The 2016 quarterfinal North Coast Section (NCS) men’s lacrosse game. For three quarters, the No. 8 team had matched the No. 2 team, who had the home-field advantage, goal for goal. Only in the last quarter did the score shift and the No. 2 team, Marin Academy, now a Division I team, finally take the advantage over the rival team, Piedmont. Yet, despite the loss, the Piedmont varsity men’s lacrosse team walked away from the season-ending game with pride and positivity.
“Even though we lost in the quarterfinals and our season ended, it was definitely a big boost for us because we started last season pretty rough, we had a lot of injuries too and we were a very young team,” captain senior Nick Price said.
Now the team has grown up and is led by 14 seniors, 12 of whom are on varsity. Because most of the players have played with each other for a while now, sophomore Sam Reynolds said that the team dynamic has really improved.
“Once you’re on the team everyone accepts it, there’s no class structure between the different grades so that’s good,” Reynolds said.
Price said that the team’s chemistry is actually its greatest strength this year.
“We graduated a few guys last year, some really talented players, but we’ve kind of just started where we left off last year in terms of chemistry,” Price said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things, we are all close to each other.”
Although the players may not be so new, with only one freshman on varsity, this season the team is under the new leadership of head coach Tim Booth. Booth comes to Piedmont with experience playing professional lacrosse and coaching teams like Dominican, Notre Dame and Nazareth, whom he helped coach to the NCAA Division III Championship.
“He’s absolutely an excellent coach who knows his stuff,” Price said. “He has clearly stated that it’s about us, not him.”
Before Booth stepped on the field this season, Jerem Stothers had led the varsity team as the head coach for eight years. The head coaching position was opened up at the end of last season and Stothers and Booth were the two final candidates for the job, athletic director Vic Acuña said.
“As a new athletic director and wanting to create a very positive culture for Piedmont athletics, I can’t allow there to be mediocrity in our coaching ranks because that affects a culture we are all trying to build,” Acuña said. “We’re looking at programs and we have a certain expectation about what coaches need to be doing and those things weren’t being done. Ultimately it comes down to being present, being organized and being accountable to our athletes and to our community.”
Acuña said that the number one thing he looks for in coaches is their dedication to the students. He said that the high school athletic program is actually another educational environment, making high school coaches teachers of the fields, pools, courts and other sports facilities.
“Tim genuinely understands educational athletics and he genuinely cares about high school athletics,” Acuña said. “We got the right person.”
Even with the right person, Acuña said that any change is hard, especially when players on the team had already developed close relationships to Stothers.
“Even when things aren’t going right for some people, for some others they are,” Acuña said. “These 20 people don’t like the coach, but for the two that did, that change is going to be hard for them. So I understand that, I try to be very empathetic and open to listening and having conversations with athletes that want to talk about why we made the change and all of those things.”
Besides the inevitable transition that comes with change, both Acuña and senior Quinn Porter said that the team is becoming more comfortable with Booth’s new coaching style.
“I think people are adjusting for sure,” Porter said. “A lot of people like Jerem. I like Jerem so I don’t know if people necessarily think he’s better than Jerem yet. There’s not really a way to say that he is but I think people are adjusting and starting to like him.”
At the beginning of this season, Booth’s paperwork, specifically his fingerprint clearance, took a little longer than normal to be processed, resulting in his absence from the practices during the first three weeks. Acuña said that because the fingerprints are approved by an outside agency, the clearance time frame often varies and that the delay had nothing to do with concerns about Booth.
“The hardest part about that was as the players we were all kind of kept in the dark and didn’t know what was going on,” Porter said. “It was kind of like ‘Isn’t this our team? Isn’t this about us the players not necessarily the coach, why shouldn’t we know what’s going on?’”
Price, agreeing with Porter, said that leading up to Booth’s arrival to the team, there was confusion and stress amongst the team, as players tried to figure out what was going on. However, now the situation has been resolved and the team has moved on, Price said.
“We are all past it and focused on building bonds, building chemistry and playing lacrosse,” Price said. “For a while, our focus was off of lacrosse, but now it’s completely back on lacrosse and back on getting better each and every practice.”
This day to day improvement is also a major focus for Booth. In order to improve, the players must play team ball offensively and defensively, Booth said.
“I put them in situations that are stressful and sort of forge them through fire on what we need to be doing and they are doing a great job buying into what us as a coaching staff ask them to do, which is a huge plus,” Booth said.
Improvement also is not just about the score, Booth said. He said that regardless of the outcome of the game, if the team puts in 100 percent, they come away as winners.
“Sometimes we may lose a game but we gave it our all and that’s okay, we can live with that,” Booth said. “We can’t live with losing and us not giving it our all, that is something I do not want.”
Although the team may have a new coach and a new season, their sights are still set on NCS, specifically winning the championship. For those who were on the team last year, the loss to Marin Academy has only helped pushed them towards their goal.
“We are definitely really talented, athletic and another big strength is that we all want the same thing and understand that if we really work at it and continue to push ourselves, we definitely have the capability to reach NCS and reach our goal,” Price said.