After a three-year stint headlined by a US Lacrosse Southern Section Northern Division championship, a Mission League title, and an impressive total of six playoff wins, varsity lacrosse head coach Alex Weber has announced to his players that he will be stepping down from his position at the conclusion of the 2014-15 school year.
“All of us love Weber, he has taught us so much as individuals and he has given this program so much,” said defender Andrew Park ’15, who finished second on the 2015 team with 81 ground balls. “When Weber first started as the head coach three years ago, quite frankly we just weren’t as good. He turned us around and set an expectation and standard for being a great lacrosse program. We all love Webs, and we’ll miss him.”
Weber had tremendous success running the Harvard-Westlake program, compiling a 39-17 overall record in three seasons at the helm. However, while Weber admittedly enjoyed his time as the head coach, he cited the spread of lacrosse’s popularity in Southern California and the presence of his entertainment career as primary reasons for his departure. Weber missed three games during the 2015 season due to his acting roles, but the team was still able to go 3-0 in his absences under the control of assistant coach Peter Swander.
“Lacrosse in this country — but especially in L.A. — is at a very unique place, and Harvard-Westlake lacrosse is at a very unique threshold where I feel like everything that’s been built with the program in my last three years here has been leading to something bigger,” Weber said. “It’s time for us to put a flag into the ground and really solidify ourselves as an elite program, and that would take a full, undiluted effort from someone to lead that. I have other pursuits that I’m committed to and emotionally involved in, and so rather than possibly be uncommitted, I think it’s better — honestly it does break my heart — but I think it’s the right move for the program to allow someone to come in and be that fully committed person.”
After playing lacrosse for four years at the University of Pennsylvania, Weber came to Harvard-Westlake in 2011 assistant coach, always planning to focus more on his comedic career than his coaching one. Weber is best known for a recurring role as “Grocery Store Bro” on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, and he has also appeared in skits on the “BroBible” website. When coach Jay Pfeifer resigned in the winter of 2013, Weber took over the head position, but he still didn’t anticipate sticking around for long.
“I first came out, and lacrosse was my side job, and I was actually thinking about leaving Harvard-Westlake altogether, but it’s funny how the world works. The head coach left and they offered me the head position,” Weber said. “My thought was ‘Okay, I’ve played this sport since I was five years old, I’m going to coach and give absolutely everything I have this spring, and then I’m going to be done and move onto the next chapter of my life.’ ”
With one legendary season, his perspective was entirely changed.
In the spring of 2013, a Harvard-Westlake team that only started one senior entered the Northern Division playoffs as the No. 6 seed, before going on one of the most epic playoff runs in school history for any sport. After dispatching No. 11 seed Peninsula in the first round, the Wolverines defeated the No. 3 (Agoura), No. 2 (Westlake) and No. 1 (Palos Verdes) teams in the bracket in three consecutive rounds to claim Harvard-Westlake’s first divisional title since 2004.
“I tried to stay away, but we won CIF and our players got a whole bunch of awards and I got [L.A.] ‘Coach of the Year,’ ” said Weber, who also earned Big Red’s 2013 Coach of the Year award for his efforts during the playoff run. “It was the most tremendous experience in my whole life, from the kids to the families to the school and everything, so I decided to come back.”
With the majority of the team returning in 2014, the Wolverines had a dominant regular season, taking their only outright Mission League title in Weber’s career and gaining the No. 1 overall seed for the Northern Division playoffs. However, for the first time in Weber’s tenure, the team was on the wrong side of a playoff upset, as Harvard-Westlake fell to No. 8 seed and league rival Crespi in the tournament’s quarterfinals.
“Last year we got that No. 1 seed, and it’s a great thing to have all of Greater L.A. look and unanimously say that we were the best program,” Weber said. “We were clipped off by Crespi, so that was disappointing, but there were still a lot of lessons in that.”
Weber faced his most difficult challenges in the most recent season, as his team was decimated by the graduation of former LaxPower All-Americans Jack Temko ’14 and Noah Pompan ’14, the absences of attackmen Roman Holthouse ’15 (out for four games), Tommy Park ’18 (six games) and Paul Rodriguez ’18 (15 games), and a rigorous schedule that included seven games against teams that finished the season ranked in the top 10 of the entire Southern Section according to LaxPower. Understandably, the team had its worst record in Weber’s three-year tenure, but still finished at a respectable 11-8 overall mark, including a second place finish in the Mission League and a fourth overall seed entering the playoffs. In the postseason, the team fell to No. 5 seed Westlake in the divisional quarterfinals by a score of 16-11.
“Coming back for this third year, I really thought we could get that crown again,” Weber said. “It just did not work out for us. We had a trim varsity roster. Look at teams like Loyola; they have an army over there. However you dice it up, having more people is a good thing because that breeds competition, and then everyone gets better.”
Despite the unfortunate ending, players were appreciative of the changes Weber made to the program in his brief time in charge. While Weber’s achievements on the field were statistically undeniable, the changes he made to the general lacrosse culture of the school were equally praised.
“Weber was a great coach, and I respect what he has done at H-W,” said midfielder Phillip Thompson ’16, who put up 49 goals and 23 assists in 2015. “He took our program from an afterthought to a perennial CIF contender. He really changed the culture of the team and made us a legit program. He made people take the sport more seriously. We stopped treating it like an activity and started working like we were contenders.”
Joe Woody ’15, who was a member of the lacrosse program in 2012 [before Weber took the head job], also respected the changes Weber made to the team.
“Coach Weber established Harvard-Westlake as a true program and powerhouse in Los Angeles,” said Woody, who finished third on the 2015 team with 25 goals. “He changed the program from an after-school activity, like it was four years ago, to a real team sport that requires serious dedication. When I started playing here, just making the playoffs was good enough, but Coach Weber taught us to demand more of ourselves. The fact that we were disappointed with a quarterfinal finish is a testament to his success.”
Similarly, even though Weber was not satisfied with the results of his final year, he took solace in knowing that he had improved the program from top to bottom.
“When I came to Harvard-Westlake [as an assistant], we would win the league, but doing well in the playoffs wasn’t really in the breadth of goals,” Weber said. “We did not win the league my first year [as a head coach], but we ended up winning the whole darn thing [in the playoffs] … Our standard now is without a doubt that we should win the Mission League, but that’s kind of just ‘winning the battle.’ ‘Winning the war’ is about CIF, and I think we should always be in that championship game.
“The vibe has changed from ‘after-school spring activity’ to ‘we’re serious lacrosse players,’ and that itself is loads different than the history of lacrosse here. What I hope is that a Harvard-Westlake lacrosse guy is a good guy who does well in school, who wants to be your friend, and, when it comes to the field, is a stand-up competitor.”
While Head of Athletics Terry Barnum understood Weber’s situation, he was appreciative of the work that the coach has done, particularly acknowledging the phenomenal work of Weber’s first season.
“Any time a season ends, it’s a matter of what works for the school and what works for the coach,” Barnum said. “I think he’s done an outstanding job, and obviously the kids and families care about him very much. He started in our program in a very difficult position, with him being the interim coach, but took us all the way to that championship game. He’s done a wonderful job, and we’re all grateful for the work he’s done.”
After the team had a very successful stint with Swander as the interim coach during Weber’s absences, Swander seems to be the early favorite to earn the head coaching job. Overall, the Wolverines were 3-0 under his control, including a 12-10 win over Thousand Oaks (then ranked fifth in the division by MaxLaxLA), a 16-12 win over Oak Park (then ranked eighth by MaxLaxLA) and a record-setting 26-6 thrashing of Chaminade.
“Web let us do our own thing more than Pete, Pete is more intense and takes more control,” Woody said. “[Coach Swander] doesn’t really mess around as much, and he did real well for us this year. I think Pete would not only be able to build on Coach Weber’s success in establishing HW as a program, but also bring an era of Harvard-Westlake dominance.”
“I can’t imagine a better person for the job than Peter, I really can’t,” Weber added. “He’s as passionate as they come, and I really hope that the school and I will work together, because I think that I have a lot to offer in the decision process having been a coach here for five years.”
Barnum did not express a favorite candidate, merely stating that the search process will begin soon.
“Obviously we would look at the assistants on the staff right now, but we would also look at other people from around Southern California, since lacrosse is such a growing sport,” Barnum said. “We’re going to cross that bridge when we get to it.”
While Weber definitely hopes to have influence on the selection of the next head coach, he expressed confidence in the direction of the program regardless of who’s in charge.
“Our freshman class is nasty [six suited up on varsity in 2015], they’re no joke, and there are real legit players in our sophomore and junior classes as well. Our middle school, we have to tip our caps to them, they just keep bringing a deep and great crowd, and I don’t doubt that there will be a lot of players coming up from there,” Weber said. “Whoever does lead this, you are certainly not starting from level zero. We need to work to grow lacrosse at Harvard-Westlake, because there’s a special opportunity where if we do things right, we could be a national power, and I truly believe that. This place is really, really poised and ready to make the jump, and it’s just time for someone to lead that charge.”