All offseason long, the varsity lacrosse team had waited for this.
In May 2014, the top-seeded Wolverines faced the eighth-seeded Crespi in a second-round matchup of the CIF Southern Section Northern Division playoffs, and were stunned by the Celts in a 9-7 matchup that eliminated Harvard-Westlake from title contention.
“Remembering two losses to Crespi [including one in the regular season] was tough,” midfielder Joe Woody ’15 said. “All summer and fall, I had those losses in the back of my mind.”
Unfortunately, despite an epic comeback bid, including a 5-1 scoring run in the game’s final 13 minutes, the Wolverines couldn’t get their long-awaited vengeance. A staggering six goals from returning Mission League co-player of the year Alex Dixon ’15 carried Crespi (4-4 overall, 3-1 in Mission League) to an 11-10 win in their first appearance at Ted Slavin Field since the infamous playoff upset.
“I’m really impressed with the way the guys fought today,” said midfielder Phillip Thompson ’16, who led the team with three goals on the night. “I would’ve wished to come out with a win, but we battled really hard and that’s going to serve us well when those guys [such as Roman Holthouse ’15 and Paul Rodriguez ’18] get back, so we can gel going into playoffs.”
Early on, the Wolverines jumped out to a quick lead, hungry for payback in the heavily anticipated rematch. Although Dixon scored the game’s first goal, crisp ball movement from the Wolverine offense led to four goals from four different players. Overall, the offense didn’t seem to be suffering much from the absences of Holthouse and Rodriguez, as the team took a 4-2 lead after one quarter.
This edge was maintained for a long portion of the second quarter, as Thompson continued to dominate his face-offs and goalie Troy Hattler ’17 limited the Celts on the few offensive opportunities that they did get. However, in the last two minutes of the half, Crespi (ranked sixth in the most recent MaxLaxLA coaches’ poll) began to get back in it, receiving a goal from St. John’s University commit Jack Doyle ’16 and a long-range shot from Dixon with only 1.3 seconds left to give the team a 5-4 edge going into the break.
As the third quarter began, the Wolverines (ranked seventh in the same coaches’ poll) briefly evened things up with a Woody goal, but Dixon took over immediately after. The midfielder scored an impressive four goals in just the third period, seemingly getting open at will and consistently converting his opportunities near the goalie crease. Behind Dixon’s offensive dominance and several key stops from goalie Nick Enos ’15, Crespi’s lead got as large as 10-5 late in the third period.
“One of our team mantras is to always have faith in yourself, focus, and fight hard, and we did two of those things,” Thompson said. “We knew we could win and we fought really hard, but I think we lost focus in those middle quarters. We have to play all 48 minutes, and if we can do that, we can be dangerous in the playoffs.”
Late in the third, as the Wolverines were trying to get back into the game, freshman Jared Goldman ’18 took a hard hit to the head from Crespi defender Dakota Wilson ’15, leading to a three-minute long powerplay session for the Wolverines.
Ultimately, even though Goldman himself wasn’t able to return to the game, this was the spark that Harvard-Westlake needed.
In the last minute of the third period, Thompson found Aaron Drooks ’15 inside for an easy goal to cut the lead to four. Immediately after, the Princeton University commit won the ensuing faceoff and took the ball all the way to the goal himself, cutting the lead to 10-7 entering the fourth and turning an apparent blowout into a competitive game once again.
When the powerplay ended early in the fourth, Crespi’s lead got as large as 11-7, but the Wolverines still had some fight in them. A pair of forced turnovers from Alex Corlin ’15 foiled Crespi’s efforts to kill time, as goals from Woody and Thompson cut the score to 11-9 with three minutes remaining.
The Celts looked to have sealed the victory when they rebounded another great Enos save with 90 seconds remaining, but it still wasn’t in the books yet. Tommy Park ’18 came up with a steal and an incredible turnaround shot from 15 yards out, cutting the lead to one goal with only 56 seconds remaining.
Once again, Crespi looked squarely in control when Dixon won the ensuing face-off to take possession, but the Wolverines got another break when a false start was called on Dixon to give possession to Harvard-Westlake.
With one possession determining the game, however, the Celts defense stepped up, refusing to allow Harvard-Westlake to pull off the miracle comeback. Park tracked down a loose ball with under 10 seconds left and got it to Woody near midfield. However, Woody was unaware of the clock situation because the team was attacking the north goal (opposite of the scoreboard), and passed the ball to Andrew Corlin ’15 as time expired, giving an anti-climactic ending to another instant classic matchup between the two league rivals.
Harvard-Westlake falls to 5-4 overall and 2-2 in Mission League, now in third place behind Loyola and Crespi. The Wolverines have one more contest before the long Spring Break layoff, traveling to Thousand Oaks (3-1 overall, 1-0 in Marmonte League) on Thursday at 8 p.m. The Lancers are currently ranked fifth in the MaxLaxLA coaches’ poll, and have never played Harvard-Westlake.
Despite the tough loss, Thompson remained optimistic about the team’s prospects the rest of the way.
“We have to come to practice every day, clock in, focus, and play hard,” he said. “Once you step on the field, every single play and every single game is a new one. You just have to go hard every single time and keep moving forward.”