Doormats to Champions: Oakland Tech Boys: 2010-2011

last updated 11/2014

 

It All Started Here

 
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4/17/2010 Oakland Tech Boys Team

This is where it all started, with Nora Mitchell at Oakland Technical High. She decided to start a team from scratch at an Oakland public high school in late 2009. By the spring of 2010 she had a team on the field competing, sort of. The team had only three players who had actually played in a lacrosse game the previous year, her son Jamie, my son Makoto, and the coach’s son Austin. The coach, Beau Shore, was fantastic. The kids were enthusiastic, but the team stick skills and understanding of the game were barely rudimentary.

This is not a flattering photo of Nora, but it captures the start of lacrosse at Oakland Tech. Getting an orderly, presentable program in place in such a short time was an amazing achievement, a run across the high wire with hair on fire. Thank you Nora. The Skyline Lacrosse Club sponsored the team initially. Nora later was instrumental in starting up the Oakland Lacrosse Club, which now sponsors  Under 13 and Under 15 teams as well as boys and girls teams at Oakland Tech and Skyline High Schools.  After her success at Tech, the Northern California Junior Lacrosse Association made Nora its Executive Director.

 


A Rough Start

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10/1/2010 Broken Collar Bone
photo credit: Children’s Hospital, Oakland

The Tech Boys lacrosse team’s inaugural year got off to a rocky start. Austin led the attackers, Jamie the midfielders and Makoto was supposed to lead the defense. Makoto broke his collarbone in an ill-advised full contact practice exercise (not part of the Tech program) just before the season started, the team thereby losing one third of its experienced player pool. He was on the sidelines as a student coach for most of the season. Unbeknownst to his father and his physician, Makoto began playing again near the end of the season. Up to the last game of the year, the Bulldogs had a perfect losing record in league games. That last game went into triple overtime before the team pulled out its first league victory. Coach Shore’s teaching and patience finally bore visible fruit.

 


Still Trying to Get Traction

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3/12/2011 Learning Curve

The Tech Bulldogs were still a work in progress at the start of their second season. The offense was just beginning to learn how to run basic plays. The defense had three starters who could pass and catch, but the midfield and forward units had only one or two players each who could handle the ball. The first game of the season, two discouraged parents tracked how many consecutive passes the team completed not counting the defense. It didn’t make it past two. It looked like another long hard season.

 


Our Horse was a Turtle

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4/2/11 Austin vs the entire Casa Grande defense

Austin was literally Tech’s offense during the team’s first year and the first few games of the second year. He was the team’s horse. He had a distinctive attack style which his teammates called the “turtle attack”.  He’d take the ball behind the opponent’s net and calmly stroll upfield along the sidelines, all the while absorbing the increasingly frantic but ineffectual blows of a defender. A second defender would join the first. Austin would assume his “turtle” crouch and continue his stroll. Often a third defender would join the parade. The turtle would then pivot and sprint around the closest opponent, using him to screen out everyone else. Aside from the goalie, there are only 6 defenders on the field at a time. By pulling in 3 of them and breaking past them as they clotted up, Austin often had a clear path to the goal since the last 3 defenders were presumably spread out trying to cover Austin’s 5 teammates on the offense. In this photo, the 5 on 1 clot was too big even for Austin.

 


Austin’s Advanced Shooting Technique

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2/26/2011 Austin vs the Gamecocks

Austin took a beating every game, but won everyone’s respect through his desire to make everyone better. If the team gained a significant lead, Austin would start giving up obvious shots on goal and pass to his teammates so they could gain confidence and experience. The team lost lots of points early in the year because of this, but it paid off with a more balanced attack by the playoffs.

The team gradually improved through its second year. Another experienced attack player, Graham, joined the team midseason, making opponents pay if they stacked their defense too heavily against Austin. Skill levels progressed all around and Coach Shore was able to expand the playbook from the single set play “Skyline” left or right  to include 3 or 4 other options.

 


Ninja Move

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2/12/2011 Makoto clears the ball

The defense unit was solid from the first game of the second year. Makoto, Sterling and Alex could all pass and catch well and as a unit, were the fastest trio on the team. This was unusual because lacrosse defenses are usually relatively slow, but big and strong. Tech’s defensive speed allowed it to play aggressively  away from the goal. Sterling hit like a hammer, Adrian was nicknamed “Mr. Smooth” for his slippery run backs, and Makoto was respected for his “ninja” moves such as the flying downfield clearing pass in this photo. Jeff was the fourth player on the defense, an imposing physical presence who could alter an opponent’s pass with just an intimidating look.

 


Jamie Rolls One Through the Pipe

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4/11/2011 Jamie with shot on goal

By April, the team was coming together, its won loss record getting better and better. The players found their niches. Austin kept crashing the net like a tank. Jamie, as pictured here, would shoot from the outside whenever he found an open seam. Making the playoffs no longer seemed like an impossible goal.

 


Confidence

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5/7/2011 Clinching a playoff spot

Winning the last regular game of the season was important to ensure that the team made the playoffs. The players were confident, played well, and were rewarded with at least one more game in the playoffs when they defeated Granite Bay. That’s Nick, the smallest member of the team grinning in the middle with Jeff, the biggest member, to Nick’s left.

 


Two Captains at Season’s End

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5/22/2011 Mak and Austin after the championship game

The Tech Bulldogs squeaked into the playoffs after a season of steady improvement. The perennial Northern California lacrosse powers probably never saw them coming. They ran straight through the year-end NorCal Junior Varsity Tournament without a loss. From a near winless initial year, Coach Shore had given the kids a chance to compete with the best. Doormats to champions in one year. In this image the team goes wild as it piles on the goalie. Meanwhile two of the captains, Makoto and Austin walk slowly up the field, exhausted and happy. What a season.