The St. Rose boys lacrosse team was all smiles after taking a 12-7 win over Barnegat on April 5. Photo by Kristin Harmon
The St. Rose boys lacrosse team was all smiles after taking a 12-7 win over Barnegat on April 5. Photo by Kristin Harmon
" ... I’m hoping my system has had an effect on them. They’re good kids, they work hard. " Jeff Rosenberg Coach, St. Rose boys lacrosse

Jeff Rosenberg is a realist. Despite another strong start to the season, the coach understands his St. Rose of Belmar boys lacrosse team cannot compete among the higher-level teams in the Shore Conference just yet.

But the fact of the matter is, the Purple Roses have gone from a moribund program to a competitive one in the two years since Rosenberg took over.

In the nine seasons prior to his arrival, St. Rose had gone 51-80 with its only winning season during that stretch coming in 2017. After going 4-11 in 2019 and losing the 2020 season to COVID-19, the Roses went 14-6 last year; won a Shore Conference Tournament preliminary game and a NJSIAA Non-Public B South Tournament first-round game.

This year St. Rose started the season 5-0; but that is where Rosenberg the Realist enters. He knows the Roses can compete against opponents at their own level but understands there is still work to do.

“We’re very happy of course, up until yesterday,’ the coach said after the Roses’ 18-5 loss to Red Bank Catholic Apr. 12. “We’d beaten some tough teams. But we’ve only got 14 kids on the roster so we’re very light. I have some pretty good athletes and we’re holding our own at our level.”

They are now in the stretch of playing upper level teams and have dropped to 5-2 with losses to RBC and Wall. The next two games are also against talented foes.

“We have Manasquan and the week after that we have Allentown,” Rosenberg said. “So, I kind of expect to be 5-4 when we come out of all of this, and then we start playing our level teams again. And at our level we’ve got some pretty intense kids. With 14 kids, I think we’re still going to be successful at the end of the season.”

The biggest issue, of course, is depth, since St. Rose has just three players coming off the bench. “Big teams are kind of running us to death,” the coach said.

But in looking at the big picture, the Purple Roses are headed in the right direction. Rosenberg began the program at Colts Neck in 2004 and remained there until 2017. He signed up as a St. Rose assistant in 2020 and, after the season was cancelled and the head man left, Rosenberg took over.

“I definitely looked at it as a challenge,” he said. “I liked the private school situation; the opportunity was presented to me so I took it. I definitely wanted to get back into coaching. It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s just worked out well.”

The Roses were the surprise team of the Shore Conference last April when they started 10-1 with their lone loss being 8-7 to Barnegat.

“That was absolutely a pleasant surprise,” Rosenberg said. “I had no idea what I was walking into, I had not seen that crew of kids. In the six days I was an assistant (before the shutdown) I saw a bunch of seniors who graduated. We went 8-0 before we lost our first game in overtime. We were very, very surprised.”

That team had 19 players but graduated eight seniors. Only three players came in to replace them, which initially had the coaching staff reluctant to set goals.

“We had no idea how we were gonna be,” Rosenberg said. “With some of my preseason meetings with the coaches, we were very nervous about what would happen. But we won five games and we set a goal. We wanted to try and get in the Top 10 in the Shore Conference before the season is out. And of course, get to the states and the Shore Conference Tournament.”

In looking at how the turnaround occurred, Rosenberg felt it was a few different things. He inherited some talented players and managed to get them to buy into his way of doing things.

“I definitely got lucky with some of the athletic kids I had,” he said. “I had a couple kids whose parents had played lacrosse, so their kids were very good. And I got some athletes and put my system in, that’s about all I could say about it.”

It’s a system that begins with emphasis on fundamentals.

“They’re the start of everything,” the coach said. “I know it showed in the first four games this year; we dominated on ground balls. I can’t really say for sure what did it, but I’m hoping my system has had an effect on them. They’re good kids, they work hard.”

Junior James Magrini leads the team in scoring this year with 15 goals and five assists, while senior John Harold has seven goals and seven assists after not playing for the past two years. Senior Colin Westhoven has 10 goals and five assists and leads the team with 51 ground balls.

“Colin Westoven has been doing great,” Rosenberg said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, a three-sport athlete. He’s one of my captains, and he’s just been all over the field. He’s a groundball vacuum and he’s my number one faceoff guy.

“James Magrini is also a captain; he’s done a good job scoring. John Harold came back and he’s doing a great job for us doing a whole lot of scoring.”

Anchoring the defense has been junior defenseman James Vitale, who has 37 ground balls, and senior captain Sean Annitto.

“My defense has been really good,” Rosenberg said. “Sean has been excellent. And James is another ground ball vacuum.”

Seniors Chris DeVoy and Cameron McManus have split time in goal, while rounding out the roster are sophomore Jack Harmon, juniors Sean Lattimer (eight goals, one assist) Ed Annitto, Mike Conlon and Jimmy Loftus, and seniors Dan Bair (five goals, four assists).

Unfortunately for St. Rose, it graduates seven of its 14 players this spring. But Rosenberg is hoping that if he continues to put a good product on the field, it could attract more talent.

“The one-term objective is to become successful and attract those middle-of-the-road lacrosse guys who won’t go to CBA and will maybe come to St. Rose,” he said. “Obviously if we’re successful and build a program and attract some other lacrosse players from around the county, that is the ultimate goal.”