Lacrossers hope to stick it to foes -- sports preview
June 9, 2008 · Updated 7:31 PM
"Most high-school sports teams take a year or two - or a lot longer - to recover from the loss of a dozen or more key seniors on a state-championship squad.Not the Bainbridge High School boys' lacrosse club, however. As they have every year for the last six seasons that they've entered the spring as defending champs, they simply pick the best of who they've got waiting for a chance and reload.So if Bainbridge wins a seventh straight title this year, don't call it lucky seven. It's pure skill and peerless program development. We have 110 boys on the island playing lacrosse right now, said Dave Low, Bainbridge's A team coach, who won the title in his first season at the helm after four years as an assistant to Bill Dawson. That's as big as it's ever been. We always seem to have plenty of seniors ready to step up. This year is no different. For every big name gone from last year - defenders Chris Brase and Lance Irven, midfielders Charley Kelly and Ned Carner, attack Brett Schwager and leading state scorer Garrett Kephart - fresh new talent is ready to take over.Senior Peter Vanderhoek, who scored seven goals in last May's 13-5 championship triumph over Lakeside, steps into the lead attack role previously held by Kephart and Kyler Spivey. Others expected to see their share of scores are senior co-captain Jeff Pratt and sophomore sensation Adam Smith.The midfield is anchored on and off the field by senior Kelten Johnson, who took his skills to the next level while playing in a Canadian indoor league last summer. He's joined by a group with mixed A and B team experience, including senior Travis Eliasen - back from an injury that sidelined him for most of last season - and juniors Jesse Fairbank and Jesse Savage. The backfield might be Bainbridge's biggest strength, however. Senior all-state goalkeeper Mike Penn is back minding the nets, surrounded by returning varsity starters Ben Blakey and Peter Bonoff, a long-stick middie last year. Junior Trevor Kale and seniors Mikkel Hong and Cooper Rooks - the latter playing lacrosse for the first time since the eighth grade after a standout water polo career - will also fit into the mix. Byron Masi, the lone freshman on the 28-player A team squad, could also surprise.I'm thinking for the first week of practice, we're looking pretty good, Penn said. We've got a full lineup of seniors who have been playing together since January. We should be real strong. The new talents extends into the coaching staff as well. Low and veteran B team coach Miller Ream are joined by middle-school coach Ryan Painter and Chris Ruddock, a 1998 BHS graduate.The only concern for team members, really, is the quality of their opponents. Lakeside and Mercer Island are perennially Bainbridge's best competitors, and yet both were steamrolled in fairly undramatic fashion during last season's semifinal and title game.The truest test could come during a month-end tournament against a group of elite California teams in San Francisco. I think we'll have a tough year, Low said with ironic optimism. Added Penn, who was fully entitled to fall asleep during some games last year against the state's second-tier teams: I just hope the quality of our opponents has stepped up to make it more interesting. I have high hopes.*****Tami Tommila calls 2000 the get the monkey off our back year for her Bainbridge High School girls' lacrosse club. Cliche though it might be, it's a most apt one. Three times in the last three years the A team has stormed through the regular-season slate and a semifinal playoff contest to advance to the state championship. Three times, the team was thwarted just short of glory. The program, which won four championships in a row before that under Tommila and program founder Laurie Usher, is out to exorcise those demons a different way than in past seasons.This season, we really want to focus on ourselves, as opposed to being too concerned with strategizing about other teams, Tommila said. I believe that changing the focus to us takes the pressure of the kids. The kids themselves are worth focusing on, as the team brings back 14 of 17 players from the team that squandered an early lead before falling to Overlake, 9-8, in last May's title tilt. Gone are the strong play and steady leadership of Joan Hemphill and Keagen Kenney, but Tommila believes that this year's senior trio of Erica Holsman, Alana Martinez and Jessica Spivey will fill those roles with equal poise and performance. Holsman is part of an attack crew that includes last season's top scorers in senior Rebecca Williamson and junior Ashley Pedersen, supported capably by underclassmen starters last year in Lindsay Newlon, Lauren Hume and Caitlin Kiley. The latter was a midfield standout as a freshman. It's endless, the weapons we have, Tommila said. Spivey, the defensive star of last fall's Spartan soccer team, anchors the back line with Martinez. They'll provide solid support for goalkeeper Allie O'Connor, known affectionately and appropriately by her coaches and teammates as The Wall.The group is such a tight-knit one that it was agreed this year to hold the A team roster to just 17 players. The three slots vacated by last year's seniors - Hemphill, Kenney and Jill Madison - are filled by two standouts from last year's state-level B squad in Alysha Perisho and Meaghan Gateley, as well as Adrienne Moon, a talented junior transfer from the East Coast. In addition, Usher, who has been away from the program for the past several seasons, is back full-time as the C team coach. She joins returning B team coach Laura Newlon and first-year middle-school-girls coach Lisa Lurie, a 1998 BHS grad and former playing standout who is now involved in the University of Washington program.Together, they lead a group of 50-plus players - including some 25 eighth-graders who are being allowed for the first time to play with their high school counterparts - that Tommila believes is powerful enough to shrug off a monkey or two. Or three.They have some humor about what happened, so it's healthy, but we don't really talk about it because we don't want to be surrounded by the negative connotation of losing, Tommila said. They just want to improve as individuals."