Lacrosse gets foothold on the Harbor

Tucked between the bold white lines of the football field and the bright yellow lines of soccer pitch at Stewart Field lies some subtle blue markings for one of the Harbor’s newest club teams — Grays Harbor Lacrosse.

The markings on the Aberdeen field are supposed to fade by the end of the season, but coach Ray Cristobal is hoping to establish a program that leaves its mark on the Harbor.

With no pipeline of lacrosse talent to draw from, Cristobal and his relatively inexperienced players have the difficult task of trying to compete at the high school level.

Although this is the team’s second year in existence, practices still focus on the basics of the game with only a handful of returning players from the team’s inaugural season.

One thing that makes the environment around this team different than other high school teams on the Harbor is the number of schools they pull from.

Montesano, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Elma and Raymond are all represented on the roster and coexist despite the rivalry that can brew among the schools in other sports.

Accurate passing was the focus of one recent practice where a lot of first-year players had some difficulty in hitting the open man.

Every missed pass was punished with a set of push-ups but the bond that comes from facing the challenge of learning a new sport is part of the appeal.

Matthew Johnson of Montesano was recruited to the team by Monte’s Jared Wallace, the lone player who had lacrosse experience prior to last season.

Johnson said he’s been hooked ever since his clinic session with Cristobal and Wallace.

“He convinced me to come to a throw-around with him and from there I fell in love with the sport,” he said. “It’s a fun environment to be around and it’s just a great sport.”

The sport, which can look like a cross between hockey and soccer, involves a small white ball which is passed between players using sticks with small nets at the end.

There is a goal at each end of the field with 10 players on each end battling for control of play.

Cristobal has found that many football players find it easy to transition to lacrosse but the current team has a lot of former basketball players, a few former golfers and some players who weren’t involved in a sport at all before picking up the lacrosse stick for the first time.

Wallace was instrumental in the organization of the team last season and used connections through his church to help recruit players to fill out the roster.

The success of his church-based recruiting strategy wasn’t necessarily seen in the win column last season but Wallace said he’s just as happy to be part of the building process for Grays Harbor Lacrosse.

“It’s been really fun, actually. We started out with zero experience. We just kept going to practice and bonded together as a team,” he said. “Our skills have improved a ton. Last year we started out losing by 20 and ended with a win. This year we’re improving even faster.”

When Cristobal talks about the development on his team from last season, his first thoughts lead him to the way his players have set aside their differences.

“Most of the growth is in maturity. What’s amazing about this is that there is a lot of rivalry between the different high schools,” he said. “Between Elma, Montesano, Aberdeen and Hoquiam, the maturity and respect that the players exhibit in coming together, I’m kind of awestruck.”

Cristobal has had success coaching high school lacrosse, but he and the coaching staff aren’t too focused on wins and losses just yet.

His primary concern at this point in the year is helping Grays Harbor Lacrosse develop its talent so it can stay competitive in its league. But like a college coach, recruiting the next wave of talent is just as important.

The team puts on various fund-raising efforts to purchase equipment for players and raise awareness but the coaching staff has found that reaching out to potential players with free clinics is one of the best ways they can drum up interest.

Cristobal knows that competing for athletes in a crowded high school sports landscape where baseball and football are king won’t be easy. He said that making lacrosse less of a mystery is the first step.

“The number one thing that people are afraid of is the unknown, but I think that’s a life lesson in itself,” he said. “It’s taking up a challenge and that’s what the boys are learning. They’re trying something they’ve never tried. That’s why it’s a great life lesson. You want kids to grow up not fearing the unknown. You want them to take a little risk.”