As the sun set over Ghilotti Field Thursday evening, the mood amongst the boys’ varsity lacrosse team and the crowd of fans was somber. A heated NCS playoff game against the Giants’ rival, Marin Catholic (MC), ended in a 6-5 loss for Redwood, finishing their season.
The game began with Redwood gaining a point on the scoreboard quickly in the first quarter after a goal by junior Luke Elders. Marin Catholic retaliated and dominated the rest of the first period offensively, with junior Hayden Leachman scoring two goals for MC and leaving Marin Catholic in the lead 5-1 at the end of the first quarter.
Redwood bounced back in the second quarter after gaining possession of the ball and making multiple attempts to score. Junior Zach Thoma scored once in the second period, then assisted senior Ian Leonhardt in a goal in the last two seconds of the half, bringing the score to 5-3 at halftime with Marin Catholic still in the lead.
During the break, Redwood rallied and came into the second half with fire and ferocity. According to head coach Blake Atkins, the Giants were motivated and planned on having diligence and persistence on the field.
“Our game plan against these guys was to be patient with the ball, wear them out and make Marin Catholic’s offensive midi stay on the field,” Atkins said.
Leonhardt scored the first goal of the second half, with a goal by junior Nathaniel Kuffner following soon after. Kuffner’s goal tied the game up 5-5 before the fourth period, resulting in both teams increasing their energy to try and gain a lead.
The excitement of the highly attended game only increased with the shouts that echoed from the sidelines as spectators from both Marin Catholic and Redwood became invested in the game’s progress. According to senior Will Kepler, the fanatic behavior in the stands can be distracting, but the Giants were able to ignore it and focus on their performance.
“It comes with poise, it comes with mentally letting it all go and just letting it be a game instead of a rivalry. We deal a lot with the head game, but it’s just about putting your head down and having it be another game and putting your best effort out on the field,” Kepler said.
According to Atkins, the rivalry between Marin Catholic and Redwood can put pressure on players, which is especially difficult to deal with due to the already busy minds of high school students.
“It’s hard, I mean these are high school kids. They just went through a full day of school and some kids were taking AP tests, and to come out here and play in this kind of high-pressure environment, it’s scary,” Atkins said. “I’m just proud of our guys for rising to that occasion.”
As the game heated up, multiple penalties were called, including one for junior James McCulloch, one for junior Harri Hetrick, two for Kepler and one for Marin Catholic. The teams scrambled to gain possession of the ball and various attempts were made to score. The efforts of both goalies prevented any changes to the scoreboard until the fourth quarter, when Marin Catholic senior Matthew Hill landed a shot over Redwood’s junior goalie Talis Stockton, bringing the score to 6-5, Marin Catholic leading.
After Marin Catholic got a point lead over Redwood, it became a waiting game. MC attempted to run out the clock while they had possession and the Giants made a strong effort to regain the ball and make as many attempts to score as possible. Despite their attempts, no shots were landed and the game ended in a win for Marin Catholic by one point.
According to Marin Catholic Head Coach Matt Palasek, the victory can be attributed to persistence through the offensive attempts from Redwood, as the Marin Catholic Wildcats knew it was going to be a fairly evenly matched game.
“It was a matter of bending and not breaking, and the boys answered the bell. [Redwood is] a good, tough team, and we knew that was gonna come down to the wire just like the other two games we played [against them],” Palasek said. “It was just about taking the hits when [Redwood] started to chip away and finishing the game.”
The Giants were understandably disappointed, as this loss effectively ended their progression through NCS and their season. It was an emotional ending for the team, as seniors reflected on their years of playing for Redwood. According to Kepler, what he will miss most is the team dynamic that was developed over his time playing lacrosse for the Giants.
“It’s the work ethic, coming out every day. Every day at practice, it’s going to be a good day at work. It’s getting away from all the day-to-day stuff you deal with.” Kepler said. “You come out knowing everybody’s out here, everybody’s got your back, and everybody’s putting in the work.”
After an impressive season for Redwood’s boys’ varsity lacrosse team, with an overall record of 18-7 and a few wins against high-ranking teams such as Bellarmine and Granite Bay (ranking 30th and 19th in the state, respectively), the future looks bright for the group. This season, there were 16 juniors on the team, and according to junior Luke Elders, they are excited to come back next year poised to have another great season.
“I think everyone’s pissed off, everyone’s fired up, and I think day one starts tomorrow. We’re gonna come out, try to get bigger, try to get faster, try to get stronger and kick Marin Catholic’s [expletive] next year,” Elders said.
According to Atkins, he looks forward to the juniors coming back strong next season as the leaders of the team.
“This team has really taken us to a new level in this program. We’ve got 16 juniors, so we’re coming back pretty nasty next year. It should be fun,” Atkins said.
When asked what he looks forward to most for next season, Atkins has one major goal set in his mind: “Winning. All of it,” he said.