Saturday, May 26, 2012

NCS Lacrosse Championships: SRV 5 - DLS 4

2012 NCS DI Boys' Lacrosse Championship game

Two teams separated by a shade of Green met in the Dublin HS Stadium last night to determine who would be North Coast Section DI champions. In the end, all that separated the Wolves from the Spartans was a single goal. SRV prevailed 5-4 in a game marred by imprecise passes, insufficient stick protection, and imperfect catches. Both teams normally play a tight, crisp style of Lacrosse that is wonderfully entertaining. Why that crispness and precision didn't show up  more often last night, I don't know, but I'll attribute it to nervousness from the significance of this game. 

What significance? For De La Salle, its recent, near-permanent grip on the NCS title was loosened last year, when Monte Vista out-dueled the Spartans to win the title. For San Ramon, the significance was far, far, greater. San Ramon won its first, and only, NCS title in 2008, with one of the finest teams in Northern California history. "Well," one might say, "It's usual for there to be a drop off after a once-a-decade team departs." Usually true, friends, but not always true. The entering Freshman class at SRV for the 2008/2009 school year was a once-in-a-lifetime class. It contained a quartet of players who were locks to become top NCAA DI recruits. Zach Kline, Mike Tagliaferri, Jordan Weiss, and Patrick Worstell had local lacrosse fans buzzing when they were in 8th grade. I'd been in awe of that group back then – and even earlier. I believe I first saw Patrick Worstell play when he was in 5th grade, trying out for the indoor Junior Stealth. But it wasn't that I was perspicacious. Everyone who knew anything about lacrosse could see it. They were the future of NorCal lacrosse and they were THE TRUTH! So what happened to make last night's game so significant for SRV?

Well, at the simplest level, the Wolves hadn't won anything that really mattered to them. They finished as runner-up in the NCS a couple of times and lost in the semi-finals once. They beat SI a couple of times and that was a solid accomplishment. Very good, but not quite what people had expected, and not what the players and their coaches sought. Last night was the last game of the last season – and thus, the last chance – for this group of SRV boys to win NCS and fulfill their promise. They were resolute!

Things had changed a bit for this fabulous foursome. Zach Kline played only two years of lacrosse, then was offered an Athletic Scholarship to play Football at Cal. He forewent his last two years of Lacrosse to fulfill that dream. He entered Cal early and is ranked by some pigskin prognosticators as the #3 incoming college Quarterback in the nation. For the remaining three, all the anticipation and all the hoopla surrounding them proved to be true. Mike Tagliaferri, Jordan Weiss, and Patrick Worstell all became US Lacrosse All-Americans, with Michael being a two-time US Lacrosse All-American. All three were offered – and accepted – scholarships at legendary NCAA DI programs: Michael accepted an offer from Joe Breschi at North Carolina, Jordan accepted an offer from Jeff Tambroni at Penn State, and Patrick accepted an offer from John Desko at Syracuse. But, funny things can happen on the way to college. Late in his Senior year, Patrick Worstell was approached by the Cal Football coaches and offered a scholarship to play Wide Receiver at Cal, thus re-connecting him with Zach Kline. After thinking long and hard about it, the idea of catching more of Zach Kline's passes fulfilled a different dream for him. So the final outcomes for these four are: 2 NCAA DI lacrosse players and 2 NCAA DI Football players. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Coming into the game, LaxPower stats provided the following data:
Average Goals for: SRV 12.22 (#2 in NCS) DLS 10.35 (#10 in NCS)
Goals allowed: SRV 5.57 (#1 in NCS) DLS 6.38 (#8 in NCS)
Power Ranking: SRV (98.79 #1 in NCS) DLS (96.37 #2 in NCS)
Quality wins: SRV (13.81 #1 in NCS) DLS (11.90 #2 in NCS)

These were the two best North Coast Section teams in my opinion and LaxPower backs that up with statistics. Now, on to last night's game:

Q1 - DLS sets up for the opening face with three poles on the FO unit, leaving two shorties and a pole in the Defensive area. They will show this look on and off throughout the game. Despite frequent early turnovers, you can see that DLS wants long possessions, waiting for opportunities to feed the crease. Understandably, they don't want to play run and gun with the Wolves. Jack McCormick makes a couple of good feeds into tight quarters, but crease Attackmen get stripped by aggressive SRV defenders. SRV opens with a motion set, having two As spin around the crease, looking for feeds. I liked this set, since it seemed likely to produce open looks, but the SRV coaches apparently saw something they didn't like about the match ups it produced, and we didn't see that set again. Mike Tags scores on a rip, giving SRV the first goal and the lead. Cade Bailey answers with a goal for DLS. Cam Bowlby is brilliant in the cage for SRV this quarter, making 4 high quality saves. The quarter ends, 1-1.

Q2 - Doug Strazza picks up a loose ball in the DLS defensive area and runs it all the way down the field for a Long-Pole goal. DLS leads 2-1. Later in the quarter, SRV's Austin French, at X, spots Jackson Brown uncovered just above the left pipe. Like all good X Attacks, French exploits the defensive lapse and makes a perfect feed. Brown buries it. Score is knotted at deuces going into halftime.

Halftime finds both teams practicing their throwing and catching. This goes on longer than expected by me, but it may have a calming effect on two teams who are still not playing fully within themselves

Q3 - This is San Ramon's quarter. They outscore the Spartans 3-1. Peter Tagliaferri scores the first two of the quarter, one on a nice feed from his older brother and one assisted by Jordan Weiss. I had the assist credited to Patrick Worstell, but aging eyes can confuse 42 and 12, so I'll go with the official scorekeeper. Score is now 4-2. DLS answers with a nice goal by Owen Euser, off a feed from Jimmy Keane, bringing the DLS bench to life! Score 4-3. But then, SRV scores its third of the quarter, as Michael Tags picks up his second of the night on an unassisted goal off the dodge. DLS is covering Tags like blanket – either shutting him off with a shortie or having a pole cover him with another pole ready to slide to him early. Still, he gets his points! That goal quiets the DLS side of the Stadium for a bit. It could have been worse for the Spartans, but Payden Dickerson has 4 outstanding saves in the quarter. 3rd quarter ends 5-3 SRV.

Q4 - DLS is in a bind, They're two down with 12 minutes to go. Their strategy of long possessions, awaiting an open man on the crease has become a non-starter, as they need at least 2 goals this quarter and SRV is now trying to make their own possessions longer. So long that they get called for stalling. Then, off a CTO by SRV a GB scrum ensues. Somehow, Jack Mac garners the GB behind the scrum and has no one between him and the goalie. He turns, takes a couple of steps and buries it low. There's hope for DLS as the score is now 5-4! But, no further credible scoring opportunities arise for the Spartans and the Wolves win a squeaker!  
Here are the stats from the Official Scoresheet (N.B. the scoresheet had the final score right, but had not allocated one of the DLS goals. I have allocated that goal based on my records. Otherwise, everything's straight from the official scoresheet)

Teams   Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total

DLS (Dickerson) 8 – Save percentage 61.5%
SRV (Bowlby) 10 – Save percentage 71.4%

M Tagliaferri……2..1..3
P Tagliaferri…….2..0..2
Totals……………5..3..8 (60% of goals assisted)

Totals……………4..2..6 (50% of goals assisted)

SRV Goals Allowed vs DLS Average goals scored: 4 v 10.35 -6.35
DLS Goals Allowed vs SRV Average goals scored: 5 v 12.22 -7.22

With rare exceptions, the performance by the defensive units of both teams was exceptional. Great saves, lifted shot attempts, intercepted passes – this game had it all on the defensive side of the ball. Great to watch!

Emotional and physical intensity was at the highest levels in this Sectional Championship. Tons of fist pumps after a great play. Powerful checks, ferocious ground ball battles, and numerous full-length dives at the sideline to be closest to a ball heading out of bounds. Utterly amazing intensity! Well played, guys. I'm proud of all of you – on both teams – that I have watched and known over the years. Thanks for providing such great lacrosse to the fans of Northern California – and thanks for the memories you've created. They'll stay with me forever!

Bill Welty

P.S. De La Salle and San Ramon Valley have long been my favorite NCS teams. I'm not sure how this happened, but I know, and greatly respect, both coaching staffs and I have known many, many players on both teams, some for as many as nine years. I've known most parents of these players over the same period of time and have found them to be among the most supportive, caring, and genuine folks I've ever met.

Much as the High School careers for many of you are ending, so it is with my son. I am ineffably sad that it all has come to an end for most of us –  parents and players alike. We were lucky to live through the magical years of Northern California Lacrosse! Many of you will continue your lacrosse careers in college. I wish you the best and know that you will represent yourselves, your schools and your families with honor and sterling character. After all, you've been trained by the best group of coaches and parents I know. Who knows, maybe I'll see you, or your parents, or your coaches, on the fields or in the stands at college lacrosse games on the East Coast. I hope so!   

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