(Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2007 10:31 AM PDT)
|Traded to the Riptide during the offseason, Xander Ritz, shown here at training camp, hopes to help L.A. to the playoffs during its second season.|
While it might not match the immense popularity of basketball, football or baseball in the consciousness of the American sports fan, lacrosse seems to be growing nationally, slowly but surely.
Not only is Manhattan Beach resident Xander Ritz starting his first season with the Los Angeles Riptide this weekend with a match on the road against the Chicago Machine but he also works with the Hermosa Beach-based Starz Lacrosse Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the goal of promoting lacrosse west of the Mississippi.
“We’re all about getting sticks in the kids’ hands, letting them fall in love with it on their own,” Ritz said. “I’m pretty confident that as soon as I give a kid a stick he’s going to play with it for half an hour and be like ‘Where can I do this some more?’ That’s what we see. The issue is getting it out there in big numbers. We started a team in south central L.A. that we practiced today (last Thursday). It was our first official practice.”
The Riptide, whose home is at the Home Depot Center in Carson, joined Major League Lacrosse in 2006 when the league created the Western Conference with Chicago, the Denver Outlaws and the San Francisco Dragons. Ritz, like the Riptide, joined the M.L.L. last year when the Philadelphia Barrage drafted him after a stellar college career with Delaware and three years with Maryland. He spent some time with San Francisco before being traded to the Riptide.
“The style of lacrosse L.A. plays fits my game much better than the style of San Francisco in terms of the offensive style,” Ritz said. “L.A. doesn’t rely on a superstar as much so we play a more of a team-oriented offense. San Francisco has a guy who is one of the best players to play the game so a lot of the offense runs through him. It makes it really important to have really good shooters and really good finishers around and that’s not really my strength. I feed off more moving the ball. This style of lacrosse down here definitely fits my game better. For me it couldn’t have been a better fit. Hopefully for L.A. it will be a good fit too.”
The Riptide had a tough start in its first season last year, losing its first three games to veteran Eastern Conference teams. They were 2-5 at the All-Star break but turned it around to finish the season at 6-6, only one win from making the playoffs.
“The first year of a franchise is always tough,” Ritz said. “You can’t give games away early. The focus (this year) is winning the first game and taking it from there.”
Ritz grew up in Philadelphia, where as an athletic boy, he played the typical sports, but lacrosse wasn’t quite on his radar yet.
“To be honest I really didn’t like it,” said Ritz. “It was something I was doing because my friends were doing it. It was another thing to do on the weekend to keep me busy when I was in middle school. I played for a year then quit.”
But things changed when he entered high school. His “phenomenal” coaches got him hooked on lacrosse but he still didn’t think he would play in college. His father, who owned his own dental practice, encouraged him to play sports and also helped out as a coach.
”I was the oldest in my family so I didn’t know if I was good enough to play in college or not,” said Ritz who has a younger sister and brother, Max, who also plays lacrosse. “I was recruited by some smaller schools out of high school. My recruiting process was far from glamorous. It wasn’t like some of the kids who get all the recognition. It wasn’t like that at all. I wasn’t getting calls from the big schools. Then I had a really good senior year in high school. I developed physically a little bit and was just a better player by a long shot than I had been before. I started getting attention from a lot of different schools. I had kind of been ‘Wow, I would love to play for Maryland, which is the mecca for lacrosse.”
Ritz’s younger brother Max, as a freshman, joined the Maryland lacrosse team during his junior year. The brothers helped Maryland reach two Final Four appearances but they lost in the finals both times. The downside was losing but they played in front of 50,000 fans at Eagle Stadium, the home of their favorite sports team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s still the highlight of my career,” said Ritz of playing with his brother. “I’m not going to let losing get in the way of it.”
Ritz added of his brother who is now a junior, “He’s having a much better junior year than I had. He’s a good player. He’ll be a better player than I am. I love that. I’m not jealous of him. I’m happy for him. Hopefully he’ll move out here and play with the Riptide or something.”
The transition to a new team was not as stressful as moving to the West Coast and being out of college and entering the work force, according to Ritz. He moved from Philadelphia to Manhattan Beach in January.
“I love living on the West Coast,” he said. “I don’t envision myself moving back anytime soon. You guys have it pretty nice out here. I would like to just get my family out here, ship them all out.”
Like every other player in the M.L.L., Ritz has a day job with the Starz Lacrosse Foundation but he also helped coach the Palos Verdes High School lacrosse team, which lost in the CIF finals to Foothill. Mira Costa started up lacrosse last year and Redondo joined this season. Ritz said both high schools and their coaches are contributors to Starz. With his job and coaching, Ritz hopes to spread the word about lacrosse.
“If you’re athletic, smart and have a good skill set and you’re kind of tough, you can be really successful in this sport,” he said.
The Riptide plays its first home game at the Home Depot Center Sunday, May 27, at 7 p.m. against the New Jersey Pride. They also have home games on June 23 against Chicago, June 30 against San Francisco, July 14 against the Denver Outlaws and July 28 against San Francisco.
For more information, visit http://www.lariptide.com.