Malibu High lacrosse start season strong

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Malibu’s Chris Sol (left) runs downfield against Westlake in a recent lacrosse league contest. Dick Dornan / TMT

When a team is depleted by injuries, one would expect a slow start to the season in any sport. The Malibu High boys varsity lacrosse team is defying those odds. Despite having five players sidelined due to various ailments, the resilient Sharks have posted victories in two of their first three games to begin the year.

In the season opener Malibu defeated Oak Park, 12-11, in overtime, followed by another tight victory in their next game against Agoura, 6-5. Despite a 13-7 loss at the hands of powerhouse Westlake in their third game, the Sharks are pleased with their play thus far. Especially considering they have only suited up 15 players on a 20-man roster. “They were big confidence-building wins for the boys,” Malibu Coach Steve O’Neill said. “After we beat Oak Park, the kids probably looked at each other and said ‘Holy smokes, we can do this.’ They know they can play with everybody.”

The youthful Sharks, with only one senior, fell behind 5-2 after one quarter before mounting their comeback. But goals by Riley Smoller, Cooper McDonnell and Patrick Wetton closed the gap to 6-5 in favor of Oak Park.

Both teams counterpunched back and forth in the second half with Oak Park taking an 11-10 lead with less than two minutes remaining. But the Sharks never gave up on the Eagles’ home turf. Wetton scored with 1:30 left to tie the game and force an extra period.Moments after Brennan Cassone won the face-off to begin overtime, sophomore attackman Duke Conrad scored the game-winning goal for Malibu. Smoller finished with four goals and Wetton added three of his own. Cassone won 17 of 21 face-offs while goalie Jake Wexler had 12 saves.

Not only was the win against Oak Park (2-2) a big momentum builder, it was a sign the MHS program can compete with top competition. Last season the Eagles were 18-1 and league champions while the Sharks finished 5-10. “I am excited about the season,” O’Neill said. “We have a bunch of juniors who gained valuable experience last year as sophomores. They have physically and mentally matured. We are very optimistic. This is a good group of young men who support each other.”

The huge win at Oak Park not only began the season but also “California 101” League play; the Sharks welcomed Agoura in its home opener. Malibu had never beaten Agoura in California Interscholastic Federation sanctioned play.

Malibu jumped out to a 4-1 lead at halftime and would not relinquish it despite Agoura (1-2) cutting the deficit to within one late in the fourth period. The defense, anchored by Wexler, Will Rosenthal and Chris Sol, came up with a great effort limiting the potent Agoura offense to only 13 shots on goal in contrast to the 33 attempts taken by MHS.

Junior midfielder Sean Ryan scored four goals to pace the Sharks while Wetton won a game-high seven ground balls.

The Sharks recorded their second significant victory in five days with a solid 6-5 win against the Chargers who finished the 2011 campaign with a 14-4 record.

“We are coming out strong. We are playing as a team and not as individuals,” said Ryan, who has scored a team-leading nine goals thus far. “We beat two very good teams. Everyone is focused and committed this year. We are playing our hearts out.”

Against Westlake, the injuries and lack of depth took their toll against a very physical Warriors squad that leapt out to an 8-3 lead into intermission and never looked back. Ryan scored four goals to keep the Sharks afloat, but Westlake (4-1) was too much to handle in the contest. Wexler recorded 13 saves.

Malibu assistant coach Mark Deoliveira believes this core of Sharks has the ability to be very successful in the long run, especially when the team is at full strength.

“You can expect to see a resilient group this year,” Deoliveira said. “When adversity hits, you will see a true character team. They’ve shown it already. These kids are hungry and want to win. They play with fire and enthusiasm. We will be fine.”

“No one really expected this,” Wexler said. “We are not healthy but we are still giving our best effort. A bunch of sophomores have come in and stepped up. Most of us have been playing together since sixth grade. I definitely think we can win league. I have a lot of confidence in this team.”

“We can go very far,” Cassone added. “We are a tight group that works hard together. Just like a family.”

Malibu will host Thousand Oaks on Friday at 3 p.m. in another “101” league clash.