Well, I screwed up. Apparently last week’s post failed to publish when it was scheduled. That has been rectified. Better late than never, I guess.
Looking at the post, it appears I crafted everything but never had a chance to add any weight via commentary. Oops. To make up for that, I will recap the games in this post.
Saturday, May 12 – Valley at Millard West
Valley arrived at Millard West with a lot of positive energy. Scoring within the first couple of minutes bolstered that spirit. Then everything went to hell.
Shot placement was nonexistent. The defense forgot how to slide. Mental error penalties – fish hooking mouth guards, stepping over the midfield line, etc. – took the Tigers out of the game.
The Wildcats reminded us why they are consistently our peer in the league’s top four. A relentless game plan by Coach Grewcock saw the Wildcats come from behind and take a two goal lead at halftime. By the start of the fourth quarter, West was up by three.
Something suddenly clicked for Valley. Realizing that this was the final game of the varsity season, the boys wanted to build momentum for the upcoming playoffs. In what was the single best quarter of lacrosse the team has played all season, the Tigers rallied and scored five unanswered goals in the fourth quarter to walk away with a two goal victory.
Final Score: Valley 10, Millard West 8
The JV Tigers’ first win of the season came against Millard West. That game was a real nail biter that ultimately came down to spectacular play by Voggesser. We knew that this game would be no different.
Like the varsity, the JV quickly found itself in a hole. The first half unquestioningly belonged to Millard West. At half time, I launched into an aggressive motivational speech and reminded them that this game was do or die; there was no tomorrow. Win or lose, this would be their last game of the season. I asked them to leave everything on the field so they would know the pride that come from playing their hardest, regardless of the scoreline.
The second half of the game was a complete 180. Determination flooded the team and guys who have never put forth much effort suddenly fired on all cylinders. As a coach, it was a beautiful thing. Though we lost the game, everybody stepped off their field with their heads high.
Final Score: Millard West 4, Valley 2
Following the varsity win and Westside’s forfeiture of the game originally scheduled for Sunday, May 13, Valley finished the regular season with only two losses (both to Lincoln) and two out of conference wins. This made the Tigers the number two seed and allowed them to host their playoff games.
Thursday, May 17 Playoff – #7 Burke at #2 Valley
This game was a result of changes to the league’s playoff system. Instead of giving the top two seeds a bye, the league decided that everybody should make the playoffs. In my opinion that kind of rendered the regular season – in which everybody already played each time twice (or were scheduled to do so) – pointless. Sure it established the playoff seeds, but the top four teams have been the same since Valley entered the league three years ago. But it also had the unfortunate effect of forcing the lowest seeds to face teams that had already beaten them in double digits twice. How does that affect the morale of those players?
A second change in the playoff structure saw that the top four seeds would host the first round. Going in, Valley focused on ensuring one of those seeds to avoid a Thursday night trip to Omaha; Lincoln did the same. As a result, the bottom two seeds had to travel on a school night to a game they stood little realistic chance of winning, based on their previous results. They say that anything can happen in the playoffs, but honestly what are the odds of a playoff upset coming from a team that traveled three hours after a day of school and had already lost two games by a combined score of 39-2? Again, who were these games designed to help?
My criticisms of the playoff structure aside, I respect the team and their coach for making the trip. Their coach is a good guy and the kids that I’ve talked to have all been pretty swell. All in all, I like this team and want them to be successful. Really, I want all of the teams in the league to be successful. A do-or-die league is a great place to be.
For their part, Burke arrived in good spirits and ready to play. Early on, it looked like they were ready to do just that. They gave the Tigers and early scare and the game was close at the end of the first quarter.
Then the sleeping giant awoke. Valley went on a tear while Burke imploded. Reckless penalties resulted in yellow decorations all over the turf at Valley Stadium and a lot of anger on the Bulldogs’ sideline. Anger and frustration flowed freely from Burke’s bench and especially from their penalty area. Despite the fact that the two senior officials arrived from Omaha, there were accusations of “homering” for Valley…
Going into the fourth quarter with a huge lead, Coach Zielonko swapped freshman JV goalie for Oberender and pulled the starting players. Even with players coming from the depths of their bench, the Tigers continued to dominate the game. Nobody planned to run up the score, but how can a coach restrict guys who rarely get the opportunity to play varsity minutes? Regardless, only a couple of balls found the back of Burke’s net in the final 12 minutes.
Final Score: Valley 17, Burke 4
Saturday, May 19 Semifinal – #3 Millard West at #2 Valley
After Thursday’s decisive victory, the coaches felt that the team was ready for Millard West on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, a few starters quietly mentioned being nervous for the game. Having never heard this from starters before, I took this as a bad sign, but I did not acknowledge their fear.
Despite their fear, the Tigers got off to a great start and finished the first quarter up by four goals. Then something unbelievable happened: a questionable two men down situation.
Valley was controlling the game with strong possession and even stronger transitions. Everything was going to plan and we were mentally booking our trip to Omaha. Then one of our attackmen, Crites, was creamed during a transition. Crites was planted on the wide open crease as our middies rushed the ball down the field uncontested. Out of nowhere, one of the largest guys on the field plowed through Crites blind side just before the pass could be made. The offending tackler? One of the referees.
Play continued until the ball went out of bounds moments later. As Crites got to his feet, he told the ref to watch where he was going. His reward for being taken down? A flag and a thirty second conduct penalty. Rightfully so, Coach Zielonko erupted at the official. He explained that the ref’s job is to ensure the safety of the players on the field and part of that job includes knowing where players are. By blindsiding a player, he made a major mistake. Zielonko was angry, but they kept it clean and professional. His reward? A two minute penalty served by the in home (reduced to a single minute by the head referee).
<Ordinarily, I am in favor of not chastising officials. However, in this instance I believe the official was wrong. If it had happened to Millard West, I would still say the official is wrong. The fact of the matter is that the official was not paying attention to the players on the field and was running down the center lane towards goal when he ran over an attackman on the crease. At this point, he unquestioningly interfered with the play and should have blown the ball dead. An apology should have been given to the downed player and possession should have been awarded outside of the box. Or something to that effect.>
The double penalties not only put Valley down two men, they also removed two starting attackmen – two high scoring starting attackmen. Unfortunately the double man down situation killed the Tigers’ momentum. Millard West rallied and before long managed to tie the score.
The Wildcats’ resurgence carried over to the third quarter where they took the lead. The fourth quarter was hotly contested, but Millard West managed to hold on and edge out Valley to secure their place in Friday night’s championship game.
Regardless of the score and the ultimate victor, this was by far one of the (if not THE) best games of lacrosse I have experienced in the Nebraska League. Both teams clearly wanted it. Neither was content to sit on its heels waiting for victory. This was an old school cat fight, pure and simple. Neither team retracted its claws until the final whistle.
Final Score: Millard West 11, Valley 8
The Nebraska High School Lacrosse League championship was held at Westside High School in Omaha (ironically) at 7:00 pm on Friday night. Defending champion Lincoln successfully defended their title against Millard West in a 10-4 victory.
There was no consolation game this year.
In Other News:
Omaha’s NBC affiliate had a nice story about the growth of lacrosse earlier this season. Some of the high school footage used came from the Sunday, April 15 game between Valley and Creighton Prep.
So far there have been no pictures from our last few games updated to the Valley Photobucket account. If/when I hear about any new postings I will share them.