It’s the newest high school sport in the South Bay, so it’s the “fastest-growing” by default.
But to think of lacrosse as some sort of a fad is wrong. The sport has long been a staple of athletic programs on the East Coast and simply needed time to gain a foothold on the West Coast.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, it looks somewhat like soccer, requires its players to be as tough as football players and have hand skills like hockey players.
“It’s a fast-paced game,” Mira Costa midfielder Connor Murphy said. “You always have your adrenaline going. You’re not waiting for something to happen like in baseball. It’s exciting and fun to watch.”
And because the players carry sticks and can play behind the goalkeeper, it certainly has appeal for hockey enthusiasts.
“People who are new to the sport always ask to see the ball,” Mira Costa midfielder Nick De La Espriella said.
And people who are new to the game always marvel at how physical it is.
“It’s even more physical than football because you get to use the sticks,” Mira Costa defender Alex Dodge said.
West Coast lacrosse players tend to have family members who have played on the East Coast, but some just see people participating on a nearby field and decided to give it a whirl.
South Bay programs play in the Bay League, which includes Mira Costa, Palos Verdes, Peninsula, Redondo, Chadwick, Culver City, Beverly Hills and Downey.
The CIF Southern Section does not have a sanctioned playoffs for the sport yet, but the top 12 teams from Los Angeles County play a postseason tournament with the winner taking on the winner of a 16-team all-Orange County team tournament.
The winner earns the right to call itself the “CIF champion.”
Last year, Mira Costa reached the L.A. County final before losing a 9-8, sudden-death, double-overtime match to Loyola.
“Oh yeah, we want to get there again – and farther,” defender Cole Russert said. “This year, we have more athletes, a bunch of kids who like to play lacrosse. It’s given us more depth.
“Last year, our goal was to win the Bay League. But we set that bar too low. That was our original goal. Now, it’s CIF and we believe we have the best team in L.A.”
Those new players appear to be buying into the program.
“A lot of guys have committed more time toward getting better at lacrosse,” Dodge said.
As the team gets ready for the season and expects to duel with a strong PV team, another goal is to expand the sport within the South Bay.
“Out here, it’s slowly coming,” Mira Costa coach Dave Vinci said. “We have about 70 teams in the Southern Section (120 are needed for a sanctioned playoffs). When I first started, we had about 30 teams. It’s really blowing up.”
Palos Verdes: The Sea Kings return nine starters and should provide a legitimate contender to Mira Costa’s Bay League throne. Six-foot-four senior defenseman Zach Rodgers is a wall in the middle of the field and already has committed to Division I Providence College. Seniors Josh Carroll, a two-year starter, and Ian Powell, who started every game last season, form a strong defensive nucleus. Coach Lane Jaffe’s team features All-Bay League selection Matt Schladen at goalkeeper. Jaffe said Schladen, who has started every game since his sophomore year, is the best goalkeeper in the league. Brandon Lim, a returning all-league pick, leads a strong offense. Joining him on the attack are senior Mike Cocke, who is making the move from midfielder, and senior Peter Loddengard, who has returned from shoulder surgery. Jaffe said his attackers have played together since the eighth grade. Senior Erick Trelenberg and sophomores Zach Henkhaus and Zack Fixen are the midfielders.
Peninsula: In his first year, Coach Christian Sears took the Panthers to the playoffs. Now, they’re thinking about a league title. The top returners for the third-year program are on defense – senior goalkeeper Barrington Wilson, senior defensemen Daniel Tarr and James Park. Senior midfielder Spencer Winter is being recruited and midfielder Blake Allman is strong on faceoffs and can contribute on offense and defense. Sears said senior midfielder Ching Kao and junior Kodiak Spybell are solid. The team also returns senior attackers Jason Yamanaka and Scott Spelman.
Redondo: Coach Phil Comito said the Sea Hawks may not have the firepower to compete with Mira Costa and Palos Verdes just yet, but he indicates his team is poised to make a run at the top half of the league standings. Seniors Nate Roth and Josh McClendon anchor a defense that is the team’s strength. They are supported by senior midfielder Regan Riggs and juniors Dillon Guth, Zac Inzer and Taylor Romero. Senior attackers Michael Cross and Bennett Trotter lead the offense. Comito said the future looks bright with a strong group of sophomores ready to contribute.
Chadwick: First-year coach Alex Caldwell said he has a tough task, but that the Dolphins have a lot of talent. Seniors Mark Kasfardjian and Michael Mavredakis anchor the defense in front of sophomore goalkeeper Zach Goodman. The remainder of the team is young and Caldwell expects the team to battle in league play. Caldwell believes his squad can finish close to the elite trio of Mira Costa, PV and Peninsula if the young players step up.
Culver City: With the birth of the Bay League, 10th year coach Casey Chabola is happy he doesn’t have to travel as much as he used to in past years. Playing in Orange County was nice, but he’d rather stick closer to home, he said. The Centaurs are experienced on the attack and on defense, but are soft in the middle of the field. Composed of mostly seniors and sophomores, the team could see some growing pains. Senior attacker Alek Fabijaniak is expected to be the go-to scorer. Goalkeeper Phil Beer is solid, as is senior defenseman Andrew Baird. Senior midfielder Matt Gima is expected to provide leadership for the younger players.