Marissa Hewitt, Paula Borstel, Tom Borgia and Amanda Cross are more than just the coaches of girls lacrosse at Palos Verdes, Peninsula, Redondo and Mira Costa.
They are pioneers.
Lacrosse has been an important sport on the East Coast for decades, but it’s only in the last 10 years that high schools on the West Coast started to offer the sport.
Girls lacrosse did not become a CIF-sanctioned sport until 2002 and was no more than a club sport locally until 2005, when a five-team Bay League came into existence.
Since then, the sport has grown faster than any in the nation. And the Bay League’s four local schools have grown fast, becoming deeper and more competitive each year.
Hewitt has been involved since the beginning. She has coached at Palos Verdes since girls lacrosse became a varsity sport in 2005.
PV had immediate success, dominating the Bay League for several years before Redondo began to catch up in recent years.
“I’m an East Coast girl, so lacrosse has been there forever for me, but I wasn’t aware of the sport being played on the West Coast when I moved here,” said Hewitt, who runs a tutoring business. “Then one day, one of our students came to class with a [lacrosse] stick.”
“I asked about it, looked into it and then I was the coach at Palos Verdes. It just fell into my lap,” she said.
She has been glad it did, she added, and so are the girls at Palos Verdes.
“Because of the girls who started, our team was very strong the first three years,” Hewitt said. “The boys team was also very strong, so that made it easier to attract newcomers to the sport. You create a legacy and people are attracted to the program.”
PV girls no longer dominate the Bay League as they once did, but they’re still a force to be reckoned with. Hewitt doesn’t mind the competition.
“It’s been fun watching the programs raise their level,” she said. “It’s been great watching the sport grow and become its own entity.”
Borstel is currently coaching at Peninsula, but she and her husband Doug started the lacrosse program at Redondo, where their son attended school.
“My son... played for Mira Costa’s club team his junior year and then the sport went CIF,” Borstel said. “He had the choice of transferring to Mira Costa in the middle of his senior year, or starting a program at Redondo… The first year my husband was the co-coach and I was the team mom. We were coed and we mostly played JV teams. The second year they started the girls program and I think, as a starting team, we did pretty well.”
A teacher at Miraleste Intermediate, Borstel settled at Peninsula, where she’s trying her best to grow the sport.
“Last year we had 15 girls on varsity and 22 on JV,” she said. “This year, we have 19 on varsity and 25 on JV, so the sport is growing.”
Mira Costa, like Peninsula, is still building its program and becoming more competitive all the time.
“We have a young team,” said Cross, who is supported by Mira Costa coach Patty Perkinson, the school’s soccer coach. “We’re trying to build a program. It’s tough, but the numbers are growing.”
“Our goal this year is to stay in the hunt and make the playoffs. We are getting there,” she said.
Borgia, in his fourth year at Redondo, has taken the program to a new level and is pulling the rest of the Bay League along with him. The Sea Hawks are in position to win their third consecutive league title, but it hasn’t been easy.
“We want to win every game,” Borgia said. “But we want to grow the sport too. We’ll never beat the top Orange County schools until the Bay League raises its overall level of play.”
Armed with new state-of-the-art facilities, Borgia has implemented an off-season training program—and he goes a step further.
“I like to recruit,” he said, smiling before clarifying that he’s not breaking any rules. “I recruit our soccer players. They have great speed and athletic ability... It’s a natural transition for them.”
All four coaches struggle to teach the intricacies of the game to players who often have no lacrosse experience before coming to high school. Because it has programs for younger players, Orange County’s top schools are further along.
“Some of my players have only been playing the game for a year or so,” Borgia said. “The skill level needs to improve and the only way to do that is through experience.”
Hewitt and Borstel are both involved in trying to start youth programs that will give young girls a chance to learn the sport before they come to high school.
“My team played against a top Orange County school a few years ago and it was competitive,” Hewitt said. “At this point, they are light years ahead of us.”
“The biggest difference is they have set up an infrastructure for lacrosse girls in the fourth grade. By the time they get to high school they’ve been together for five years… I’m pretty involved in trying to get that sort of thing set up here, but it’s still inconsistent,” Hewitt said.
Nevertheless, the progress is obvious. Beverly Hills and Downey have joined the four area schools and Culver City in a seven-team Bay League that is improving.
“When we first started we would go to San Diego, Santa Barbara and Orange County just to play a competitive match,” Hewitt said. “Now our Bay League is pretty competitive. You don’t have to drive a hundred miles to find competition.”
Here’s a closer look at the four Bay League teams:
Senior captains Allison Field, Julia Denney, Bailey Czech and Ava Elsner lead the Sea Hawks, who are 11-2 overall and 7-0 in the Bay League.
Barring an unexpected tailspin, Redondo is likely to become the first girls lacrosse team to win three consecutive Bay League titles.
“We’re in the driver’s seat,” Borgia said after on Tuesday. “Our goal is to win Bay League, then see how far we can go in the playoffs. I’m happy with how we’re playing, but right now we still have to work on executing our offense.”
Denney leads the offense with 40 points, including 32 goals and 8 assists. Field has 31 points on 23 goals and 8 assists. Junior Micayla Kotzbach has 17 goals and 8 assists. Sophomore Heather Czech has 66 saves and played a strong game recently against Mira Costa.
Elsner, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, is critical to the team’s success. Junior Brittany Ross supplies additional offense while junior Ally Barry’s speed helps out on defense.
The Mustangs played a strong second half Tuesday against Redondo, bolstering their confidence for the second half of league play. They are 7-5 overall and 6-2 in the league.
Carly McGuire and Taylor Pool scored three goals against Redondo. McGuire is a talented player and Mira Costa’s leader. Goalie Megan Difley had 12 saves against Redondo and looked like an all-league candidate. Emma Schiewe, Lia Sepanek, Sara Adams and Lexi Kurugian all have the ability to score.
“This is definitely a big boost for us,” McGuire said. “It helps to know everyone is on the same page. It’s definitely something we can build off.”
“It’s about getting people involved in the program,” Cross said. “It’s never easy to get the players, but it’s getting better. If we get more off a year-round program, we’ll be very competitive in the Bay League.”
The Sea Kings edged Peninsula, 11-10, on Wednesday to improve to 4-3 in the Bay League. After losing most of its team to graduation in 2009, PV still has a young roster despite losing only two seniors from the 2010 team.
This year’s team has only two seniors, including standout defender Natalie Parke. The Sea Kings have nine juniors and six sophomores. Junior Kelli Couture is doing an outstanding job as the goalkeeper. Juniors Caitlin Lohman and Austin Meyer are talented attackers.
“We’re mostly a young team and still getting better,” Hewitt said. “The Peninsula game was a fun one. We’ve had some good games in league. There’s still a ways to go. I’m optimistic we will continue to be more competitive.”
The frustrating loss to Palos Verdes dropped the Panthers to 6-7 overall and 4-3 in the Bay League.
“We’ve had some unlucky results against Mira Costa and PV, not that those aren’t excellent teams,” Borstel said. “But I like the progress the program is making. We’ll see how things go after spring break.”
Senior goalie Olivia Stiker anchors the team and has done an outstanding job. She’s made 112 saves to rank among the best in the state. Attacker Diane Ahn is the team’s leading scorer with 29 points, 21 off goals.
Team captain Katie Caughlin has 16 goals. Senior attacker Veronica Miller has 12 goals. Junior Tiffany Tan has 10 points, seven on goals. Freshman Rachel Dokko is a promising player. She has 8 goals and an assist from the midfield. Sophomore defender Michele Lin has exceeded Borstel’s expectations.