I’ve always been a huge fan of “March Madness.” The national hype surrounding the NCAA men’s basketball national championship tournament is the best sporting event of the year in my opinion, and I love spending those weekends in late March sitting on my couch and watching the numerous upsets unfold.
So you can imagine how much fun I was having during the lacrosse team’s recent playoff run, or my experience with “May Madness.” I have watched many Cinderella stories unfold during a sports event, but I had never actually been a part of one until this season. And as fun as it is watching those thrilling upsets, miraculous comebacks and overtime winners on TV, the experience just doesn’t come close to joy of watching one from the field.
I think it’s no exaggeration to call our season a Cinderella story. Our former head coach Jay Pfeifer resigned in late January, our former assistant coach Alex Weber had about a month to get acclimated to his new interim head coach position before our first game, we took a sharp nose dive in the final four games of the season, lost our sole possession of the league title in a 15-7 loss to Crepsi the last regular season game of the year and were given the six-seed in our 16-team Southern Section North Division playoff bracket. We hosted Peninsula, the 11-seed, in the first round game and handled them pretty easily, but we weren’t expected to do much after that.
Then we traveled to Agoura, the three-seed, and crushed the Chargers 16-8. We had never advanced to the semifinals of our playoff tournament since 2004, and the upset win avenged playoff losses to Agoura my freshman and sophomore season during the quarterfinal.
Then we traveled to Westlake, the two-seed. We found ourselves down 7-3 at halftime, but climbed our way back into the game in the second half and forced sudden death overtime.
After a huge scramble for the opening faceoff, we got possession, and a pass from my brother Roman Holthouse ’15 intended for Brooks Hudgins ’14 deflected off a defender’s stick then trickled into the back of the net to win the game. No Cinderella sports story is complete without a couple lucky bounces.
Not only did we complete one of the best and biggest comebacks ever, but we earned a date with the top seed and defending champion in our bracket, Palos Verdes. If you asked me before the season, or even before the game if we could beat PV with our current squad, I couldn’t confidently say we could because PV was so widely recognized across Los Angeles as the best team in the area. But we had one last upset left in us, and we shocked both the lacrosse community and myself with a 9-7 win for the regional title. As we rushed the field to celebrate after giving Weber a Gatorade bath, my disbelief quickly turned into joy as I began embracing all my friends, teammates and family members at the game.
Though the season ended as one of my happiest experiences at Harvard-Westlake, it was at times very frustrating from a personal perspective. Not only was I frustrated with my lack of production during the regular season, but I broke my collarbone in the league title game against Crespi, and I had to watch our entire playoff run from the sideline. The team started playing better without me, which made the injury even harder to swallow.
But watching the playoff run from the sideline was a blessing in disguise. I could finally take the pressure off myself, stop worrying about my inability to tangibly contribute to the score sheet and just enjoy being a part of the ride. We had a lot of selfless seniors on the team that showed up every day even without getting the most playing time, so it was easy for me to realize that the best thing I could do was to stay positive from the sideline and put the collective group’s success above my own. Once I got back into that positive mindset, I could fully enjoy sharing the run with the seniors I had spent my career with and the underclassmen I played with that year. It’s a cool feeling knowing that I was a part of the senior class that won the first regional championship in about a decade, and that we did it when no one thought we could.
Next year, the team won’t lose too much talent from graduating players. I think Weber absolutely earned a promotion from interim to official HC for uniting us all together that playoff run and all the parts will be there if he comes back to make an even better run. We actually lost our final game of the year, when we advanced from the divisional championship to the sectional championship, so I think there’s plenty more for next year’s group to do. I’m very proud of the progress our program made while I played, but I hope we can stop using the word “Cinderella” and start using the word “dynasty.”