MaxLaxOC.com recently spent a Sunday afternoon at a Team OC team camp getting to know the coaches, the players, and the philosophy behind one of Orange County’s longest running girls’ lacrosse clubs.
Team OC, which attracts girls from all over Orange County was founded by Crista Samaris in 2007. Samaris and current Team OC Director (and former Los Alamitos head coach) Liz “LC” Connelly, sowed the seeds of a club that has established a firm reputation for growing the sport of lacrosse on the West coast. The Team OC coaching staff prides itself on not only developing lacrosse but also their emphasis on building the very fiber of what makes a good athlete: character.
The Sunday team camp was just one event of a hefty Team OC Summer schedule. The rest of the season will bring more practices, the Western Cup in Denver for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 teams, and the Pacific Lacrosse Festival for the 2018 and 2019-21 teams. Teams for all of the Team OC age groups gathered at Masuda Middle School in Fountain Valley to improve their skills and get ready for the coming tournament season under the direction of an experienced and efficient coaching staff. Each team ran through four hours of stick work, offensive and defensive strategy, transitioning, and clearing skills. Separated by high school graduation year, each team drilled under the watchful eyes of its own coach.
Players graduating in 2015 were coached by Jess Murray, a former University of Virginia player, University of North Carolina volunteer, and current assistant coach for Corona del Mar. The 2015 team players came from seven different schools and diverse levels of experience with Team OC. Coach Jess led the girls with strong direction and a keen eye for detail. The 2016 team is coached by the tag-team of Matt Armstrong and Brian Eisenberg. Coach Matt, from Newport Harbor High School, and Coach Brian, from Chapman University and Esperanza High School, teach with high lacrosse-IQ.
Dubbed “the most talented and most exciting” group of Team OC by Coach LC, the 2017 Team practiced under Coach Dave Elkins. LC raved about Coach Dave, who also coaches the Aliso Niguel Wolverines varsity team and the Orange County contingent that that performed so well at the US Lacrosse Nationals in May. “Energy-wise, he knows how to get to the next level of lacrosse,” she said.
Zesty Coach Laura Bernhard leads the 2018 team, which is comprised of 8th and 9th grade players. The players come from a number of feeder programs, such as Pioneer, Storm, and Gen X. Coach Laura, who also coaches at UCLA, brings a fun approach to her energetic, young team. Even younger is the 2019/20/21 Team, coached by former Los Alamitos player Melissa Hastie. The youngest Team OC player won’t graduate high school until 2021, seven years from now.
Coach LC says she is excited to work with “a team of coaches who are so passionate about the sport. The summer season is “light on tournaments, but heavy on teaching,” says LC. During this preparatory season, coaches fine-tune and sharpen game knowledge and players gain skills they need for the future. Coaches continually gave instruction during the team camp day, even when they had to stop a scrimmage for it. The finest details did not go unnoticed.
Stick work, a forte of Coach LC’s, was a key focus for a large portion of the day. Then, offensive and defensive strategy was broken down piece by piece, to better enable players’ understanding of it. Goalies were prized players, getting almost more action than field players as they scrambled from team to team, drill to drill. With plenty of lacrosse happening, players were actively enjoying themselves.
Coach LC and her Team OC co-coaches couple lacrosse expertise with strong coaching values, which directly translate to players’ game and spirit. Team OC has a distinct culture based, and aimed for, the growth of character.
Grit, Self-control, Zest, and Curiosity are familiar words to Team OC players present and past. They’re words Team OC play and live by. At practice, players contemplate what it means to have Grit, while incorporating it with Self-control. How to be Zesty on the field, while never ceasing to be Curious is a balance players achieve with Team OC. Meanings of each theme word vary among players, but the resulting mix and diversity is embraced.
“Lacrosse is a vehicle to teach greater life lessons,” says Coach LC. Character development is just as important as athletic development. This is apparent in a post-game ritual unique to Team OC.
“Strong statements,” are made after each practice in the team talk. A “strong statement” is when individual players stand up in front of their teammates and coaches to deliver their “one-piece on the day,” as LC calls it. It’s a shout-out to a teammate, a highlight of the day, an observation made, or a goal set. The players are free to express themselves in a judge-free, supportive zone. Players literally find their voice, while building self-confidence.
LC and her staff approach their coaching with a year-round season by season strategy. After a full summer of developing skills, players will be ready to execute on the field. Come fall, Team OC players will compete in some of the best recruiting tournaments in the country. Winter season, the shortest season, will give players a chance to show what they’ve got at the largest recruiting tournament on the West Coast: Sandstorm.
Potential Team OC members must try out and be selected to join a team. Teams are decided at tryouts for the specific season. Players are divided first by age and then by skill level. Teams have no more than 22 players, including up to two goalies. A team’s roster stays the same for the entire season. At the end of each season, existing members will have the first priority for the next season. Tryouts are held to fill any open spots.
To get involved, potential players should visit the Team OC website.
Team OC’s culture of character, not just it’s talent-filled rosters and coaching staff, is the highlight of the club. Aspects of Team OC’s emphasis on character development include players owning being true to themselves, and “how to work in a group, or how to give a girl a high five after she beats you,” says Coach LC. Most of all, to be whoever or whatever you truly are is the ultimate goal.
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