The Niceville Eagles boys lacrosse team traveled once again to Tallahassee to face a Leon team that beat them by the score of 14-13 in an overtime thriller nine days ago. On the line this time was the District 1 Championship for Florida’s 2A-Region 1.  To get there Niceville beat Chiles (12-1) and Gulf Breeze (6-3) on consecutive days to get a shot at avenging their previous defeat loss to Leon.   Niceville entered the game as reigning District champions (2022) but has been ranked lower than Leon all year in various polls.  It was expected to be an exciting game and the players did not disappoint the fans in attendance! 

 

The first quarter was a see-saw battle with each team responding to the other’s goal.  Niceville got out to a quick 1-0 lead on a goal by freshman Ren Nielsen (#32).  Leon would respond quickly with a goal from senior Greg Henningsen (#1).  Niceville senior Christian Carlee (#3) would again play as a midfielder and tallied Niceville’s second goal of the quarter.  Leon’s quick attackman, junior William Bulloch (#21), would score the first of his three goals before the quarter ended with the score tied at 2-2.  

 

The first quarter of this game was quite different from the first quarter the last time these two teams met.  In the previous game Leon’s super sophomore, #42 Austin Kolman, scored 5 of his 9 goals in that quarter alone and Niceville found itself behind by 6 goals as the quarter ended.  But this time Niceville would not allow Kolman to score a single goal all game as they defended against him spectacularly!  Niceville kept a long pole on Kolman the entire game and Logan Lagrosse (#22) would keep Kolman from getting to shooting positions he was used to having all season.  Along with Lagrosse’s efforts, Niceville’s defensive slides against Kolman were impeccable.  Without Kolman’s scoring, Leon would have to rely on its other offensive standouts to make up the difference and the final score was indicative of their success!

 

This time not being down by 6 goals at the start of the second quarter took a lot of pressure off of Niceville and they took advantage of it.  In the first 5 minutes Niceville would score 3 goals before Leon would answer with one of its own.   Jake Ryan (#9), Max Diehl (#8) and Ren Nielsen (#32) would score consecutive goals to ratchet up the pressure on Leon.   Leon’s #31 would score with 7 minutes left in the quarter but Nielsen would score again 3 minutes later to keep the margin at 3 goals.  Halftime would see the Eagles up by the score of 6-3 which was a position Leon wasn’t used to being in.  The last time they met, Leon went into halftime up by 7 goals!   As it would turn out, Leon couldn’t generate the comeback that Niceville had shown them in their previous meeting.

 

The third quarter would see Leon make an attempt at a comeback but Niceville did not let the game get out of their control.  Leon’s #31 would get the third quarter scoring started 2 minutes after the opening faceoff.  But Niceville’s Jake Ryan (#9) would answer the Leon goal at the 5 minute mark with the second of two goals for the game. Leon would “punch back” though with consecutive goals by Greg Henningsen (#1) and William Bulloch (#21).  Three minutes later though Niceville freshman, Carter Whitson (#20), would score with 2 minutes left in the quarter.  Leon’s speedy William Bulloch (#21) would then score with less than a minute left in the quarter.  The third quarter would end with Leon being down by only one goal, 7-8.  But the 4th quarter would demonstrate the same strength, stamina and mental toughness that Niceville demonstrated in the 4th quarter of their previous meeting and against Gulf Breeze.

 

As the fourth quarter began Niceville would score 3 straight times to dash Leon’s hope of pulling out a victory.  Sophomore Max Diehl (#8) would score the second of his two goals of the night within a minute of the quarter’s opening faceoff.  One minute later Christian Carlee (#3) would score using his trademark underhanded rocket of a shot to make it 10-7 Niceville.  Captain Gavin Gifford (#19) would then score on what would be an unexpected goal.  Gifford passed to his crease attackman who was unable to safely catch his feed but the ball then trickled into the Leon goal.  This goal put Niceville up by 4 goals with 6 minutes to play, a margin Leon was unable to overcome.  Before Niceville celebrated its victory and repeat District Championship, Leon’s #20 would score with 4 minutes left to make it 11-8 in Niceville’s favor.  The last four minutes of the game would see Niceville protecting its lead and Leon not aggressively challenging them for the ball until 2 minutes remained in the game. Niceville would go on to protect its lead and title as reigning District Championship.  The final score was 11-8 in favor of Niceville and it was Leon’s first loss at home during the 2023 season.

 

The best way to describe Niceville’s performance was that the coaches and players played up to their full ability for the entire game.  Prior to this game Niceville fans saw streaks of this during the season but Niceville saved its best game of the year for its performance in the District Championship game.  As it was in the previous game against Gulf Breeze, Niceville’s defense was outstanding.  Shutting out Leon’s leading scorer for the first time this year definitely made a difference in the outcome of this second meeting between the teams.  Accomplishing this was a fantastic team effort that was well planned before the start of the game. 

Niceville’s goalie, Rhett Thorson (#53), had what would prove to be his best game of the year, avenging the prior loss to Leon.  Thorson was outstanding from start to finish.  He would have 16 saves on 24 Leon shots on goal but most importantly he saved every shot Leon’s Austin Kolman managed to get off.  Holding Kolman to no points surely inspired Thorson’s teammates and was a remarkable difference from the last time Kolman took aim at Thorson.  Sophomore Nolen Gifford (#13) would again win the battle at the “X” as he had in the previous meeting of these teams. Defenseman Drew Alsleben (#11) and midfielder Jackson Kane (#2) would dominate Niceville’s groundball play as they have all year. Niceville’s Jake Ryan (#9) would lead all scorers with two goals and three assists.  Importantly though, Niceville’s underclassmen made a powerful statement about their potential success next season!

District champions are guaranteed inclusion in the state playoffs whose matches are yet to be determined.  Teams receiving at-large invitations to the state playoffs are yet to be determined but it would be surprising not to see Leon getting an at-large bid to play.  When decided,  class 2A state playoff match-ups can be found on MaxPreps and the Niceville Eagles will be playing in them!

Box Score and Statistics

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