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West Ranch lacrosse hits field in inaugural CIF season

First new sport added to Hart district since 1988

Posted: March 8, 2013 8:13 p.m.
Updated: March 8, 2013 8:13 p.m.

West Ranch lacrosse team members, from left, sophomore Garrett Clark, sophomore Ryan Mendes, junior Matt Chance, junior Tony Bendfeldt and junior Daniel Lee. Photo by Jonathan Pobre

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There are familiar sights this spring on weekday afternoons at West Ranch High School.

There’s the football team running windsprints on the field.

The boys tennis team can be seen hitting balls over the net. Baseball and softball take their hacks in the distance, preparing for another league season.

But there’s an unfamiliar sight, too.

Sandwiched between the tennis courts and the baseball and softball diamonds is a West Ranch first — lacrosse practice.

The team is new — and as such is relegated to the open grass between the more established program’s practice areas.

But it’s a place they’re happy to be.

“These kids, now they have a place. They absolutely have a place,” says West Ranch head coach Paul Gordon. “West Ranch is their home.”

The goals may seem modest, if not cliche — improve with every game and give your best effort every time you take the field.

But it’s not that simple.

It’s understandable that the West Ranch lacrosse program isn’t so much concerned with the results of its inaugural season as it is with laying a groundwork for the future.

A future it hopes includes multiple high school teams across the Santa Clarita Valley.

“It’s great. We’re the first team out here so we get to make a statement not only as being lacrosse players and trailblazing,” midfielder J.K. Torres says, “but we get to set an example for the rest of the kids out there that want to play the game.”

This year, though, West Ranch is alone in the SCV — the first CIF-sanctioned sport added to the William S. Hart Union High School District since boys volleyball in 1988.

“It’s absolutely amazing how two years of hard work finally comes together,” says junior West Ranch captain Matt Palma of the process it took to get the sport approved. “Our team is looking great right now, and we’re having a lot of fun.”

The Wildcats recently began their inaugural season with five road games against established CIF-Southern Section high school teams.

They lost their opener on the road at Newbury Park on Feb. 25, 16-2, and sit at 0-5 so far.

But the losses haven’t detracted from the pride of wearing a West Ranch jersey for the first time.

Last season, many of the experienced players on the team were members of the Santa Clarita Wildcats club squad, which included players from West Ranch, St. Francis, Valencia and Buckley high schools.

This year, they stand alone — an independent member of the CIF-Southern Section.

“It really was awesome. Here we were, a team that’s brand new and now official,” Gordon says. “To step out representing the school, it was absolutely tremendous. I think the players felt good to know they actually carried their school name.”

In all, there are 27 of them on varsity, with another 24 on a JV team Gordon never thought he’d have the numbers to field.

Palma estimates that about half the players on the team have played lacrosse for two or more years at the youth or club level, with a quarter of the guys new to the sport.

Under Gordon, who has previous coaching experience in Washington state, the Wildcats feature an aggressive offense and a strong defense.

“Our goal is just to be a competitive team,” Gordon says. “I focus strongly on the offense and (assistant coach Andrew) Jacobson focuses mainly on the defense. When we come to a game, it’s really a melding of the two. We work in such unison — they work as one unit.”

The attack is led by Palma and Bryan Welch. Ryan Petterson anchors the defense for the Wildcats.

“That kid works so well,” Gordon says of Petterson. “He will run till he’s got nothing left. It’s just unbelievable.”

The Wildcats have yet to play their first home game of the season — that will come on March 28 against Simi Valley — it’s a moment they’re all looking forward to.

West Ranch will play its home games on the football/soccer field on campus.

“We have to show ourselves around school and our home fans that we’re a legitimate team and we can perform at home and protect our turf,” Torres says. “I think we’ll definitely come out motivated and pumped to finally defend West Ranch.”

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