The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the development of the Philip Simmons High School lacrosse program. In September 2019, the Iron Horses hired Beth Smiley as the girls coach. The junior varsity team’s 2020 schedule was whittled down to a few games before the pandemic shut down sports.
But the Iron Horses are back. This year, the school will field a girls varsity – and junior varsity – team.
Two weeks ago, Nathan Gowen was hired to coach the boys program, which will have a junior varsity team this spring, and junior varsity and varsity teams in 2022.
Philip Simmons Athletic Director Dan Minkins is excited about his coaching staff and about the interest in the program among the students.
“The boys JV team has about 20 players and the girls, with two teams, have about 30 to 40 players,” Minkins said. “We are one of the few (Class) AA schools to offer every sport that is sanctioned by the High School League.”
While the Philip Simmons program is new, some of the stars of tomorrow already have LAX experience at the club level.
“Obviously, our goal this year is to grow the programs while keeping everyone safe,” Minkins said. “But this is a great step. The Daniel Island area and Charleston are fertile lacrosse areas. Many of our players will already have that experience when they arrive on campus.”
Like the Bishop England girls team, Philip Simmons looked north to find its coaches. Bishop England’s Jeff Weiner is from upstate New York and has built the girls team into the best program in the state.
Smiley is from New Jersey while Gowen is from Buffalo, New York.
“It’s definitely an experience, that’s for sure,” Gowen said of starting a new program. “We have a lot more kids out than I honestly expected. There are some kids with no experience at all, and you have to teach them the fundamentals while trying to develop a team.”
Gowen played collegiately at Rutgers, but he suffered a stress fracture of his lower spine his freshman season and that ended his career.
He said LAX is especially popular in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Although Smiley had not seen the sport until she arrived on campus of Widener University in Pennsylvania, she started playing her freshman year and was a four-year starter on her college team.
She went on to coach lacrosse at several high schools and travel teams in the Garden State, while developing a youth league geared for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Gowen said, “They are at the beginning stages down here. That’s why I came down here. I want to create something special that lasts. If you played in the area where I grew up, you received good coaching. And, good coaching breeds good coaching.”
The Iron Horses boys' JV team will play its first game March 6 against Wando.