Malibu High lacrosse counting on experience to key big season

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All-American Sean Ryan fires a shot into the net during a recent practice.

There is no substitution for experience, and nowhere is that more true than in high school sports. With 19 players returning from last season, including All-American Sean Ryan and 12 other seniors who have played together for several years, the Malibu High lacrosse team is beginning what it hopes to be one of the most successful seasons in school history.

Under first-year head coach Mark DeOliveira, the Sharks are off to a 3-1 start on the young season. DeOliveira, an assistant coach for MHS in 2012, took over the head job in the off-season from last year’s head coach, Steve O’Neill, due to O’Neill’s commitment to his job as an attorney.

“It’s cool to be a head coach, especially with this group of guys because they are so tight and are good friends,” DeOliveira said. “There is a good sense of community within the team. With so many seniors on the team and everyone returning but one player, I was excited about it.”

The youthful DeOliveira, 23, began playing lacrosse at age 11 and had a successful collegiate career at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, a member of the Division III North Coast Athletic Conference. The energetic young coach takes part in the team drills to enhance practices and preparation for his team’s upcoming matches.

“If I am going as hard as I can, they have to match that intensity,” DeOliveira explained. “When they see me mix it up, they think, ‘We’d better follow suit and match his intensity.’ It kind of sets a precedent for how practice should be run.”

So far, the Sharks’ attention to detail and hard work ethic at practice have paid off in wins against Newbury Park, 10-9, Oaks Christian, 14-8, and St. Francis, 14-2.

This year’s team enjoys the benefit of a sturdy foundation. With only one senior on the roster last season, Malibu still had a successful 2012 campaign. MHS finished 10-6 overall and was eliminated by No. 1 ranked Palos Verdes High School in the US Lacrosse Southern Section quarterfinal playoffs.

Leading the way for this year’s squad is four-year starter, Sean Ryan. Shortly after the conclusion of last season, Ryan was selected as a high school All-American by US Lacrosse for “embodying excellent sportsmanship and exhibiting superior skills and techniques and possessing exceptional game sense and knowledge.”

Ryan, a midfielder for the Sharks, is one of 10 seniors who have been playing together since the sixth grade.

“I’ve played lacrosse my whole life and I have never really played with anyone else. These are the guys I like to play with the most so it should be fun this year,” Ryan said. “My first year as a freshman was like the first really good year we had in lacrosse and ever since then we’ve had a pretty good team. I’d like to leave being known as a class that had its best season yet.”

Ryan is one of six senior captains on the team. Because of the mutual amount of respect for each other, there was a six-way tie for captainship after the team voted. In addition to Ryan, captains include goalie Jake Wexler, Will Rosenthal, Riley Smoller, Christopher Sol and Brennan Cassone.

“We’ve been playing together for seven years. That’s why I feel we will have a really good season,” said Wexler, who plans on playing at the University of Oregon next year. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We have really good chemistry. We can constructively tell each other what to do and what not to do.”

DeOliveira feels the senior class possesses the necessary leadership and skills to lead the team.

“The senior class is a great group of guys. They lead by example and they have so much game experience which is huge especially at the high school level,” he said. “They’ve all done it for three years now. Their lacrosse IQ is continuing to evolve which should culminate in a nice season this year.”

Ryan is joined by Smoller, Sol, Cassone and Patrick Wetton to form a powerful offensive attack. The Sharks have scored in double figures in each of their three wins this season.

Malibu captured second place in the “CA 101” league a year ago but this year was removed from the league because of the formation of an exclusive group of only Marmonte League schools. MHS was granted “independence” status with no league affiliation. Thus, the Sharks can play anyone in the Southern Section.

Wexler and Rosenthal anchor a strong defense that will be tested against other independent teams such as Oaks Christian, Oak Park, St. Francis, West Ranch and Viewpoint. The top two teams from that conglomerate will qualify for the US Lacrosse Southern Section playoffs.

“My expectations are high even though our schedule is significantly tougher than last year because of our independence status,” DeOliveira said. “It’s going to be a battle every game.”

The Sharks will host Newbury Park under the lights on Friday at 7 p.m.