The calendar may say "summer," but the Lakeridge boys lacrosse team is getting after it like it's the high point of the state playoffs.
The Pacers recently flew east to test themselves in the national hotbed of high school lacrosse, competing in the National Lacrosse Invitational in Long Island, New York, on July 8-9, then taking their best shot in the National High School Lacrosse Showcase outside of Baltimore, Maryland, on July 12-13.
Lakeridge coach Curt Sheinin said the whole point of the trip is to expose his young team — which includes 13 incoming sophomores and two incoming freshmen — to as many top-level teams as possible.
"It's important for the kids to see how (the best teams) play, the intensity of the play," Sheinin said. "We learn that the things we can get away with here against some of the lesser Oregon teams, you can't get away with against the really good teams."
Competing in the National Lacrosse Invitational, the Pacers definitely got to see some of the nation's best teams, and showed they could compete successfully against them. The tournament was held in 90-degree temperatures (with humidity over 90%) at Ward Melville High School.
Lakeridge opened the tournament with a trio of games on July 8, starting with a 6-2 loss to Farmingdale, New York. But the Pacers got as hot as the weather later in the day, beating Northport, New York, 8-7 and Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, 7-6 to win a berth in the tournament's championship bracket.
Lakeridge kept the heat on, too, playing another three times on July 9. First, the Pacers beat Harborfields, New York, 9-4 in the round of 16, dropped Garden City, New York (the sixth-ranked team in the country), 9-7 in the quarterfinals, then knocked off Farmingdale 9-7 in the tournament semifinal.
That set up a championship-game showdown against Ward Melville, New York, the host team and a team that had previously won the 2017-18 boys high school national championship. In the end, Lakeridge came up short in the tournament finale, falling 8-3 to Ward Melville but learning a lot about its abilities along the way.
"Obviously, we did much better than we expected in the tournament," Sheinin said. "You just never know how you'll do when you go to a tournament like this, with the time change and the temperature change."
More importantly, the Pacers showed their ability to step up in consecutive games against top-notch competition.
"We just don't see teams of this caliber," Sheinin said. "It's a whole different world when you see all these teams one after the other."
Goalie David Nyhus and midfielder Cody Hart were both named all-tournament for their efforts, while Sheinin also complimented the play of midfielder Thiago Achar-Winkels, faceoffs Jack Savage and Jake Reichle ("They both absolutely dominated," Sheinin said), and starting close defenders J.D. Henninger, Zach Onustock and Zac Waible.
After that, the Pacers took a day off to travel to the National High School Lacrosse Showcase at Blandair Park in Columbia, Maryland. Along the way, they stopped to tour the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, practiced on the same fields used by the U.S. national teams, then visited the campus of Johns Hopkins University — Johns Hopkins' men's lacrosse teams have won 44 national championships including nine NCAA titles.
While still flushed with the success they created at the National Lacrosse Invitational, the Pacers were also nursing injuries to several players and dead tired from their six games in two days.
Along with more top-notch competition, those factors made the National High School Lacrosse Showcase a much tougher slog for Lakeridge.
"It was not as good," Sheinin admitted. "Our kids were completely burned out."
The Pacers led their first opponent, Paul VI of Virginia, into the final minute before falling 7-6 on July 12. Later in the day, Lakeridge got drubbed 14-1 by Indiana's Culver Academy (the 2019 high school national champion and a team that has sent every one of its seniors for the past 13 years on to Division I lacrosse commitments).
On July 13, still struggling with the heat, humidity, injuries and talented opposition — not to mention the absence of Achar-Winkels (he had to return home after the first tournament) — the Pacers fell 10-3 to Highland Park, Texas (a top-20 national team), dropped a 15-4 decision to 23rd-ranked Gilman, Maryland, fell to Georgia state champion Lovett 10-9 in overtime ("We led the whole way until our kids just ran out of gas," Sheinin said), and finally fell to Lambert, Georgia, 9-3.
"By that time, the injuries and heat had just taken their toll on us," Sheinin said.
Though the Pacers went winless in the Showcase, Sheinin thought that a different result in their opener would have made a big difference.
"If we'd beaten Paul VI, I think we probably would have beaten the Georgia teams and been very competitive in the other ones," he said.
Despite their final results in the Showcase, the Pacers got great efforts again from Savage and Reichle, while Hart was named to the all-tournament team.
Just as importantly, Lakeridge's players had the chance to be seen by college coaches from well more than 100 universities from across the country.
"That's huge, and the coaches get to see the kids play in (their high school) systems rather than on all-star teams," he said. "Just getting them on the radar is a big deal."
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