Oak Park High lacrosse player Ryan Darling hauls in a pass during Monday's practice session. JANN HENDRY/Acorn Newspapers
Chris White watches the Oak Park High boys’ lacrosse team practice, and he likes what he sees.
Even through his dark sunglasses, one can see White’s eyes light up as he talks about his love for lacrosse.
“Lacrosse takes all the best things in all sports and puts it into one sport,” said White, the head coach of the only CIF-sanctioned lacrosse team at a public school in Ventura County.
White’s passion and affable nature has rubbed off on his players, who are vying for one of eight postseason bids in the CIFSouthern Section’s Northern Division.
The Eagles wrap up their regular season Friday at Ojai Valley at 3:30 p.m. The next day, the playoff selection committee will choose postseason teams in Rancho Palos Verdes at 4 p.m.
White hopes the Eagles can secure a third or fourth seed.
In only its second year in the CIF and seventh overall, Oak Park is building a tradition of success, on and off the field.
White said as many as six of nine seniors will play college lacrosse. Last season, three of four seniors continued playing after high school.
Assistant coach Tarik Ergin, who acted in 113 episodes of the science fiction television series “Star Trek: Voyager,” played lacrosse at Cornell, and he shares his vast knowledge in his gravelly yell.
“The best thing I ever did as coach was hire him,” White said of Ergin. “He basically has a lifetime contract.”
Fellow assistant Bob Bjerkaas, who works primarily with the goalies, is also the senior pastor at Church in the Canyon in Calabasas.
When Bjerkaas had a tough week recently, according to senior midfielder Grayson Phillips, the team attended the coach’s sermon at his church in the spirit of team unity.
“This team is like a true family,” said Phillips, who led the Eagles with 35 goals through the first 16 games.
“A lot of teams say they’re a family; I think we truly mean it.”
White agreed with his standout senior.
“I’ve got the best coaches,” he said. “I’ve got the best kids. This is a well-balanced team—but they do goof off a little bit.”
The Eagles won the California Division II State Lacrosse Championship in 2007 while finishing 35-1 as a club team, but the transition to the CIF has been bumpy at times.
Oak Park finished 14-5 and reached the section semifinals last year, its first against CIF opponents.
The Eagles were 9-8 entering the week but had won seven of their past 10 games.
Senior defenseman Mathew Caspari said this is one of the “weaker teams” he’s played with in four years at Oak Park.
However, the Eagles have survived a brutal 19-game schedule against some of the strongest Southern California programs and have played several back-to-back games.
“It’s fun getting together with the team at practice and games,” said Caspari, who hopes to study computer science and play lacrosse at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“It’s always nice to win, but as long as we do the best we can it’s a lot of fun.”
Phillips, who will play lacrosse on a scholarship at Fairfield University in Connecticut, said players are now hanging out together on weekends for the first time since he’s suited up for the Eagles.
“I like the team chemistry,” he said. “We’re friendly on and off the field, and that translates into success.”
After a long season, Oak Park wants to finish strong.
“I hope we can win in these playoffs,” said senior attack Ryan Darling, who led the Eagles with a team-high 26 assists and 18 goals through 16 games.
“I hope we go out strong. I hope we go out fighting.”
Darling will study business and economics at UC Santa Barbara in the fall and will consider playing for the club team at the school as a sophomore.
He was recruited to play lacrosse at several East Coast schools, including Bryant University in Rhode Island, Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and Simon Fraser University in Canada.
Darling said it will be hard to leave this team, which includes seven seniors who played together at Medea Creek Middle School.
“I’m going to miss it so much,” the senior said. “I couldn’t imagine playing lacrosse anywhere else. To see this senior class win a title—that would be sweet.”