Segerstrom boys success undeniable, despite shortened season

Head coach Michael Vanags remembers the first year of Segerstrom boys lacrosse very well, but there’s one moment that still resonates with him, and perhaps more so with his players.

It was after Segerstrom played San Juan Hills, a team that Vanags remembers was significantly better than his own at the time. A San Juan Hills coach asked if he could talk to the Jaguars.

“We didn’t win a game for three years, so if you guys win anything, that’ll be a bonus,” he told Segerstrom.

It was an unexpected form of motivation that stuck with the Jaguars, who went on to win six games that season. Four years later, the season that was supposed to be the best yet and would hopefully include an Empire League title, was cut short.

In early March, school districts around Southern California announced the suspension of spring sports due to coronavirus concerns.

Photo courtesy Alyana Davis/Segerstrom lacrosse

“What we worked for since the conception of our program four years ago was cut short to what was supposed to be the best season we had, and I strongly believe it was going to be just that,” said Segerstrom senior team captain Ricardo Olivares via text message.

In 2017, Vanags was hired as the head boys lacrosse coach at Segerstrom after turning around the program at Marina High School. Originally, he was a walk-on coach, then stayed on permanently after taking a job as a science teacher at the school.

He was flanked by Joe Tran, who ran the defense and Ben Poploskie, who ran the offense. The coaching staff was able to gather enough student-athletes for a team that year, although most came without any lacrosse experience.

“Even though we were largely doubted and underestimated by many teams, we used that as fuel to get better,” Olivares said, “and coaches taught us early to fight no matter the score.”

The Jaguars ended the first season with a 6-14 overall record and continued to make improvements and take on tougher opponents with every new season.

The following season, Segerstrom went 12-6 and the season after that, the Jaguars were 9-9. This season, after being outmatched countless times and learning more with every practice and game, Vanags believed his team was the best one yet.

Most players had returned every year since the program began. All of the freshmen that started with the program were now seniors.

“They don’t realize that they’ve worked harder than any other team out there,” Vanags said. “I pushed these guys and worked them harder than any other team I’ve had.”

Photo courtesy Segerstrom lacrosse

Olivares, a third-year captain, 2019 Academic All-American and a 2019 All-County Honorable Mention was a top returner as well as Luciano Borjas, who is headed to the U.S. Military Academy.

“Luciano was playing varsity against 220-pound guys and he was 5-5 back then, maybe 100 pounds and he was playing attack against these giants and this year he was dominating,” Vanags said. “Same thing with Ricky.”

Although Segerstrom’s season has come to an abrupt end as the players turn to online schooling for possibly the rest of the year, the Jaguars still plan on playing together after high school in an adult league. Vanags is also hopeful that he can put together a tournament for teams in their CIF-SS Division.

It only seems like the appropriate thing to do, since Segerstrom has never given up on anything and has been exceeding expectations since 2017.

“Being a part of lacrosse at Segerstrom has been one of the most unique athletic and life experiences I could ever be privileged enough to be a part of,” Oliveras said.

“Obviously, every school will have their own roots and their culture, but the amount of time that we spent molding the program here is something we can always look back at because we had such a unique take at it.”

Haley Sawyer
Originally from Pennsylvania, Haley covers lacrosse all around Southern California. She’s a graduate of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh and is usually hiking or boxing when she’s not writing about sports.