The Novato Lacrosse Club, which was established in 1969, now includes 11 teams (eight boys and three girls) totaling 200 kids. And like the kids in the program, it is still growing, adding about 20-40 players each year, league president Craig Hill noted.
That growth has created some issues – finding fields for practices and games, for instance. But it also has plusses. More young kids playing means more potential high school players in the future.
That’s good news for Novato High coach Mike Pardi, an alumnus of both the NLC and the school.
“I’m happy to have come out of it, and the fact that we have kids who start playing lacrosse at the younger levels and are starting to see these kids come in and play, it’s starting to really pay off. I know that in the next couple of years, we’re going to be having some kids coming it at the high school level with six years of lacrosse experience and they’re going to be coming in as ninth graders. So it’s going to be really, really impressive to see.”
Pardi, who is a member of the NLC hall of fame, is already seeing success on the field thanks to many NLC alumni. The Hornets won the MCAL title in 2005 and claimed the league’s regular-season crown in 2008. Novato also earned North Coast Section berths in 2004, 2005 and 2008, reaching the semifinals last year.
The NLC is a reason Novato ranks with Redwood and Marin Catholic as a consistent MCAL power. Like Novato, Redwood (Southern Marin Lacrosse Club, Ross Valley Lacrosse Club) and Marin Catholic (SMLC, RVLC, NLC) get freshmen with some experience in their programs.
“It’s a tremendous advantage,” Redwood coach Griffin Costello said of working with players who have come to him from juniors programs. “The younger they start, the better they are. It starts with fundamentals and good coaching, getting the stick skills down. Then the athleticism comes later.”
With experience comes confidence, too, which is a reason Novato’s players see MCAL playoff success as a possibility despite a lopsided loss to MCAL-leading Redwood last month.
“I’m out here every day working,” said Novato junior Jake Caliguire, who took up lacrosse in seventh grade. “When I was younger, I was playing baseball. But once I started playing lacrosse, there was no turning back.”
That is a sentiment shared by Novato junior Griffin Griggs and senior teammates Conor Breckenridge and Cody Dawson among others. All have grown up with and grown to love lacrosse after learning the sport as youngsters.
In Breckenridge’s case, that first exposure came in second grade when he lived in Maryland. His family moved to Marin before he entered seventh grade and he soon found his way to the Novato Lacrosse Club.
“Where I come from, we all had sticks since we were 5 years old,” said Breckenridge, who plays defense for Novato High. “But it was a little different, more physical the way I learned it. Here, I learned to play with more finesse. But I still like to hit people.”
In the end, however, the players agreed that regardless if their style revolves around power or finesse, lacrosse is really about stickwork. Translated, that means a longer exposure to lacrosse means a higher chance of success.
“A big deal with that is teams like Terra Linda and San Rafael didn’t have juniors programs in that area,” Griggs said. “So most of their kids are picking up their sticks for the first time in high school. By the time they are juniors in high school, they have only been playing for two years. So it’s good they are getting a (juniors) program.”
Griggs was exposed to lacrosse as a first grader when his brother, then in seventh grade, joined a NLC team. But Griggs didn’t get to play organized lacrosse until he was in fifth grade, when a team for his age level was created.
With NLC now offering teams for kids as young as seven, that won’t be such an issue for future players.
“I wish I had started earlier,” Caliguire said. “We all pride ourselves on our stickwork. If you can catch and throw you can possess the ball. That’s the game.”
Dawson, however, said players at schools such as Novato, Marin Catholic and Redwood with experienced players have another edge.
“I think the biggest advantage that we gain from having played in the juniors isn’t so much stick skills, at least for me personally” Dawson said. “It’s that all the kids that weren’t able to play at the junior level don’t understand concepts like defense, offense, offensive plays. So we have that advantage.”
“There’s a lot of information that goes into the game,” Pardi said. “Attention to detail, and executing little things and being really strong at the basics. So there’s a lot of information that you have to absorb in. It not just a physical game. When the game is going on, I’d say it’s 60/40 mental.”