Competition is good, but even better is a competition level that is growing all the time. At least Wendy Holland thinks so.
Holland, head coach of the Cardinal Newman girls lacrosse team that is two-time North Bay League champs and has not dropped a league game in two years, says lacrosse fans can look no further for evidence of an elevated level of play locally than the fact that three teams claimed a share of third place in league play. League officials had to turn to a number draw conducted before the season to determine the third and fourth seeds heading into the postseason.
Cardinal Newman heads into the postseason this week ranked No. 1 and will host Petaluma today at 7 p.m. in the semifinal round of the North Bay League tournament. Second-seeded Rancho Cotate will host Sonoma Academy.
“The competition in our North Bay League is getting better and better,” Holland said.
There are fewer club programs around here than say in Marin County or the wider Bay Area, so many athletes who show up to lacrosse tryouts as freshmen have never held a lacrosse stick before.
But the game sells itself, she said.
“If they are good athletes, they fall in love with it pretty quick,” Holland said.
More than half of the Cardinals’ 22-girl roster are multi-sport athletes, she said. “We have quite a few basketball players, quite a few soccer players and we have tennis players.”
“Basketball players make amazing lacrosse players,” she said. “The basketball play in and around the key is very much the same setup in lacrosse — moving the ball in the same way around the perimeter, your defense is the same footwork, you are setting picks.”
“And the transition game is more like soccer and ice hockey,” she said.
Cardinal Newman, as well as Sonoma Academy, benefit from having well-established lacrosse programs. Even though the NBL has only recognized lacrosse for two seasons, both Newman and Sonoma Academy have competed in the ultra-competitive Marin County Athletic League for years.
But Holland said interest in lacrosse is on the rise and it’s obvious in other schools’ level of play.
“It’s going pretty quick,” Holland said. “A lot of these schools have athletes that play other sports so they are picking up lacrosse fast.”
But clearly, for now, the Cardinals are the team to beat.
Their average goals per league game is 15, same as last year. Their average goals against per game is four. Again, same as last year.
Other teams may be on the rise, but they still are not at the level of Cardinal Newman.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Just two years ago, Newman was playing in the mighty MCAL and getting knocked around some.
“We used to be on the losing side all of the time,” said junior defender Dani Gilson.
“It’s very different being on the winning side. Because of that, we don’t take our wins for granted because we know how losing feels.
“We know that winning is a lot more fun.”
By design, Holland schedules nonleague opponents not only in the Cardinals’ preseason but during league play as well. And she’s not afraid to go after the biggees. Cardinal Newman took on University High School of San Francisco on Thursday — the same team that ousted them from the North Coast Section tournament last year.