Lacrosse sees big push in Santa Clarita

Valencia's Preston Trujillo is pressured by Hart's Kyle Wiggins in a Foothill League game at Hart High School on Thursday, March 21, 2019. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

Hart boys lacrosse coach Tony Uebelhardt remembers the first time he watched a college lacrosse game on television. He was flipping through the channels in search of a sport to watch to get a break from the usual baseball.

“Some of the college lacrosse teams, they’ve got athletes,” he said. “Some of these kids are humongous and others are normal 5-foot-8 kids.”

Little did Uebelhardt know, he would be coaching the first-ever Hart boys lacrosse team a few years later.

Lacrosse is one of the newest sports in the Santa Clarita Valley, but there’s certainly an abundance of interest in it.

Five years ago, when Hart first implemented a boys lacrosse team, Uebelhardt had no difficulties filling a roster. The combination of finesse like that of basketball and physicality like the of football was appealing to Hart students.

Uebelhardt, who also was an assistant coach for the football team at the time, recalls having around 50 students interested in signing up for the first team.

“My first three years of it, I pulled a lot of those football kids to come play lacrosse to try it out, to see if they liked it and that kept on going for a couple years,” he said.

“I think this year is pretty much the first year where we only have four, five football players on the lacrosse team.

One basketball kid, but other than that they’re all strictly lacrosse kids. I think it’s going to be that way for the coming years.”

West Ranch girls lacrosse coach Leesa Chelminiak had a similar ex- perience in terms of finding athletes when starting up the Wildcats’ team in 2014. At an open house, she had nearly 60 girls show interest in being a part of the team.

The students had a broad experi- ence in athletics as well. Volleyball, soccer and basketball players all showed up in addition to dancers and members of color guard. But when they were all on the field together, the team somehow fit togeth- er perfectly.

“Each girl and their experience brought something new to the team,” Chelminiak said. “Like for example, our volleyball players were phenomenal at the draw. They had that ability to jump. same was true with basketball. Also, our defense is very similar to basketball’s defense.”
While finding athletes isn’t a challenge, starting a lacrosse team from
a financial standpoint can be. In addition to convincing administration that the school should have a lacrosse team, potential team staff and players must fundraise operating costs for an entire season one year in advance before getting approval.

That number can hover around $20,000. It seemed daunting for the few determined people who wanted a Saugus lacrosse team.

“It was a pretty small group,” Saugus boys lacrosse coach David Steinman said. “We all were having our kids were playing Blackhawks lacrosse. I was president of the board for that. I brought a lot of kids over to lacrosse and they were all going
to go to Saugus and there was no lacrosse there.”

Eight families met at Vincenzo’s pizza to discuss fundraising options. A corn hole tournament, poker night and a few corporate sponsorships later, a Centurion lacrosse program of 55 families was going strong.

With four boys lacrosse programs in the SCV — Hart, Saugus, Valencia and West Ranch — a Foothill League has formed for the sport, easing trav- el costs and creating rivalries within the SCV.

There is no Foothill League for girls lacrosse, but West Ranch is
a member of the Pacific Lacrosse League, which also includes Crescen- ta Valley, Glendale, Westridge and La Canada.

Chelminiak is happy with the league but thinks that a Foothill League for girls lacrosse would en- hance the sense of competition.

“Just to be able to have that rivalry feeling of teams in the area and be able to know where we stand in the league and how the girls compete,” she said.

For athletes interested in playing lacrosse, the best time to start is now. “It’s the best sport to start at any

age,” Steinman said. “The Black- hawks run a great program for the youth and then they can come into high school and play and if they’re just starting out in high school, most of the JV kids are all brand new to the sport.

“They don’t ever go back. These kids always fall in love with la- crosse and that’s where they want to stay.”

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