The Orange Lutheran lacrosse program is up and running this spring, and as the boys and girls teams progress through their inaugural seasons, the coaches and players have taken the opportunity to reflect on what has been a memorable start.
On the girls side, the Lancers are fielding both JV and varsity squads, with about 40 players total across the two teams. The varsity leadership is comprised of three captains, senior Kaitlin Noble, junior Chloe Ronnenberg and sophomore Brooklyn Anthony.
“To be a part of shaping the lacrosse program into what it will be in the future is a huge privilege,” says Anthony. “I’m just happy to be a part of it with all of these amazing girls. It’s really cool to see that it’s coming together now.”
Many of the players on the girls teams have come in with some level of sports experience, such as in soccer or basketball. But for most, playing lacrosse for OLu is their first foray into the sport. Despite their lack of experience, the girls have eagerly met the challenge head on.
“The chemistry has improved tremendously from the beginning,” says Anthony. “It’s really impressive to see these girls who had never touched a stick before the season started and how far they’ve come. On the field, our communication has improved…and now we’re working really well as a team. We’ve been growing as teammates and friends, on and off the field.”
The boys program has about 50 rostered players on their JV and varsity teams, and senior leader Brad Leon is equally impressed with the commitment and skill development of his teammates.
“It’s been really cool seeing all these kids come out,” says Leon. “It’s a cross section of everybody. And since there’s only a small amount of people who have picked up a stick before this season, it’s awesome to see all the progress that has been made.”
To have a lacrosse program on his high school campus is a dream come true for Leon, as he and teammate Owen Garrett were instrumental in bringing the sport to OLu.
“It’s awesome to see something that my friend (Garrett) and I have worked on since freshman year come to life with us actually having a team,” says Leon. “It’s a surreal feeling.”
The programs’ early success has not been without its challenges. Several bumps in the road that are typical for new endeavors have been present, including last minute schedule revisions and changes in practice and game locations. But the teams and families have graciously rolled with the punches.
“It’s overwhelming, and there are unique challenges to doing a spring sport, but everyone has been really supportive,” says OLu boys lacrosse head coach, Michael Finley. “This is a program wide effort. Everyone who has decided to pick up a stick this year has contributed and is welcomed.”
Alongside those challenges have been equal amounts of milestones that the players and coaches have celebrated. Both varsity teams logged their first win in program history on the same day, March 9, 2019, as the boys defeated Laguna Beach 14-8 and the girls took down Northwood 9-1. First goals and first assists scored by this inaugural group are moments that will forever remain in the record books.
“The girls have done a good job of knowing where they are at, how far they have come and how much they have improved in such a short amount of time,” says OLu girls lacrosse head coach, Alexandra Kyte. “This has been successful in building that culture that is going to last into next year, the year after and ten years from now.”
For some of the senior Lancers, they have found such a connection with the sport that their lacrosse experience may not end when they graduate this spring.
“I’ve fallen in love with the sport to the point now that I want to continue to do it in college,” says Noble, who is headed to Ole Miss. “For being a first year sport at OLu, it’s honestly been such an honor to be a part of it. I get asked about it all the time, and it’s so much fun.”
Leon will continue his education at Orange Coast College with plans to return to the OLu boys lacrosse program as an assistant coach.
“I want to see more progress and for everyone continue to develop their skills, especially those who are not graduating and will play again next year,” says Leon. “I want to see hard work, and I want them to come out because they have a passion for the sport and want to get better.”
Both the girls and boys programs are eyeing growth in the coming years, as Kyte is targeting to add 15-20 new girls players and Finley is looking to grow to approximately 90 boys players, including the addition of a frosh/soph team. As a CIF sanctioned sport, the significant growth of lacrosse throughout the Southern Section over the last ten years will likely prompt the move to a multi-divisional playoff structure in the near future, allowing more teams to participate in postseason competition.
For now, Kyte and Finley are confident that the positive steps the program has taken this season are laying the foundation for a bright future in OLu lacrosse. And those who have been fortunate enough to be a part of this unique inaugural experience will come away with not only a lifetime of memories, but the chance to leave a lasting legacy.
“Getting to see those first goals scored and seeing how much they do love each other, it’s just so important to me as a coach, because at the end of the day, that’s what they’re going to take away,” says Kyte. “They’re not going to remember all the wins and losses, but they are going to remember the relationships and the family that we built this year.”by Jenelyn Cunningham Russo ‘88