Coaches Corner … with Hilltop’s Pete Bishop

Pete Bishop has coached the Hilltop High School boys lacrosse team since its inception. Photo by Phillip Brents

Pete Bishop has coached the Hilltop High School boys lacrosse team since its inception.

Over the years it’s been a roller coaster ride for the Lancers as the program has developed from its embryonic stages to where it stands today.

Each team has been different from the other, and each year Bishop has tried to define the core values of each team.

Bishop is not just referring to individual skills and conditioning, but also, and more importantly, he said, to the character of the players and the team.

“Coaches can assess the first two fairly quickly once practice starts, but the character question can take half the season,” Bishop explained. “The reason it can take a while is linked to one of the reasons we play sports — to test ourselves against adversity.

“If you have a ‘soft’ schedule where your team cruises to victory over every opponent you may never really know the character of your team. If the schedule is too ‘hard’ and your team is crushed by every opponent, you can assess how they respond to a loss, but repeated defeats can cause them to lose heart and accept defeat as inevitable.

“In an ideal season every contest would be evenly matched and the score would be a one-goal difference. The winner would know they had to play their best to win, anything less and their opponent, who had played their best, would have been the winners. The losing team would know it had played its best, but the other team was better, and that it could get better and win the next game.

“Our seasons are not ideal, however, and you can end up playing against teams with a wide range of ability. Once again, the character of a team shows; did they accept victory magnanimously and appreciate the skill and effort of their opponent?

Did they come out of a loss congratulating the winners and thanking them for a great game? Do they show up at the next practice determined to do what it takes to win the next one?”

From left, Hilltop’s Trevor Fune, Dante Albertz, Artie Arriola and Terran Pineda.

This season was unique and presented its own intangibles.

As is the case for all spring sports, the season ended after a month of training and a smattering of regular season games due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

“We had the rug pulled out from under our season after only a few weeks of practice, a five-team carnival and three games,” Bishop assessed.

With this in mind, how did the Hilltop boys lacrosse team’s short season play out?

Bishop offers a snapshot from an insider’s view.

“The first contest was a carnival hosted by Hilltop on Feb. 29. This is a multi-team scrimmage where each team plays 15 minutes against four other teams, testing their skill against four different offenses and defenses. Problems can be identified and improvements made.

“Unfortunately, there was no time to correct deficiencies in practice as our first contest was the next Monday against Point Loma. The Pointers played a great game and secured the victory by a score of 11-3. The lopsided score didn’t reflect the game on the field as many of the Pointers’ goals were the result of mistakes made by the Lancers that were quickly capitalized upon.

Hilltop’s Terran Pineda keeps his eye on the ball during a Mesa League game against Otay Ranch.

“The team’s character started to show during the next two days of intense practice leading up to the game against Del Lago (on March 5). Del Lago is a North County team that plays a tough schedule and has some top-notch players, but the Lancers were confident that they were ready.

“The Firebirds had a terrific face-off guy who controlled the face-off and got his team the ball. With possession they got off to a fast start and quickly got up 5-1. The Lancers gained back a little ground, but the first quarter ended 6-3 in Del Norte’s favor. This was a great opportunity for the team to fold, nothing was working, the other team controlled the game and prospects were bleak.

“In the second quarter the Lancers’ face-off man started winning the draw and the team’s seniors rallied the boys and started to claw their way back into the game. At the half Del Lago led 7-5.

“In the second half the Lancers continued to fight, scrapping for every possession and getting the ball to the team’s top scorer, senior Artie Arriola, who scored nine goals and dominated the offensive end of the field. The final score turned out 12-8 in favor of the Lancers.

“In the final game of the season against the Morse Tigers (on March 7), the Lancers seriously overmatched their opponent, which was just learning to play the game. The team was directed to stop trying to score and to put only moderate pressure on the opponent, allowing them (the Tigers) to play and operate in a learning mode.

“The senior team leaders took charge on the field and ensured that the team followed their lead, allowing the opponent to play. It was one of the finest examples of sportsmanship by a Lancer lacrosse team I have seen.”

How then does Bishop assess his team and its short season?

“We lost our first game but came out determined to improve and win the next one,” the Hilltop coach explained. “When things went south in that game’s first quarter, the kids refused to quit and fought their way back to victory. In their final game they put aside the opportunity for personal glory to help a less experienced team play the game and leave the field with their heads up.

“In this short season the Lancer lacrosse team players exhibited those elements — determination, grit, teamwork, self-sacrifice and sportsmanship — that define the character we want to develop in prep sports athletes. They may have lost their season, but they defined themselves and their team.”