Founded in 2008, the Valley Tigers Lacrosse Club are members of the Nebraska High School Lacrosse League based roughly two hours from Central Iowa in Omaha, NE. The Tigers joined the league as a JV team in the 2009 season. They moved to the varsity level in 2010 where they have finished in the top four in each of the last three season under the guidance of head coach Zach Zielonko. Their overall varsity record includes 39 wins and 11 losses over three seasons.
After struggling to get on the practice field throughout March, the other coaches and I knew that there was a lot of work that needed to be done last week. Having nearly all of the varsity squad out over Spring Break did little to help matters. When it snowed last Sunday night, I about lost it. Regardless, cancelling practice was not an option.
Luckily we have a solid varsity crew that came prepared to work all week. Everybody showed up ready to go and helped bring the newer players along. Our varsity focus was on setting up a solid game plan and getting everybody on the same page for the opening game. Meanwhile, with loads of new players ,the JV team focused on the basics of playing an actual game.
When game day rolled around, a collective sigh of relief washed over everybody connected to the team. Not only were we playing on a nice Field Turf surface, but we were doing so on a sunny 60+ degree Saturday. Honestly, I cannot think of many better ways to start a season.
Valley at Burke
Aside from the usual round of graduating players a couple of significant roster changes took place. Career midfielder Griess moved alongside Crites on attack, where his skill set will better serve the team over the season following the loss of Levis (graduation), Brown, and Crew (outside obligations). Lowe rounded out the starting attack unit.
After spending last year between the pipes, Ben Oberender voluntarily took up a pole to make room for North Carolina transplant Marcum. Alongside Tornberg and Thompson, Oberender received the nod to start over team captain McEntee on Saturday out of respect for his contributions last year. Newcomers Glenn and Halder will play reserve roles down the stretch. Kapustka and Turner will take alternating shifts at LSM, as well as fill in on the back line as needed.
The midfield was gutted over the off season. The Arends brothers, Fay, and Mundus bring the only significant varsity experience. Both Burmester and Bartlett received limited varsity time last season. Coleman joined them in moving up while Swailes came in strong, despite not playing in 2012 due to schedule conflicts. Davis is the only true newcomer to the varsity midfield.
Aside from the obvious, our focus coming into this game was ball control on both sides of the field. We spent significant time stressing the importance of team ball over the urge to carry and dodge on offense. Given that the 12 of our goals were assisted, the stats suggest that the lessons have sunk in. Ball movement and strong communication were evident regardless of who was on the field. Perhaps the best examples came during man up situations, where we executed at 100 percent through the first three quarters. Even after removing the starting man up unit, ball movement was up to snuff and the shots were well timed, even if they were unsuccessful.
Defensively, there were a few gaffes, but nothing major. Most missteps came from poor communication between the midfielders and poles; all of it can be addressed and fixed. Part of this may be attributed to the lack of defensive specialists in favor of two-way middies. Still, the overall result was positive and the reduced substitutions left us less vulnerable during transitions.
We were able to work through the bench earlier than I had hoped, which allowed the newer players to gain valuable experience. Bartlett and Coleman both had opportunities to take face offs and the former netted one of the best goals of the day.
Overall, I am pleased with our performance. But I also recognize that there is plenty of work that still needs to be done.
Final Score: Valley 17, Burke 3
After spending the last few years as the JV coach, I knew how challenging Saturday would be for the team. Under normal circumstances, our JV teams have struggled in early games due to widespread inexperience and the fact that our rosters are usually mostly non-varsity players whereas many of our opponents utilize quite a few second and third string varsity guys to fill their JV ranks. With the crippled practices schedule this spring, leaving Omaha with a victory would be more difficult than normal.
In years past, we also utilized some of our lower tier varsity guys on JV as “swing players” to fill out the ranks. This resulted in positives like increased scoring, as well as negatives like a disconnect on the field between the swing guys and the true JV players. I am proud to report that our numbers this season are strong enough to remove the need for swing players. Saturday saw 16 short sticks, 5 long poles, and a goalie on the JV roster; we are currently working to convert a few shorties into poles.
Like Ben Oberender, Voggesser moved from goal to pole in the offseason. Serena made the opposite move, and had the unlikely start with only two practices under his belt. Yet he managed to save 11 of 19 shots over the course of the game. Felderman has spent time learning to play goal, but opted for attack in a rotating role alongside fellow returners Smith, Degen, and Gardner. Returning middies include face off man Love, Robbins, and Parker, who only had pair of games last season. Jake Oberender and Dowd return at defense. Seven freshmen and four sophomores round out the team.
Utilizing nearly their entire varsity squad (including at least one high profile starter), Burke got up to an early lead. By halftime we had pulled within a goal. The Bulldogs regained their lead and held out, despite some strong play from our boys.
My primary focus was on Thompson and McDougal, both in their first outing as coaches, to offer advice and support. Both did an outstanding job throughout the game with great communication and composure. I also concentrated on the team as a unit, though I did pull aside players for one-on-one coaching as needed.
Still, a couple of players offered inspired play: goalie Serena and attackman Gardner. Serena made some monstrous saves and held his own in unprecedented conditions and with little training, as mentioned above. Gardner’s play improved significantly from last spring. He made play after play, found ways to get open and to get the ball in his stick. His pair of goals led the JV.
All in all, there is a lot of promising talent on this JV team.
Final Score: Burke 8, Valley 4
Current Varsity Record: 1-0
Current JV Record: 0-1
Our home slate opens this weekend when we host Westside for both varsity and JV games beginning at 11:00 am. Games are open to the public and there is no charge to attend. I encourage all lacrosse fans in Central Iowa to make the trip to Southwoods Stadium this Saturday and show your support. For those interested in contributing to the growth of the sport, this is a great opportunity to see the development that has taken place over the last five years.