Kellam buys in to new coach’s culture, is first 757 lacrosse team to reach VHSL state final

Despite qualifying for the Virginia High School League state tournament for two straight years,
there is a distinct change in the way the Kellam boys lacrosse team approaches the game.

“The direction of the team needed to change,” Knights coach Pat Aiello said. “I was there twice a week. The team had a lot of talent; they just didn’t have any direction. It needed a jolt. As a coach, you set a culture and that’s the most important thing. And then the kids, they either buy in or they don’t.”

His team bought in to the tune of a 17-1 record on the back of 309 goals and becomes the first public school from Hampton Roads to qualify for a state championship game. The Knights face three-time defending state champion Riverside in Saturday’s Class 5 final at Glen Allen.

“It’s pretty wild,” Aiello said. “I never thought at the beginning of the season that would happen. They’ve been king of the hill. We have our work cut out for us. The message is pretty simple — keep playing our game. We don’t change who we are.”

It’s the first year on the Kellam sidelines for Aiello, who started the season as a volunteer coach, but took over following the resignation of the previous coach after one game. But he brings a load of experience, having coached the sport all over the country for the past 22 years. His last stop was as head coach of Beach District rival Bayside last season.

Lacrosse is in its infancy in the area — to a certain extent. It is the second season of being a varsity sport for public schools in Hampton Roads; it was previously just a club sport. By comparison, the area’s private schools and Northern Virginia public schools have been playing lacrosse for decades.

Kellam was in Class 6 Region A last season and lost to Battlefield in the state quarterfinals. And although there were some minor successes that initial season, Aiello could see the potential for greater leaps and bounds this spring.

“Setting the culture was the biggest piece,” Aeillo explained. “It’s putting in discipline, accountability, respect for the game, respect for each other and respect for your opponents — the kids really bought into that and it kind of spirals in a good way.”

Kellam has some experience against the teams from up north. They defeated private school powerhouse Bishop O’Connell (Arlington) 11-9 on April 5. A couple weeks later, they thumped West Springfield 16-6.

“Those wins really gave us that confidence boost that we can play with any team,” Aiello said.

At the start of the season, the Knights moved to Class 5 and beat previous champion Cox 9-5 in the Region A championship.

But it’s the manner in which the victories have amassed that Aiello praises his team, saying that
opposing coaches, players and parents have remarked on the noticeable change within the program.

“That’s just how I was coached, being a former player myself,” Aiello explained. “You learn from your coaches and pay it forward. It’s been discipline. It’s one of the things we changed, and the kids have followed the system all season and it’s what helped lead to our success.”

The Knights have matured quickly in a year, but still remain very young with just four senior
starters.

Senior attacker Evan Djunaedi leads the team with 62 goals and 67 assists, which is tops in in
the state. Djunaedi is flanked by junior Jacob Leonard, who has registered 59 goals and 11 assists, and sophomore Colt Goodwin, who has 35 goals and 19 assists.

In midfield, freshman Jacob Lyons has been lights out on faceoffs this year, winning 212 of 262.  Sophomore midfielder Elijah Lamb has tallied 31 goals and 19 assists.

Senior Kieron Auld and freshman long stick man Jack Kelly power a defense that has allowed just 61 goals, and senior keeper Gavin Sinram has notched 75 saves and four shutouts.

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