Despite losing two former LaxPower High School All-American selections to graduation in midfielders Noah Pompan ‘14 and Jack Temko ‘14, the varsity lacrosse team has still established itself as a title contender in the CIF Southern Section Northern Division. The team holds a 4-1 overall start to the season and 1-1 record in Mission League play as they head into a massive matchup with defending champion Palos Verdes at home today.
“We are right around where I thought we’d be,” said midfielder Oliver Levitt ‘15, one of two players (along with Aaron Drooks ‘15) to average more than one assist per game. “We’re starting to play really good team ball, and that’s what we need to do to win.”
After the top-seeded 2014 team was upset in the second round of the playoffs by league rival Crespi, and five all-league selections graduated in Temko, Pompan, Brooks Hudgins ‘14, Ben Klein ‘14 and Tommy Choi ‘14, media expectations for this year’s squad were somewhat tame. MaxLaxLA had the Wolverines ranked seventh in their preseason poll.
However, the team jumped out to a quick 2-0 start, including a thrilling overtime victory over non-league foe Agoura, when Kenyon University commit Joe Woody ‘15 connected with merely 12 seconds to go in the extra period to give the team an 8-7 win on the road.
“We knew we were going to win throughout the entire game, we know how good we are,” defender Andrew Park ‘15 said. “We knew that we had to just buckle it up and get the tough win, and Woody was able to do that like the iceman he is.”
“I threw away a pass in the fourth quarter with a few seconds left, but nobody got down on me,” Woody said. “I responded, and it felt good to make a clutch play to win.”
In the Mission League opener against Loyola, currently ranked as the best team in the county by both the Los Angeles coaches’ poll and LaxPower’s computer rankings, the squad was successful early on. A first-half hat trick from freshman attackman Paul Rodriguez ‘18 and faceoff domination from Philip Thompson ‘16 (11 goals on the season) carried the Wolverines to a 9-7 halftime lead.
However, the team’s lack of depth became an issue late in the game; due to the quitting decisions of Jack Ennis ‘15, Nick Penske ‘15 and Ridgway Knight ‘15, combined with a season-ending knee injury to Ryan Shelly ‘15, the team’s roster is down to 23 players. Rodriguez, currently third on the team with nine goals, missed the majority of the second half with hamstring cramps, and fellow freshman Tommy Park ‘18 was also out with an ankle injury. Even though Roman Holthouse ‘15, who leads the team in scoring with 14 goals, had his own hat trick, the Cubs made Harvard-Westlake pay with a 6-0 fourth quarter run en route to a 16-10 win.
“We lost our legs late in that game, since we’re a pretty thin team in terms of numbers,” said Park, who was one of five Wolverines to play all 48 minutes in the loss. “As the season progresses, running the fast-paced style of offense and defense that we do, we’re going to get into better shape.”
“Losing guys is always tough, but the young guys have stepped up very well,” Woody added, also referencing Jared Goldman ‘18, who has two goals on the season. “I think we’re going to change things with lineups, we’re definitely going to try to get subs in more.”
After that tough rivalry loss, the team responded with a pair of road victories to get back on track. The Wolverines defeated Oaks Christian 9-5 before getting its first league win over Chaminade with a 10-8 victory after being down 7-5 with only seven minutes remaining.
“I would say it’s been going better than I thought entering the year, because we’re doing some different styles and there’s a learning curve,” said Head Coach Alex Weber. “It’s the right move to where we want to be in the playoffs, and we’re definitely on the right track.”
As of press time, the team finds itself ranked fourth in the county according to LaxPower’s computer rankings, but players and coaches see potential for even bigger things.
“Last year, we had a whole lot of individual talent, guys like Noah and Jack who could really score at will,” Woody said. “This year we have more balance, and we’re playing a lot better as a unit; I think we’re a better team this year than last year.”
“I want to win the Mission League, but I care more about peaking going into the playoffs,” added Weber. “We have a great senior class, they’ve all bought in, done this the right way, and it’s the best leadership I’ve seen since I’ve been here. They can carry us a long way.”
“I’ve been playing varsity since I was a freshman, and in terms of talent, team chemistry and total potential, this is the best Harvard-Westlake lacrosse team I’ve ever been on,” Park said. “If we get better and do our jobs, we can honestly be the best team in L.A., and the goal is to get back to where we got to two years ago [when the 2013 varsity team won the Southern Section Northern Division championship].
Still, for now, the focus is on the team the Wolverines defeated in that 2013 title game — Palos Verdes, which won the 2014 division title and is ranked second in Los Angeles County by the coaches’ poll entering tonight’s matchup.
“PV has a lot of talent and is really highly ranked. We upset them two years ago deep in the playoffs and I’m sure they remember that,” Woody said. “We need a big crowd to help get in their heads, and if we bring it, we can definitely beat them.”
“They’re always very good, that’s an L.A. lacrosse powerhouse,” Levitt added. “Our coaches say every game, ‘respect everyone and fear no one.’”
The game will begin at 5:45 p.m. on Ted Slavin Field.