O'Brien didn't score for a span of 20 minutes and 43 seconds as Air Academy's defense, led by goalie Luke McClellan, took control of the game late in the opening half and into the fourth quarter.

Connors, headed to the University of Denver, scored twice in the opening frame to help give Erie an early, two-goal lead. But he was held without his third until the final minute of regulation, after the Kadets had all but wrapped things up.

O'Brien finished scoreless. The University of Vermont commit, who had the second-most goals in the state last year, was noticeably hobbled with a right foot injury. And though he created a few chances for himself — having a goal disallowed because he was ruled to be in the goalie's crease late in the first half, and another that looked in, but wasn't, after careening off the inside post in the fourth — he didn't look himself.

Going forward, the Tigers (5-3) know they need to find more offense elsewhere if they want to get back to the title game to redeem their double-overtime loss to Cheyenne Mountain. Especially on nights like these.

Who or where that'll come from, however, is still a work in progress.

"That's a good question, yeah?" Mandia said. "We're working on trying to find that and trying to bolster some confidence and get guys going. ... I think we saw glimpses of a couple guys stepping up tonight, but we need more consistency with that."

But the struggles on offense run deeper than that. Mandia and his star captains made clear that the whole unit hasn't played up to their own expectations. While averaging three goals fewer than last year (13.5 in 2023 and 10.6 in 2024), turnovers have been the biggest issue this spring.

"We've known before this game what we need to do better, but we just can't do it right now," Connors said. "We need to be more patient, especially me. Not throwing the ball away, not throwing dumb skip passes. We just need to hold onto the ball a lot more."

Added O'Brien: "Everybody just needs to be more cohesive as a team."

The Tigers, for all they hope to fix over the last month of the regular season, are still confident.

They played well in the first quarter against Air Academy, highlighted by a strong cut to the net and goal from Drake Chivukula. And battled back late, getting as close as 9-7 in the fourth after consecutive goals from Cooper Riley.

Even during their long, scoreless stretch, they had chances. Mandia commended how well McClellan was in net, saying, "he made a lot of really good saves tonight."

"This roster is still finding itself," Mandia said. "We have a lot of young guys playing big roles and I think we're still working on building the right winning culture for this year."

Erie will look to rebound at home against Thompson Valley on Monday.