For perennial San Diego power La Costa Canyon the 2019 girls’ lacrosse season represents all kinds of new territory. After winning four consecutive CIF championships, including the first three in the Open Division, the Mavericks have gone “bannerless” the past three seasons, finishing second twice while league arch rival Torrey Pines has moved into the dominant position with a trio of section crowns.
Those past seven years have all been on the coaching watch of former CIF Player of the Year Casey (Rector) Belitz, an LCC CIF champion herself as a player. Her current senior class, while being part of carving out a legacy to which similar groups at other schools only aspire, could be her first to graduate without collecting a CIF title.
That would be pressure for even a veteran lineup but eight games into the campaign, Belitz and her staff are still in the process of trying to integrate 12 new varsity players into the system. Gone are senior stars CJ Jones and Tessa Bass who combined for 135 goals and a lot of “taking the team on our shoulders” leadership in 2018, meaning even a lot of returners are looking at new roles.
As if that’s not enough, Belitz has a tentative delivery date on June 5 with her first child. Talk about a juggling act, the hyper-energetic Belitz will need to be part coach, part magician and, like her team, learning on the fly in this new scenario.
But, so far, so good. Playing its typically rigorous early season schedule, La Costa Canyon has posted a 4-4 mark. All four losses have come to non-San Diego opponents, three ranked in the top 35 nationally (MaxPreps). As expected, it’s been a bit of a push and pull, two steps forward and one step back (sometimes vice-versa) situation at times. Also, as anticipated, Belitz is bullish on her club’s upside.
“We’re definitely improving,” she said before seeing her squad drop its most recent outing, a 17-16 overtime decision earlier this week to No. 35 Glenbrook South (IL). “Just like anybody at this point, figuring out positions, who’s best playing where and getting the chemistry down. There’s a big learning curve.”
Although clearly having room for improvement, the offense looks like a bright spot, even with Jones and Bass out of the picture. The Mavericks are averaging over 13 goals per game, a number that should put them in position to win most matches. Denver University-bound senior Sarah McLean has 22 goals and 6-1 junior Hannah Etheridge, who played a prominent role on this winter’s LCC CIF D-1 basketball championship team is proving to be a nice complement in the scoring department.
Belitz is hoping that the offense will be further bolstered by the midfield, particularly defensive-oriented players like senior Lexie Likins and junior Sierra Lizerbram. “Our defensive midfielders are going to be so important on both ends of the field,” emphasized Belitz. “With the skills of Lexi, Sierra and others, midfield transition should be one of our strengths.
“We have a lot of offensive threats on this team that we need to utilize—we’ll be getting offense from a lot of different areas. We’ve had good offensive movement and as we gain confidence, I see us just continuing to develop in that area.” Ari McLean, Sarah’s sophomore sister, another soph, Paige Vance and freshman Casey DeHaan are other possible contributors.
One talent critical to scoring production that still needs to be sorted out is draws—long a staple of LCC’s overall success.
“That has been our bread and butter in the past,” says Belitz. “CJ (Jones) was a vacuum for us on face-offs and so far we’ve been relying on a mix of players as we determine the best option.
“On the whole, we need to be scrappier and that applies to draws. We have to take pride in winning 50-50 balls consistently. In our losses so far, we have not done well enough in that part of the game.”
Defense is still a work in progress. The deep back end will be relying more on experience than pure athleticism. Seniors Myka Birchall and Nora Casey head that unit which includes junior Susie Schaffer. Their performance will be more vital with the fact that the Mavs are breaking in a new goalkeeper, sophomore McKenna Likin (Lexie’s cousin). A triplet whose brother, Mitch, is a goalie for the LCC boys, the younger Likins’ pedigree points in the right direction.
Another factor trending positively for La Costa Canyon is the fact that Torrey Pines also appears to be in a bit of a re-shuffling mode and, ironically, Falcon head coach Kaitlin Doucette is back on the sidelines after having her first child, a girl, in October. Although undefeated Scripps Ranch, a fairly regular face in the CIF Open Division bracket, is looking the part of the early season favorite, the section championship race could be more wide open that it’s been in recent times.
“Scripps Ranch has a ton of girls back and does look like the team to beat right now,” said Belitz. “La Jolla is always in the picture and, of course, you never count out Torrey Pines. San Marcos has also had some good wins. Along with us, those are probably the top five.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark will be with Belitz herself as she adjusts to her pregnancy and its affects. She concedes that she’s had to force herself to alter some habits.
“It’s been a little different—long hours, long days,” said Belitz. “Teaching, practice, coaching duties, bus trips, night games. When we don’t have a game, I’ve got to make sure to get sleep because it’s definitely changed my energy.
“I’m leaning on our seniors, our captain and our assistant coaches more. I’ve got to admit it’s a little shot to my ego because I’m realizing that I can’t do it all and for the first time, I’ve sometimes got to take a step back.
“We’ve had a lot of close games and I tease my players that the way some of these games are playing out, they’re going to put me into labor early because I’m so stressed out.”
Regardless the outcome, this promises to be a season like no other for the Mavericks.