From 0-8-1 last year to a potential Blossom Valley League championship this season. That’s the exact situation the Live Oak High girls lacrosse team finds itself in after defeating Sobrato High 12-2 on April 19. But don’t tell that to Acorns coach Jordan Evanger.
“Oh my goodness, I don’t even know. I try not to think about it too much because I don’t want to bust our luck,” Evanger said, when asked what a league title would mean for a second-year program.
The Acorns improved to 5-0 in BVAL action with five league matches remaining. In the first round of league play, Lincoln and Pioneer gave them their toughest challenges, as they edged Lincoln 7-6 and Pioneer, 7-5. Whatever happens the rest of the way, Live Oak’s season will have been judged a smashing success by almost every metric.
Same can be said for Sobrato, which is in its first year fielding a girls lacrosse program. Despite dropping to 0-4, Bulldogs coach Celia Moreno said the players can hold their heads high because as a first-year program the season won’t be judged by wins and losses.
“It’s about growth and getting them to love the sport,” Moreno said. “Getting a whole new group of girls to love lacrosse has been the highlight this season for sure.”
Sobrato only has to look at its crosstown friends from Live Oak to see how swiftly things can turn around from a results standpoint. Last year, the Acorns finished winless and lost to Willow Glen by scores of 18-6 and 19-6, respectively.
In the teams’ first match this season on April 7, they whipped Willow Glen, 13-2. The Acorns’ amazingly fast turnaround can be boiled down to a couple of factors. A 22-player roster is more than double last year’s squad, which was hurt from a participation standpoint by Covid-19.
The returning players improved and newcomers have come in to add quality depth to the program. And last but certainly not least, the players are competing with an increased joy and love for the game superior to that of even last year’s team.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” Evanger said. “We were 0-8 last year and the girls were so enthusiastic the entire season. It didn’t matter we lost. But I think this season they’ve taken it up a notch. They’re enthusiastic about everything, and they’re excited to come out, have a team and have better numbers this season.
“We had no subs last year and at times we were playing down two people (the entire game). We have the numbers this year and a lot of girls have a high passion for the game. I think the word of the sport is getting around and it’s gaining the interest of a lot more young players.”
Live Oak has plenty of talent, starting with senior Ashley Brink, who is physical, wins draws and can go from one end of the field to the other and stretch defenses. Junior Kaitlyn Silva displayed tremendous versatility by playing five games as the team’s goalie in place of starter Susan Kirchoff, who returned for the Sobrato match.
“Kaitlyn Silva is amazing,” Evanger said. “She stepped right into the goal and it was second nature for her.”
The emergence of Silva in goal means Live Oak doesn’t have to worry should Kirchoff miss another game for any reason. However, the Acorns are at their best with Kirchoff in goal and Silva playing the field, where they both can be dominant.
Senior Jolee Aguilera has led the defensive corps and knows how to take charge. She also scored on a rare buzzer-beater ending the first half.
“She controls our defense and whatever she says goes,” Evanger said. “She manages things in the back and lets everyone know where they have to be.”
Junior Avery Smith was one of 11 players that scored against Sobrato, a testament to the Acorns’ talent and depth. Smith ran cross country and has the proverbial motor that never stops. Rian Henderson, Emma Ghione and Kailyn Allen—just to name a few—have also been difference-makers.
Other goal scorers included Monica Iboa, Sienna Stutzman, Allen, Brink, Ghione, Silva, Julia Jeffery, Megan Mallory and Isabella Espinoza.
Live Oak consistently drew fouls inside the 8-meter arc, resulting in several goals off the free position. For Sobrato, Riley Ruiz, Grace Lennon, Isabel Morales and Chelsea Kerr all made some strong plays where they were able to help the team maintain possession in certain moments of the match.
Morales also drew a couple of fouls inside the arc. Lennon has been aggressive in going to the goal, Olivia Milner has displayed strong leadership and Daniela Cassidy has led the defense. Ruiz and Lennon scored the two Sobrato goals.
“We have some really athletic girls who picked up the sport quickly, which really makes me wish they had a stick in their hands sooner,” Moreno said. “Every game I learn a little something of what we need to work on, and from this game there needs to be a little more communication between the defense and goalie support system.”
Girls lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation, so it’s no coincidence Live Oak and Sobrato both started programs in the last couple of years. There’s a neat little intersection between Evanger and Moreno, who played together for three to four years with the Morgan Hill Clovers, a youth lacrosse program.
Even though Moreno attended high school in Watsonville and Evanger at Christopher, the two got connected because the Clovers were and still are one of the few girls lacrosse club teams in the area. The two later played against each other in college, Evanger at San Jose State and Moreno at U.C. Santa Cruz.
“It’s kind of cool because the players who were with the Clovers are now coaching the local high school teams,” Moreno said. “The Clovers pretty much brought lacrosse to Morgan Hill and it spread and fed into the high schools.”
Live Oak was well prepared for the BVAL season after a grueling non-league schedule that included matches against top-tier teams Monte Vista Christian, Mitty and Notre Dame-Salinas.
“We’ve played some of the toughest teams in the area and I think that really set the tone for how the girls would play in league,” Evanger said. “We didn’t do as good as we’re doing now because those teams have talented players who have been playing since they were 6, 7 years old, and now we’re playing teams in league that are our level and we’re challenging them. It’s been a major turnaround this season and great to be a part of.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]