Orange Men’s Lacrosse

Third time the charm? Kruse scores five goals, Cowan adds four as Orange lacrosse routs Carrboro 21-11, hosts Regional title game Monday

The Orange lacrosse team’s road to hosting a third straight 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional championship game didn’t start in February, when they defeated 4A foe Apex in the season-opener.

It didn’t start when practice got underway last winter. Or during last summer with players journeying across the Mid-Atlantic Region playing for assorted travel teams, like the Carolina Hilltoppers.

It started in the Orange locker room at the football fieldhouse on May 16, 2023. That’s when a subdued group gathered one final time for the season moments after Northwood stunned Orange 10-8 to win the Eastern Regional Championship.

Going into that game, the Chargers had lost to the Panthers five straight times. Many around the program had felt last year would be the time Orange would finally reach the state championship game after First Flight defeated Orange in the 2022 regional title game, also in Hillsborough.

But it wasn’t to be.

Orange coach Chandler Zirkle told his team that many of his most instrumental players would be back in 2024, though that was little comfort to 2023 seniors like Joe Cady, Nick Cardone and Josiah Tisdale.

One year later, Orange lacrosse has put together its most dominant season in program history. And they will hope that Monday night will be the one so many around the program have waited for.

Neither the Carrboro Jaguars not a 40-minute rain delay did much to hamper the Panthers in the State Quarterfinals on Friday night in Hillsborough. Orange scored goals on eight of its first eleven shots to burst out to an 8-3 lead. The Panthers (23-1) would go on to rout the Jaguars 21-10 to advance to the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship game, which will be held at Auman Stadium on Monday night at 6PM.

Orange will face Croatan for the regional title. The Cougars defeated First Flight 15-7 in Newport on Saturday.

Orange senior Connor Kruse, the all-time leading scorer in program history, finished with five goals and three assists, adding on to his career total with 532 career points. Senior Josh Cowan came away with four goals while junior Gray Crabtree, senior Josh Crabtree, and sophomore Brandon Williams all finished with hat tricks.

Carrboro senior A.J. Pease scored four goals in his final game. The Jaguars end the season 10-7.

Orange opened the game with four goals in the first 3:08. The Panthers outshot the Jaguars 22-14 in the first half and controlled early possession thanks to faceoff guru Matthew Macneir. Gray Crabtree opened with the first two goals, the second assisted by sophomore Brett Clark. Josh Crabtree added two more goals, both unassisted, within a span of 28 seconds to put Orange ahead 4-0, forcing a Jaguars timeout.

Pease and Tyler Pease scored back-to-back markers for the Jaguars to trim its deficit to 4-2, but Orange concluded the first quarter with a 4-1 run. Kruse took a centering pass from Clark for his first goal in a man-up situation after Carrboro’s Leland Robinson was called for a slash. Cowan added another man advantage goal following an offsides penalty, assisted by Josh Crabtree. Cowan ended the first quarter with a short dump shot off a pass from Kruse to put the Panthers ahead 8-3.

Kruse assisted on another goal scored by Clark with 8:03 remaining in the first half, which led to a 40-minute rain delay after a shower passed through the area. Upon resumption, Kruse added another goal to make it 11-3 Orange. A.J. Pease and Tobi Adroju scored back-to-back for Carrboro to get the deficit down to 11-5, but tallies by Kruse and Gray Crabtree ended the half.

Carrboro’s Charlie Walsh opened the second half with a pair of markers for the Red Wolves, but Orange finished the third quarter with four straight goals scored by Williams, Jay Parker, Josh Crabtree and Josh Cowan.

Senior goalkeeper Katie Wolter earned her 16th win of the season, making five saves. Freshman Jackson Runkle finished out the game between the pipes.

Orange lacrosse’s Brett Clark & Gray Crabtree discuss the start of the state playoffs

Tonight is the night that the Orange lacrosse team has been waiting three months for. It’s the start of the 3A/2A/1A State Playoffs at Auman Stadium. The Panthers are the #1 seed in the East Region for the third straight year and will face Southern Alamance at 6PM at Auman Stadium. This year, the Panthers have had nine players score at least ten goals. Sophomore Brett Clark has scored 52 goals in his sophomore season, second on the team. He ended the regular season with five consecutive games with hat tricks, including five goals against Eastern Alamance on April 19. His season-high is six goals against Seaforth on April 9. Junior Gray Crabtree has scored 32 goals, including seven goals against Southern Alamance on April 22. He has five hat tricks this season. This Orange team has set a school record with 355 goals. They won the Mid-Piedmont Conference championship for the fourth consecutive year. As long as the Panthers keep winning in the state playoffs, they will continue to have home games. The Panthers swept the season series from the Patriots, winning 18-5 on March 25 and 20-1 on April 22 in Hillsborough. If Orange wins tonight, they will meet the winner of Seaforth vs. Western Alamance in the round of 16 next week.

Orange lacrosse’s Brett Clark and Gray Crabtree discuss the start of the state playoffs

No Description

Orange’s Kruse becomes all-time leading scorer in North Carolina lax history in win over Northwood

Photo from

Since February, Connor Kruse’s farewell tour at Orange has consisted of him breaking or tying national and school records.

In his final regular season game, Kruse permanently etched his name in the North Carolina lacrosse record books.

On Friday night, Kruse broke the record for most career points by a player in North Carolina history. Kruse assisted for his fifth point of the game in the Panthers 14-3 win over Northwood in Pittsboro. It was his 505th career point, breaking the record held by Middle Creek’s Owen Caputo, who went on to play five seasons at Duke, reaching the Final Four twice.

Orange’s victory over the Chargers concluded an undefeated run to the Mid-Piedmont Conference championship, its fourth consecutive title. The Panthers also swept the season series from the Chargers, the defending 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional champions.

Kruse holds virtually every offensive record in the Panther record book since he started playing during the pandemic-shortened season in 2021, which was the first great team in Orange lacrosse history. A year after playing in the final athletic event in the history of Stanford Middle School before it was renamed, Kruse played on the first unit alongside Ryan Merrill, Cy Horner and Caleb Davis. Facing Northwood in the round of 16 in the state playoffs, Kruse scored the game-winning goal as a freshman with 5:27 remaining in the fourth quarter off a feed from Horner, who now plays at Methodist University. It was the first time the Panthers reached the state quarterfinals.

On March 25, Kruse tied the national record with 16 assists in Orange’s 18-5 win over Southern Alamance at Dedmon Stadium in Graham. The only other recorded player in American high school history with 16 assists was Ryan Stadelmaier of Midland-Dow High in Michigan. In 2021, Stadlemaier had 16 assists against Linden High on May 20, 2022.

This year, Kruse has broken his own single-season record for most points in a year. He finished the regular season with 178 points across 21 games, where Orange finished 20-1, a new team record for most wins in a regular season. Last year, he tallied 150 points in 22 games. Earlier this year, he became the first Orange player with 400 career points in the Southern Alamance victory.

With attackers like Brian Williams, Brett Clark, Gray Crabtree, Matthew Macneir and Max Stern joining veterans Josh Crabtree and Josh Cowan, Kruse has set a new single-season assist record with 107 this year. The Panthers have defeated 4A teams like Apex, Jordan and Pinecrest, the latter game ending in overtime when Kruse assisted on the game-winning goal scored by Williams to cap a game that had 25 penalties, which had to be another record of some sort.

He holds the single-season school record for most goals in a year with 69, set in 2023. Going into the Northwood game, Kruse has 62 this season. Later this week, he will have a chance to set a new mark when Orange starts play in the 3A/2A/1A State Playoffs. The Panthers will be the #1 seed for the East Region after being the top-ranked RPI team for the entire season. The official bracket will be released today (Monday).

Last year, Kruse committed to play at Lenoir-Rhyne, along with teammate Sascha Van Praag. Earlier this weekend, Lenoir-Rhyne won the South Atlantic Conference Tournament championship. Last year, the Bears won the Division II National Championship for the first time.

Kruse is the son of Travis Kruse, who spent the first two seasons of his college career playing at Johns Hopkins. Eventually, Kruse transferred to North Carolina, where he played his final two years.

The Panthers win over Northwood extended its conference regular season winning streak to 44 straight games. Orange hasn’t lost a regular season conference game since April 27, 2019, when they fell to Northwood.

Four-for-All; Crabtree scores four goals as Orange lacrosse wins fourth straight conference title with win over W. Alamance

Photo by Carly Williams 

The standards around Orange lacrosse have changed. Dramatically.

In 2016, it was a cause for major celebration when the Panthers beat a nearby rival, like Eastern Alamance. Before that, one person close to Orange athletics recently reminisced “Orange may have lost often, but it was a good night when they stayed in a game long enough to avoid a running clock.”

That was before Chandler Zirkle became the Panthers head coach. His father, Franklin, was at the forefront of lacrosse locally from the sport’s beginnings in North Carolina at this level, leading East Chapel Hill to two state championships before the sport was even sanctioned by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. In the 2000s, when Chandler suited up as a Wildcat, the sport was operated by a group of local coaches.

Like his father, Chandler isn’t coaching a team as much as he’s built a program. It isn’t limited to Orange High School, where Chandler’s father now serves as an assistant. It extends to Orange Middle, where Chandler teaches and creates a breeding ground.

On Tuesday night, Orange lacrosse claimed its fourth consecutive Mid-Piedmont Conference championship in fashion about as dramatic as the Road Runner escaping the Coyote. The Panthers romped past Western Alamance 21-5, improving to 15-0 in conference play.

Orange, 19-1 overall, outscored conference opposition 284-51 this season. It was the third straight game that Orange scored 20 goals in a game and the sixth time overall.

The conference title is the latest achievement for a senior class that helped make Zirkle’s aspirations of turning a team into his program a reality. There’s been Katie Wolter, the goalkeeper who faced the obligatory taunts from opposing fans and players simply for being a female competing against men two-to-three times a week. Last month, she made her 300th career save in a 10-8 win over Jordan in Durham. Her brother Tyson, who played at Orange under former head coach David O’Neil, is now an assistant coach.

And, of course, there’s Connor Kruse, the all-time leading scorer in school history. Last week, Kruse broke several school single-season records. He became the first player in school history to surpass 100 assists in a season when he racked up ten assists in a 25-2 win over Eastern Alamance. He also broke his own single-season record with 156 points. Last year, he had 143.

On Tuesday night, Josh Crabtree scored four goals, pushing his senior total to 27, a new career-high. Josh Cowan has 19 goals this year. On defense, long stick midfielder Alden Cathey and Sascha Van Praag continue to be a force. Van Praag will join Kruse in playing for Lenoir-Rhyne, the reigning Division II national champions. Cathey will play at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania.

Jace and Kale Womble have supplied the Panthers with defensive depth. Newcomers like Nate Sorrells, in his first year playing varsity lacrosse after four years as a running back in football, have provided a valuable presence. Bryce Nelson has scored seven goals.

Of course, there’s another generation ready to carry Orange forward. Sophomore Brett Clark finished with a hat trick against the Warriors, along with junior Grey Crabtree. This season, Crabtree has a career-high 25 goals and 26 assists.

The Panthers will likely be seeded #1 in the East Region when the state playoffs brackets are released on Monday. For the third year in a row, the road to the State Championship game will probably run through Auman Stadium.

The overriding question for Orange is will the third time be the charm? Each of the last two years, the Panthers have hosted the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional championship game. In 2022, First Flight put on a defensive clinic to beat the Panthers 13-7. Last year, Orange faced a Northwood team they had beaten twice before in the regular season, but the Chargers came through with a 10-8 win.

Zirkle has kept the focus on playing one game at a time this year. A looming battle in the playoffs against Croatan, who has been ranked #2 in the 3A/2A/1A East rankings all year, has been a possibility that the coaching staff has prepared for since winter.

Regardless, Tuesday night was not another championship for the Orange lacrosse team.

It was a championship for the Orange lacrosse program.



Orange lacrosse’s Connor Kruse, Brandon Williams and Josh Crabtree discuss wild win over Pinecrest

Midway through the season and the Orange lacrosse team is off to its best start in team history. The Panthers are 10-0 after beating Southern Alamance last week in Graham. This week, the Panthers will face a stiff test in Holly Springs, a 4A team that beat the Panthers 16-4 last year. Orange has already beaten three 4A teams this year. Last month, Orange journeyed to Pinehurst and came away with a wild win over Pinecrest 10-9 in overtime. Sophomore Brandon Williams scored the game-winning goal off an assist from Connor Kruse. Orange trailed 9-5 with 11:48 remaining in regulation, but Williams led a comeback. He scored four goals, Josh Crabtree tied the game with 1:04 remaining in regulation when he scored off a rebound from a shot fired by Kruse. Orange overcame three penalties in the final minute of regulation and got strong defensive play from defenseman Sascha Van Praag and goalkeeper Jackson Runkle, who played in the fourth quarter and alternated with starter Katie Wolter. Kruse assisted on four goals. On Friday night, Orange will return to conference play to face crosstown rival Cedar Ridge. Orange is going for its fourth consecutive Mid-Carolina Conference championship and is currently ranked the #1 team in the East Region in the 3A/2A/1A classification.

Orange’s lacrosse’s Connor Kruse, Josh Crabtree & Brandon Williams talk with over Pinecresst

No Description

Orange lacrosse Connor Kruse discusses 200th career assist in win vs. Northwood.

Orange senior Connor Kruse had already etched his name into the Orange High lacrosse record books a long time ago. Now, he has put his name into the national record books. On Monday night, Kruse tied a national record by registering 16 assists in Orange’s 18-5 win over Southern Alamance at Redmond Stadium in Graham. Kruse tied the record set by Ryan Stadiumelmaier of Midland-Dow High School in Michigan set in 2022. Along the way, Kruse became the first player in Orange history to surpass 400 points. Last week, Kruse became the first player to eclipse 200 career assists in Orange’s 14-1 win over Northwood at Auman Stadium. Kruse finished with one goal and three assists against the Chargers. After its win over the Patriots, the Panthers improved to 10-0, 7-0 in the Mid-Carolina Conference. Last winter, Kruse signed to play with Lenoir-Rhyne, which won the Division II National Championship last year in Philadelphia. Against Northwood, senior Bryce Nelson earned a gaol. Earning the win as goalkeeper was freshman Jackson Runkle, who played all 48 minutes. Runkle recently finished his first season with Orange wrestling. Orange lacrosse is off for the rest of this week to enjoy spring break. In the meantime, they will prepare for a difficult 4A opponent, Holly Springs, on April 4. 

Orange lacrosse’s Connor Kruse, Bryce Nelson & Jackson Runkle discuss win over Northwood

No Description