Hunter Stocksick and Zach Souza only got to play one season of lacrosse while they were at Live Oak High, but that didn’t prevent them from earning an opportunity to play at the four-year level.
The recent graduates signed their letter of intent to play for Westcliff University—a NAIA program in Irvine—on Aug. 5 at Live Oak High.
“I didn’t expect this to happen, but I’m very glad it did,” Stocksick said.
“I’m super pumped and super excited,” Souza said.
Neither Stocksick nor Souza ever thought this opportunity would arise. Both were known more for their football accomplishments—and in Souza’s case, also wrestling—in part because they only got one season of lacrosse after their junior season was wiped out by Covid.
The recruitment process didn’t start until Souza mentioned to Live Oak Athletic Director Mike Gemo and lacrosse assistant coach Brad Ledwith that he wished he could play lacrosse closer to home. Souza had received a couple of offers to play at four-year schools in the Midwest, which didn’t interest him.
“(Gemo) did some digging and found Westcliff, which he thought would be perfect for me,” Souza said.
Gemo emailed Westcliff coach Kevin Arabejo, who in turn contacted Souza in April. Ledwith also had some lengthy conversations with Arabejo, sending the coach some videos of Souza and Stocksick while adding in details about their skills and makeup.
Conversations between the players and Arabejo started from there and Stocksick and Souza visited the campus earlier this summer before committing to Westcliff, which is a first-year program. Arabejo said he recruited the Live Oak graduates because of their work ethic and outstanding character. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Stocksick played defender while the 5-9, 170-pound Souza played midfielder.
“Hunter’s size, physicality and presence on defense is strong,” Arabejo said. “Just getting to know Hunter as a person through email and calls, there was no doubt he would fit right in as we built this program. Zach is very similar: super athletic and anything that he does, he puts in hard work and will do what it takes to be successful. He’s a guy who you don’t have to worry about too much because he’s always going to leave it out there at the end of the game. These guys are great character people and come from fantastic families.”
It wasn’t even a foregone conclusion that Souza was going to play on the Live Oak lacrosse team this past season because he was also juggling wrestling. But lacrosse coaches Gary Rosyski and Ledwith welcomed Souza with open arms, and he went on to have a terrific season. The players’ relative lack of playing experience means they have ample room to improve.
“Coach Kevin knows I don’t have a ton of experience, but I can’t wait for the opportunity to get to a level in lacrosse I never thought was possible,” said Souza, who was one of the Acorns’ top players on faceoffs.
Stocksick has been busy this summer working for his dad’s business, Brett’s Window Washing and Handyman Service. He spent anywhere from four to eight hours a day washing windows, painting houses and doing yard work. To stay sharp, he went to Live Oak by himself and played wall ball.
“I would use different techniques and switch hands, which builds hand-eye coordination,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing at Westcliff. I expect I will not bowl over every kid anymore during the run of play. But hopefully I get faster and stronger.”
Athletic and physical, Souza and Stocksick will continue being teammates at the next level. Arabejo looks forward to coaching them for the next four years for a variety of reasons.
“I’m very confident they have a bright future just because of the type of people they are and their work ethic,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of their journey and help them and see them grow. I’m excited to see if these two can be leaders in their own right down the road and help put Westcliff down a path to success.”
Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]