Christopher lacrosse program on the rise

The Cougars are having their best season in program history. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The Christopher High lacrosse team is in the midst of having its best season in program history. Coach Mike Henry has helped build a foundation that seemingly is set up for long-term success. The Cougars entered the week 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the Mission Trail League, with the only losses coming to perennial powers Leland and Palma.

Tyler Elia, a playmaking midfielder who is just one of three seniors on the team, said this has easily been the most enjoyable season he’s had in his three seasons playing for the squad.

“It’s always been fun since I started playing my sophomore year, but when you win like this, it makes it that much more exciting,” said Elia, who entered the week with 16 goals and seven assists. “Everything is coming together this year because this is the first year where we’ve had a lot of kids who have played for multiple years on the team. As a group, we’ve developed a skill level we’ve never had before.”

How big is lacrosse at Christopher, and by extension, in the South Valley? This is the first season in which Henry had to make cuts to both the varsity and junior varsity teams. The school had 64 athletes sign up, but Henry can only carry approximately 26 players on each squad.

In addition to club lacrosse programs like the South County Outlaws—which Henry co-founded—he credited Christopher’s other coaches for cross-promoting and encouraging them to try lacrosse if they’re not doing anything else.

“We’ve had a lot of help; for instance, the football coaches will say, ‘Hey, go play lacrosse in the spring time, and a lot of baseball kids will come over and play lacrosse,” Henry said.

The Cougars have several standouts, including a terrific trio of attackmen in Nick McCabe, Red Diokno and Chris Gorgulho, goalie Zac Buessing and defender Jacob Guerriera. Diokno, Gorgulho and McCabe have combined for an astounding 51 goals.

“They’ve put up some of the best numbers I’ve seen,” Henry said. “They’re really tearing it up, and they’re the strongest part of our team.”

Buessing has 75 saves, and Guerriera has won 22 ground balls and scored five goals, the latter an impressive number considering he’s a defenseman.

“Jacob is someone to come out and watch,” Henry said. “He’s a short, stocky kid who runs all over the field and does everything. He’s a ground ball master and can score, which is pretty rare to see a defensive player coming on the offensive side of the field and making things happen.”

With the exception of a 12-3 loss to Palma, the Cougars have been in every match this season.

“There is not a match where we were really 100 percent outplayed,” Henry said.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Elia is no different than any of his teammates in that he grew up playing other sports. However, the sport he did grow up playing and still plays—ice hockey—made his transition to lacrosse an almost natural one.

“Because of everything I’ve learned in hockey, I was able to pick up the stick skills really easy,” he said. “ I felt really confident with a lacrosse stick in my hands.”

However, it wasn’t until this season when Elia felt fully confident on the field.

“Last year I was always afraid to shoot, so I ended up passing it a lot,” he said. “This year when I see a shot, I’m going to take it. It’s worked out pretty well so far.”

In addition to his ability to shoot from long range, Elia possesses speed and plays rock-solid defense. Another aspect in which ice hockey and lacrosse are similar lies in the physical nature of the sports. Players check each other regularly, which Elia welcomes.

“I’m definitely comfortable with the physicality of the sport,” he said. “Almost everything about hockey has transferred over really well to lacrosse.”

Elia is coming off his best game of the season, a five-goal performance in a 16-3 win over Watsonville on April 11.

“It was one of those games where everything was working,” he said.

Christopher’s future looks bright, as the majority of the staring lineup features sophomores and juniors. Henry plans on developing players and knows more boys in the South Valley area will start playing lacrosse at a younger age, just like they do back on the East Coast. Henry, who is from the northern Virginia area near Washington D.C., feels it’s only a matter of time before all of the high schools in the area—San Benito High is the only other school with a lacrosse program spanning the Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister area—field a lacrosse program.

The sport has already zoomed in popularity at Christopher, with the results serving as proof.

“It’s all about developing freshmen into top-tier players by the time they’re juniors and seniors,” Henry said. “My high school was always ranked in the top 20 in the (D.C.) area. It’s a place where people grow up playing lacrosse. We’re just trying to do that here.”