After serving seven years as assistant coach for the nationally renowned Saint Ignatius Prep (CA) boys’ lacrosse team, Chris Packard had some big shoes to
fill when he accepted the head coaching position in late 2008.
Since ‘09, Packard has led the Wildcats to a 45-5 overall record and most recently the inaugural WCAL title in ‘10. Packard recently spoke with LaxPower’s Adam Warner:
Talk about your background and how you eventually came to be the head coach at St. Ignatius Prep.
“I grew up on Long Island playing lacrosse and then went to Ithaca (NY) and played at Cornell under Richie Moran and Dave Pietramala. They were really influential on me in terms of giving back to the game. I eventually moved to California, ended up in San Francisco and got recruited by members of the Saint Ignatius alumni, and the position of assistant coach sounded like a fun idea to me. But when [former head coach] Greg Angilly left, things changed a bit. Everything pointed to me and I leapt into it.”
The program has a great tradition of success and only has posted eight total losses since ‘06. What’s the key in your mind to sustaining success over time and not just one season?
“It’s a lot of things. While we’ve been fortunate to have so many talented players over the years, we also haven’t changed our offensive or defensive philosophy since I arrived. It’s the same set defense and offense since I got here in ’02. I learned it at Cornell and adapted it as the game changed. So the freshmen learn it and play it for four years. We harp on being a fundamentally sound team and it’s been successful. The kids know that whether we are up 10 or down 10, we play the exact same way.”
Your program routinely features one of the toughest schedules overall for a West Coast team. How do you think Saint Ignatius Prep would stack up against some of the nation’s top programs in more traditional areas, such as Haverford School, McDonogh or Manhasset?
“I certainly think we could go toe-to-toe with some of those teams, but we’re probably a few steps behind in that our depth would be an issue. It will take some time, but the competition around is getting much better. Those squads are still a bit more skilled than we are, and the depth could end up wearing us down late in the game. But I would welcome playing any teams of that caliber. It would be a great experience.”
Talk about the differences in recruiting on the West Coast. Do you think it’s harder to garner attention in a non-traditional lacrosse region?
“We are blessed with an amazing community and school, and all of the guys we have sent to Division I programs have proven to the coaches that they are good players and good people. Overall, it’s not as difficult as one might think. When I get on the phone with a coach, I’ll tell him all about a kid’s character and background. It’s an easy sell when you know the player, his family and how much work he puts in on the field and in the classroom. We have sent many well-rounded kids to great colleges, and I think it has actually made the recruiting process a lot easier for us.”
How has high school lacrosse in California changed over the past 5-10 years? What’s in store for the future?
“I think we plateaued the last couple of years and now we’re on another upswing. You’ve got more people who are educated about the game – from a coaching and referee standpoint – and that allows youth leagues to flourish. Once you get an athletic kid with the proper skillset who understands the game, it’s easy to teach them how to develop their game as they get older.”
You lost some quality players to graduation last year, but still return a talented team in ’11 that includes the likes of Bobby Gray and Johno Gibbons. What’s the biggest difference between the two teams?
“The 2011 team doesn’t quite have the fanfare of last season’s team. They understand other teams are getting better, so they can’t rely on just one guy, they have to rely on the nucleus of the team. There’s a distinct difference about this group. They know that 30 guys have to be on point to be successful. We have firepower, but the kids realize that it’s 10 on the field and 20 on the bench.”