In a young sport such as lacrosse, a massive wave of graduation might have produced a huge hit in already talent-thin programs. But that is no longer the case in the Metro Conference as long-standing youth programs are finally starting to have an impact at the high school level.
The Chula Vista Spartans, Bonita Vista Barons, Eastlake Titans and Otay Ranch Mustangs have enjoyed championship runs in Metro boys lacrosse. In the case of the sports’ early local juggernauts, as front-line talent graduated, the programs’ fortunes waned.
Eastlake head coach Nestor Rosas considers this, in his words, a “rebuilding year” for his team. But Rosas, who is entering his fourth year at the Titans’ helm, is not panicking.
Help has arrived.
“Even though there are a lot of new faces (this year), there’s a lot of lacrosse experience,” the EHS coach said. “We have kids who have been playing since the sixth grade with the Outlaws (South Bay Outlaws youth program), so a lot of our incoming players now have a fair amount of lacrosse experience.”
Rosas said the popularity of the sport remains high. Eighty-three hopefuls tried out for the Titans’ varsity and junior varsity teams this year. However, roster restrictions allowed for only 48 lineup spots — 24 on each team.
That some Metro programs are now in the position of needing to trim tryout camps shows the growth in prestige of the sport, which was officially sanctioned by the San Diego Section in 2002.
The Outlaws program began in 2001 as a middle school club program. The initial beneficiary has been Chula Vista’s eastern complement of high school programs, though the Outlaws’ reach does extend throughout the general Chula Vista region.
This year’s Outlaws program features four age group teams and more than 60 participants. Practices are held Monday through Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Montevalle Park (adjacent to Eastlake Middle School).
The Outlaws line-up includes one third-fourth grade team, one fifth-sixth grade team and two middle school teams. There are future plans for a first-second grade team and a girls team.
Last weekend, the Outlaws split four games, going 2-2 in play against other club programs in the county.
Even though the season has started, Outlaws president Kevin McPeak said newcomers are always welcome. “Our philosophy is that if a kid wants to play, we’ll find a way to make it work,” he said.
This year’s Eastlake varsity team boasts just one senior: goalie Joseph Leonor. Rosas said one of his lines features all juniors.
That’s good news for next year, though the Titans would like to think they are in the thick of the championship race again this year despite the large turnover in varsity personnel.
Eastlake and defending league champion Otay Ranch meet in a high profile match-up Monday at EHS. JV action faces off at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity tilt at 7 p.m.
“We just need to reduce the number of errors we make and I think we’ll be fine,” Rosas said. “We’ve already scored a lot more goals than I thought we would at this point.”
The Titans defeated the visiting Valhalla Norsemen, 9-7, on Monday to finish 3-2 in non-league competition prior to the start of league play.
Eastlake led 5-2 heading into halftime on the strength of two goals by junior Casey Stanko and single goals by Devon Ballow, Josh Randall and Jordan Vicente.
Vicente is the impact newcomer. The freshman middie has already become a key playmaker on the team. “In his first varsity game, he took a shot within six seconds and scored a goal,” Rosas said.
Besides Vicente and Stanko, other key players this season for the Titans include Ballow, a junior attackman, and Ryan Hayes, a sophomore attackman.
Hayes scored five goals in his first handful of games.
Meanwhile, Gabriel Tan has made the transition from football to fill one of the team’s open defensive slots.
Leonor is an experienced second-year varsity goalie, the EHS coach said.
The Titans opened the season with victories against Point Loma (6-1 on Feb. 29) and El Capitan (7-5 on March 2) before dropping their next two outings against Granite Hills (12-4 on March 6) and Helix (9-7 on March 9).
Otay Ranch entered Thursday’s game at Bonita Vista riding the momentum from a 20-3 victory against Montgomery in the teams’ league opener on Monday.
The Mustangs faced off the season with a 14-6 victory against Santana on March 6 before being sidetracked in a 15-3 setback to La Jolla Country Day on March 8.
Otay Ranch senior Franz Hahn, last year’s Metro Player of the Year, returns as one of four team captains this season. Joining him with leadership roles on the Mustangs are fellow senior middie Robby Sills, senior defender Ryan DeLeon and senior goalie Patrick Flinn.
Things look to be competitive in 2012. Mar Vista defeated host Chula Vista, 6-3, in their Metro opener on March 8.
League membership remains at seven teams. An eighth team would allow the conference to split into two leagues, thus giving the Metro a second automatic playoff qualifier.
“We’re still hopeful,” Rosas said.
As youth programs continue to grow, it seems inevitable.
For more information on the South Bay Outlaws, visit the Web site at www.southbaylacrosse.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.