One team, one streak, one goal


Photo provided by RJR Booster Club

RJR Varsity Boys Lacrosse defeats Reagan High School 7-6 to capture the conference title and remain undefeated in conference for the 2022 season.

Lilly Zaks , Staff Writer

    On a Thursday night last April, the RJ Reynolds varsity boys lacrosse team brought home yet another conference championship. They narrowly defeated Reagan 7-6 to earn the title of Central Piedmont Conference Champions. The team is used to that stage and pressure, but many people don’t know what happens on and off the field. 

    The team, which has only lost five conference games since the 2010 season, is poised to have yet another successful season. They haven’t lost a conference game since March 1, 2021, so the pressure is on to maintain this winning streak. So what are the origins of this victorious program, and what is the plan to repeat these achievements?

    Coach Jim O’Neill has headed the program for 14 seasons, making this his 15th. He attests that his decision to coach is rooted in his love for the sport and contribution to the community. 

    “Coaching boys during a time of their lives when they are becoming young men is an important opportunity to hopefully serve as a positive role model and make an impact on them as they grow into adults,” O’Neill said. 

    O’Neill also serves as District Attorney in Winston-Salem and works with many complex cases and issues pressing the community. 

   “Serving as the boys’ lacrosse coach and building towards something positive every spring is a way for me to stay grounded and connected to young people and the troubles they face in our ever-changing world,” O’Neill said. 

    O’Neill and assistant coaches Scott Sanders, George Costas, and Houston Hough hold their team to a high standard to achieve this success. 

    “The pressure from our previous seasons is the expectation,” senior and captain Will Mensh said. “As we are held to this expectation vigorously throughout the season, we work hard to ensure we are where we want to be.” 

    Mensh is committed to Sewanee to play lacrosse next year, along with fellow teammate and senior David Powell. Together they hope to build off the leadership, teaching, and team-building skills they have learned at RJR. 

    “The last four years have been amazing,” Mensh said. “The team has helped me understand what all it takes to be successful, and that’s what will help me the most going forward and into my college career.” 

    As a senior, he hopes to further the program by setting the underclassmen up for success. He is taking his senior position in stride and using his leadership to help his teammates and coaches. With Mensh and other seniors’ hard work, the team has a great chance to capitalize this season.  

    The boys practice Monday through Saturday during the regular season and have done off-season workouts four days a week since the beginning of the school year. 

    “The opportunity that we’ve provided seems to be one of the driving forces, in my opinion, as far as just creating the team foundation, the team bond, just the time spent together,” Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott Sanders said. “Sometimes it’s shared misery; sometimes it’s shared joys. And I think that opportunity brings people in or at least keeps them in tight.”

    Sanders leads the team in these off-season workouts focusing on speed, agility, endurance, and overall strength. He attributes much of the hard work during those workouts to the guys themselves. 

    “I feel like my team has done such a great job of letting their guards down and just trusting, accepting, and buying into the process,” Sanders said. “That really helps everything go along.”

    O’Neill and Sanders emphasize the guy’s leadership and work ethic as a vital aspect of the program. They attribute the team’s accomplishments to these skills in both past and current players. 

   “I think that’s an excellent time for us to develop small leadership groups and for them to start kind of before we’re full in the season,” Sanders said. “Learning different ways to approach different individuals because it’s a whole encompassing process.” 

    Mensh believes that the amount of work put into practice has allowed the team to have the success they’ve achieved. They maintain a high standard during these workouts, improving each time. 

    “Having a team close not just during practice time but also outside of practice, on the weekends, is very important to the team chemistry, and that’s one thing we have better than any other team,” Mensh said. “The friendships on this team are unmatched, and personally, I think that is the biggest reason we are able to keep our streak alive.” 

    Although they have high expectations to live up to, the tight bond and leadership will set the boys up for success this season. Will they be able to capture another conference title and continue their winning streak? No one can be sure, but one thing’s certain- their intense work, close-knit bonds, and strong mindsets on and off the field have given them the best shot. A similar shot scored the game-winning, streak-maintaining goal during conference last year and one that will set them up for a chance to repeat it this year.