By Steve Gunn

NORTON SHORES – A two-year break turned out to be a very good thing for the Mona Shores lacrosse team.

In 2019, the Sailors’ second year of competition in the sport, the team only won one game, and lost to many of their opponents by 15 or 20 goals.

Mona Shores’ Landon Taylor.

The 2020 season never happened due to COVID, so nobody was sure what to expect when the Sailors re-assembled this spring.

As it turned out, there was an influx of young players who had competed on lacrosse travel teams in the years leading up to high school, and arrived on varsity with their fundamental skills already in place.

They joined a handful of leftovers from the 2019 team, and so far the combination is working out great. Mona Shores has started the season with a sparkling 5-1 record, and leads the O-K Tier 3 division with a 4-0 conference mark.

Ono of the leftover players from the bad 2019 squad is junior Landon Taylor, and he has gone from being a promising freshman two years ago to a star attacker now. He currently leads the Sailors with 29 goals and 11 assists, and is a big reason why the team has had such a quick turnaround in fortunes.

No. 18 Taylor follows through after making a pass during the Sailors’ win over Reeths-Puffer. Photo/Joe Lane

“He’s killing it,” said Mona Shores lacrosse coach Murle Greer. “He’s an extraordinarily talented young man. He’s a high-level hockey player, as well. We noticed his athleticism right away, and I think he had 10 points as a freshman. But those young men were kind of thrown to the wolves (in 2019). We were getting beat up a lot, and we learned some lessons.”

Taylor was not new to lacrosse in his freshman year. He played the sport a few years in elementary school, then a few years in middle school, but never took it very seriously. It was only after playing a season at the varsity level that he fell in love with the sport, despite being on a team that lost just about every game.

“I had a lot of fun,” he said. “I didn’t need to be winning. I was just enjoying what I was doing. It was the atmosphere. Playing for my school made it a lot more fun.”

The experience convinced Taylor to join a summer travel team with the Westside Lacrosse program, which is run by Coach Greer. He played the last two summers, honed his skills, and returned to varsity this season as a standout.

Landon Taylor plays near the net for Mona Shores. Photo/Joe Lane

“I think after my freshman year I really told myself that I could be pretty good,” Taylor said. “Then playing (on the travel team) gave me a lot of confidence.”

Taylor had a very big moment last Saturday in the second annual Lumbertown Lax Jam at Reeths-Puffer High School, where teams from Mona Shores and Reeths-Puffer squared off in a series of games in a single day, from elementary teams all the way up to varsity.

The varsity game was tied 13-13 with 10 seconds left when Taylor scored a dramatic goal to win it for the Sailors. It was his fifth goal of the game, and he also had two assists.

“He came down and took a pass in transition, made that hitch move that he dos so well and had a beautiful shot that won the game,” Greer said.

“He has a lot of great field awareness and style around the net,” the coach continued. “He has a great outside shot and very good stick skills around the cage. He can place the ball anywhere he wants. He has a style that he developed all on his own. It’s entertaining.”

Mona Shores’ Landon Taylor tries to avoid a hit during the Sailors’ matchup against Reeths-Puffer. Photo/Joe Lane

Taylor has a lot of talented teammates, we well. Sophomore attacker Brayton Conrad is the second-leading scorer with 22 goals and 12 assists. He was the hero last Friday when he had nine goals and an assist to help Mona Shores knock off defending conference champion Jenison.

Sophomore attacker Jake Nanna has 16 goals and six assists. JJ Boos leads the midfielders with eight goals and nine assists. Boos and fellow midfielder Trent Benedict have an excellent 64 percent face-off win percentage. Junior miidfielder Cody Gudgell leads the team with 39 loose ball controls.

Sophomore goalie Parker Hayward has 57 saves in six games for an average of 9.5 saves per game and a 56 percent save percentage.

“It’s been a short turnaround for us,” Coach Greer said, about the influx of young but talented underclassmen. “We had a lot of kids in the youth program, which was already established, and a lot of kids were already playhi8ng travel lacrosse in the summer. A little extra lacrosse goes a long way.

“We have a lot of young kids. I think we have 10 sophomores and three freshmen, along with a handful of juniors and seniors. You cannot deny the athleticism of this group. They don’t look like sophomores and freshmen.”

While the younger players have been a huge help, Taylor has provided the spark that has driven Mona Shores to its great start, and he still has the rest of this season and next to excel in his new favorite sport.

Taylor has been playing hockey for years, including this season with the great Mona Shores squad that advanced to the regional finals. He plans on playing hockey again as a senior, but the bulk of his passion now lies on the lacrosse field.

“I definitely like it more than hockey now,” he said.

While Taylor loves lacrosse under any circumstances, he admitted that winning is a lot more fun that what he and his teammates experienced two years ago.

“It’s nice to be winning,” he said. “When you’re losing a lot of games, sometimes people don’t try as hard in practice, but now everyone is taking is seriously. We have a chance to make a run.”