Orange lacrosse rolls past Vance Charter 16-2 to take Conference 9 championship

Updated: March 5, 2021

HENDERSON—One week after his father claimed his 200th win as a lacrosse coach, Chandler Zirkle has his own coaching milestone now.

Zirkle, in his third season, has led the Orange lacrosse team to its first conference championship. It came during the winter, an anomaly for a spring sport. The fact it was the rainiest winter across the Triangle in 37 years only added to the unpredictability, forcing four conference games to be canceled.

On Thursday night, Orange defeated Vance Charter 16-2 to win the Conference 9 Championship at Jaguar Stadium at Vance County Middle School, formerly the home of Northern Vance High School.

It is Orange’s first-ever conference championship in lacrosse. It’s also Orange’s first outright conference championship in any sport since February 2019, when the Panther wrestling team won the Big 8 Championship (Orange’s softball team shared the Big 8 title with Cedar Ridge in May 2019).

Orange (6-1, 4-0) will make the state playoffs for the third straight time under Zirkle. In 2019, the Panthers defeated Northside-Jacksonville for its first postseason victory in four years.

Last year’s team almost certainly would have made the state playoffs, but the season was halted because of the pandemic with Orange sporting a 6-0 record, the best start in school history.

Last week, Zirkle’s father Franklin captured his 200th win at Leesville Road High. Franklin Zirkle, who has served as a college and high school official, captured the 2006 North Carolina Lacrosse Association State Championship at East Chapel Hill, several years before the North Carolina High School Athletic Association sanctioned men’s and women’s lacrosse as a sport.

Orange played its second game in as many days. On Wednesday, they rolled past Northern Durham 14-0 at Auman Stadium in Hillsborough.

Facing Vance Charter for the first time didn’t make for a dramatic matchup. After Orange rolled out to a 12-0 lead by halftime, leading scorer Ryan Merrill played sparingly in the second half. Merrill notched the first goal when he scooped up a ground ball on the thick grass at Jaguar Stadium and tossed it over the shoulder of Knights’ sophomore goalkeeper Lucas Satterwhite.

Merrill, who scored six goals against Cedar Ridge last Wednesday, finished with four goals and an assist. Cy Horner scored the final two goals of the first quarter, including one off a feed from Merrill to send Orange ahead 6-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Caleb Davis also had a hat trick for the Panthers. Davis assisted on goals from freshman Connor Kruse and Merrill in the second quarter, a frame where Orange added six more goals.

Longstick midfielder Duncan Grant tallied a goal in the first quarter. Kruse added two goals and an assist.

The entire second half was played with a running clock. Tigh Metheny scored on the doorstep off an assist from Joshua Crabtree for the Panthers’ first goal of the third quarter. Jake Wimsatt got a goal off an assist from Metheny.

Joe Cady and Noah Cunnngham scored for Orange in the fourth quarter.

Gavyn Sandlin registered both of Vance Charter’s goals in the fourth quarter.

While Orange’s run to the Conference 9 championship was filled with blowouts, Zirkle has been in the same boat as many other coaches in various sports dealing with defections because of the unusual sports calendar forced by the pandemic. Orange’s top goalkeeper, Ethan Fortner, hasn’t played lacrosse this winter because he’s practing for football. At times, Orange has played Katie Wolter, the younger sister of former Orange goalkeeper Tyson Wolter, between the pipes.

Freshman Kruse and Jace Womble, who played at Stanford Middle School last season, are getting regular minutes.

With the regular season set to expire next Friday, Zirkle spent part of this week arranging non-conference games to prepare his squad for the 3A/2A/1A/ State Tournament. The Panthers will travel to Northwood on Monday, then host perennial power Chapel Hill on Wednesday. There’s a possibility for a game against East Forsyth if everything aligns correctly.

For now, the Panthers can rest knowing that, in two weeks, they will host a state playoff game for the first time since 2016.

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