Talk about an impressive turnaround. In just its second full season as a program, the Live Oak High girls lacrosse team has won the Blossom Valley Athletic League championship.
The Acorns finished 13-5 overall and a perfect 10-0 in league play a year after going 0-8. Live Oak earned the No. 12 seed in the Central Coast Section playoffs and plays an opening round match at No. 5 seed St. Francis of Mountain View on May 11 at 5pm. Whatever happens in the postseason, it’s an added bonus.
“A player came up to me at practice (on May 4) and said she didn’t know what the first playoff match would be like, but we’ve made it this far and everyone is happy,” Acorns coach Jordan Evanger said. “It’s a wonderful thing and we’re riding this high and having so much fun. I’m so proud of these girls because they’re doing incredible things.”
No one could foresee Live Oak’s success on the field this season, not even Evanger, who became the inaugural coach for a program that officially started in 2020. However, the team never got to play a match in 2020 due to Covid; hence, the 2022 campaign is the program’s second full season.
Even though the 2021 season was a rough one from a win-loss standpoint, it obviously didn’t deter anyone in the program because the vast majority of the players returned to have a go at it this year, and their improvement was noticeable.
The development of the returners, an influx of athletic newcomers and the team’s ability to coalesce resulted in the quick turnaround. After playing some of the best teams in the CCS in the non-league portion of its schedule, Live Oak was well prepared for BVAL competition.
In running the table, the Acorns were involved in razor-close games or won via blowouts—there really was no in between. They opened up league play with a 7-6 win over Lincoln High on April 5, and followed that up with a 13-2 drubbing of Willow Glen.
Their two victories over Pioneer High came by a grand total of three goals. The second contest between the teams—a 3-2 Live Oak win on May 3—was fraught with emotion. In an unusual lockdown, defensive battle of attrition, the Acorns prevailed after the game was tied 2-2 at halftime.
Sienna Stutzman, Ashley Brink and Avery Smith scored the goals, and goalie Susan Kirchhoff made 11 saves to help power the Acorns to victory.
“I was anxious the entire game,” Evanger said. “We had a lot of situations where we had goals getting called back, so it was a really high stress situation. Off the top, both teams’ defense and midfield were super tight and nervous. We knew this was a big game and we really needed to win this game to clinch the league championship, and it felt great we were able to do that.”
As the final horn sounded, the Live Oak players and coaches—in customary lacrosse tradition—sprinted to the goalie where the team celebrated together.
“As we were doing that, Avery Smith gave me a huge side hug saying we did it,” Evanger said. “It was a very touching moment for this team and just an amazing feeling.”
The Acorns have definitely had some standout performances this season, but solid and balanced play at every position has spurred the team’s success. One only has to look at the goalie position as proof. Kirchhoff has been sensational making the routine and at times spectacular saves, but in the handful of games she wasn’t able to play, Kaitlyn Silva filled in admirably.
Silva’s regular position is in the midfield, where the team has the most depth. Evanger rotates two sets of midfielders to keep players fresh and energetic from start to finish. Silva, Emma Ghione and Katia Vaillancourt form one set of midfielders, while Brink, Isabella Espinoza and Megan Cahill Mallory form the other set.
“Both groups are high energy and very talented,” Evanger said.
The four starting defenders are a diverse mix in ages, as there is one from each grade level. In freshman Rian Henderson, sophomore Isabella Jeffery, junior Ashley Ortega and senior Jolee Aguilera—the lone retuner among the defenders—Live Oak has a solid core group that has been locked in for most of the season.
“They are insanely strong on defense and carrying on skills they’ve developed from soccer and basketball and using those on the lacrosse field,” Evanger said. “It’s impressive just watching them.”
The potent set of attackers include Kailyn Allen, Monica Iboa, Smith and Stutzman. Ghione, a junior who is coming off a solid basketball season, leads the team with 38 goals. Iboa, a senior, and Smith, a junior, have 22 and 18 goals, respectively.
Iboa and Allen rank 1-2 on the team in shot percentage, and Brink has been a force with 11 goals while making strong runs to create scoring opportunities for her teammates.
“Ashley returned and developed her game in so many ways and has great skills in the midfield,” Evanger said.
The coach added that Ghione played club lacrosse over the off-season and made tremendous strides in her game, resulting in a breakout season.
“Emma got a lot of exposure to the sport last summer and has fallen in love with it,” Evanger said.
The same could be said for the entire team.
“I’m overjoyed that so many girls have fallen in love with the sport and the word is out on campus which is what led to more girls coming out this year,” Evanger said. “Last year was definitely a rough season. We had 10 girls and I think we ended the last game with one sub. We had one senior last season. You kind of look at it now and I’m amazed how well we turned it around in one season.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]