Highlanders’ lacrosse team scoops up early conference wins, rebuild

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Light paraded from the sky like the steady stream of families leaving Helix Charter High School’s football field following the JV lacrosse match on April 6. Peewee soccer players were pushing practice balls into knee-high nets on a spit of grass across from the green AstroTurf. Somewhere on campus, the tremorous notes of the Highlander’s marching band rose, wafting the faded sound of bagpipes into the bleachers. The scoreboard blinked zeros. Helix Head Coach John Whittles nodded to referees from the sidelines and a whistle blew.

Light paraded from the sky like the steady stream of families leaving Helix Charter High School’s football field following the JV lacrosse match on April 6. Peewee soccer players were pushing practice balls into knee-high nets on a spit of grass across from the green AstroTurf. Somewhere on campus, the tremorous notes of the Highlander’s marching band rose, wafting the faded sound of bagpipes into the bleachers. The scoreboard blinked zeros. Helix Head Coach John Whittles nodded to referees from the sidelines and a whistle blew.

Time for the varsity match.

Brimming with change, Helix’s boy’s lacrosse season intersected with Valhalla High School’s on the Highlander’s field in a tumultuous match that left both teams licking wounds as well as preening feathers.

For Helix, the season looks good. The Highlanders are 2-1 in league and 4-2 overall. Like any team early in the season, they are focusing on bringing their new JV recruits up to level, said Whittles.

“We’re growing,” he said. “We have a young goalie, he’s never played before. And a lot of kids we brought up from JV so we’re just trying to get them ready for varsity play.”

For Valhalla, training their new recruits could prove to be a greater challenge. 

“We lost 20 seniors last year,” said Valhalla Head Coach Jason Balistreri. “We only had two returning varsity players and so the expectations were not through the roof. But we’re hoping to play competitive lacrosse, to improve in every single game.”

Play they did. The Norsemen had Helix on their heels for the first half of the game. Fiery and tenacious, Valhalla’s offense kept up with Helix’s more experienced players point for point before taking the lead just before halftime, leading 6-5. 

“We usually come out and we’re pretty good fireballs,” said Balistreri. “We definitely have some really competitive players and it’s impressive to see them play with so much desire. But sometimes that’s not all that you need. We need stick skills, we need fundamentals, we need energy, we need numbers, we need health.”

Balistreri’s summation proved correct. Helix came back in the second half and shutout the Norseman, 13-6. Although Valhalla maintained possession for much of the second half, the Highlander’s goalie defended his post with exactness that Valhalla could not seem to overcome. As soon as possession changed, the Highlanders raced back down the field, repeatedly scoring against the Norsemen. 

Highlander senior Noah Hernandez said conditioning and communication are the primary factors behind Helix’s successes. He said he even thinks they have a shot at playoffs.

“We’ve all been playing together for a while now so the team chemistry is pretty up there,” said Hernandez. “Everyone’s definitely developed their fundamentals a lot, and communicating on the field has definitely helped with ball control. We just need to pick up the pace a little bit, make sure our passes are good and strong. But I think we stand a good chance.”

Teammate Emilio Gonzalez, a Helix junior, said the season would be an uphill battle. Gonzalez said Helix’s biggest strength is their determination. 

“I think we’re definitely we’re an underdog,” he said. “We’re a pretty small team. Most teams have a lot of depth and we just really push ourselves to outwork them.”

League leaders Grossmont and Granite Hills high schools are both 5-0 in conference play. Both have already handed Helix a loss this season. 

Valhalla, coming in right behind Helix on the standings, is 2-4-1 for the season, with just one league win. 

Despite the rough evening, Balistreri was complimentary of the efforts made by both teams. 

“This team has kind of surpassed us,” he said. “They beat us twice last year. They always have more numbers, they’re usually athletic, and I was extremely proud of how we played the first half. We came out with energy, we came out with fire, we had the lead. We had a few mistakes and we’re on our way to fixing them and playing some really, truly good lacrosse.”

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