U11 Sharks play David, slay Goliath to win lacrosse title

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Malibu Sharks U11 Champions of LA Lacrosse, from left: Graydon Phelps, Hunter Shanahan, Coach Mark DeOliveira, Bowen Brock, Finn Conrad, Trumann Gettings, Theo Detweiler, Tyler Miller, Mason Sainz, Jason O’Connell, Andres Felipe. 

Outmanned and outweighed, the Malibu U11 Sharks lacrosse team knocked off the heavy favorite Pasadena Tribe 3-1 last weekend to capture the coveted Los Angeles Lacrosse League Silver Cup in a thrilling David and Goliath battle. With a roster comprised half of U11 players and half of U9, the Sharks displayed grit and toughness in overcoming the imposing opponents to cap a wild tournament run. 

“Our guys were tenacious, selfless and relentless. They had the mental toughness to stay focused and play proper lacrosse. They met every challenge given by me and the other team,” Malibu coach Mark DeOliveira said proudly. 

As a member of the LA Lacrosse League, Malibu played against seven other teams from the San Fernando Valley, Pacific Palisades and Pasadena. Due to low numbers in Malibu, the U11 Sharks took boys who were not only 10 and 11 years old (the usual number), but also from the U9 level, who are seven, eight and nine. The team has only 10 players, and struggled early in the season against physically larger teams comprised solely of U11 boys. 

Malibu entered the playoffs with a 6-5 record and outside expectations were not high for the team to advance against the older competition. 

However, somebody forgot to tell the Sharks that. 

It all started with a 6-4 win in the quarterfinals against the San Fernando Valley Vipers. Next came the semifinals, where the Palisades Bayhawks could not solve the Sharks in a 3-2 victory for Malibu. As if by destiny, the final pitted the largest team in the league, the undefeated Pasadena Tribe, against the smallest. With 18 players, all of them ages 10 or 11, the Tribe’s confidence was notable in warm-ups versus the scrappy Sharks. 

Then the whistle blew, and somehow the script was flipped. Following DeOliveira’s dictum to “play beautiful lacrosse,” Truman Gettings unleashed a masterful pass to midfielder Bowen Brock, who fired the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead. Refusing to rest on the advantage, Sharks players continued to hound the Tribe, with Hunter Shanahan, Andres Felipe and Finn Conrad doggedly pursuing ground balls and winning possessions. 

After much Malibu pounding, the door eventually caved in. Theo Detweiler and Mason Sainz exchanged the ball behind the Tribe net, resulting in a quick pass to Brock in front for another goal and a 2-0 lead. 

With Pasadena’s confidence clearly shaken, frustration set in and rough play ensued. Pasadena committed several penalties, sending three Shark players out of the game only for them to return to battle. 

“We had some guys mixing it up with the best of them. It didn’t matter that we were smaller, weaker or less experienced,” DeOliveira said. “We were up for the challenge. We played like we had had enough of the bully down the street.” 

Despite the overly aggressive play, DeOliveira was unwavering in his game plan and stayed calm and poised. With the Sharks leading 2-0 at the half, DeOliveira delivered a simple message to his team. 

“My message to them was to play beautiful lacrosse and that will beat them. Don’t resort to their tactics,” DeOliveira said. “Our kids could have turned away but they didn’t. We really wanted it.” 

In the final quarter, Gettings was leveled by an illegal shot to the back, giving Brock a free shot. Brock fired a laser shot to make it 3-1, a lead that Malibu (9-5) would not relinquish. Tyler Miller controlled his own in the offensive zone, while Detweiler and Jason O’Connell held the Tribe to only one goal on the defensive side. 

The win was symbolized by the grittiness and toughness of Graydon Phelps, the smallest yet fiercest player on the field for Malibu. The players threw their helmets and sticks in the air in celebration. 

The three straight victories were accomplished with players from first grade through fifth grade, in a complete team effort. 

“It was a big accomplishment because they were not playing right, and if they won, it would have been cheating. We played fair, and the result was amazing,” said Brock, 10. “Our coach worked with us all year to play the right way, always smiled and helped us enjoy the game. It feels great to be a member of the championship team.” 

During the trophy presentation, League Director Charlie Meister said he could not remember seeing a team play with such heart and respect for the game when they were outnumbered and playing against a team so bent on winning at any cost. 

“I have been at every sporting event my son has ever participated in and no win has even approached the joy of seeing those boys win that game,” said Gregg Brock, father of Bowen. “Despite the odds and unsportsmanlike play, the team never retaliated, and in the end showed what makes a team worthy of the victory.” 

“We were a hybrid team that made for an underdog story,” DeOliveira said. “It was poetic justice.”