In a city that waved goodbye to a professional lacrosse franchise, the Portland Lumberjax, in 2009, high school lacrosse has come to be the defining showcase for the sport statewide. Recently, that showcase has been filled by one matchup in particular: Lincoln versus Sunset.
In each of the past three seasons, Lincoln and Sunset have faced one another in the men’s Oregon High School Lacrosse Association State Championship, with Lincoln claiming victory each year, spectacularly at times. Two of the games were decided by a single goal. Lincoln lacrosse head coach Will Harris described the rivalry as, “heart stopping.”
The matchups have not only produced thrilling moments, both teams yield top-notch collegiate recruits year in and year out. In the past five years, Lincoln has produced seven Division I recruits, including Aaron Prosser (’08) and Peter Baum (’09). Both players were recently selected in the 2013 Major League Lacrosse Draft. Baum was selected number one overall by the Ohio Machine. “We have had an extraordinary collection of talent,” said Harris. Sunset graduated goalie Colin Peters last season with a commitment to play for the University of Mount Union.
The continued success of these programs, as well as their ability to send players to the next level, can be attributed to a number of factors. First and foremost is the presence of a well-established youth program.
Sunset head coach Jeff Dill said, “Both programs have big numbers playing for years together from youth up into high school.” Dill continued, “It is huge for kids that are incoming as freshman that have played together and already know the coaches, their philosophies, and expectations.”
In addition to the youth programs, are various select-level programs such as Rhino and Stars. These programs allow players of the highest skill level at different age groups to play with one another in the offseason under the tutelage of some of the best lacrosse players in the world. Sunset assistant coach Martin Wright said, “Programs like Rhino, the select-level competition, are very beneficial and make for competitive skill building.” Wright continued, “The players at both schools put in the offseason work and it shows.”
Geographical location and the demographics of the student population are undeniably influential as well. Both schools pull their students from large, affluent population centers. High school lacrosse programs in Oregon, as they currently stand, require players and their families to cover the sport’s expenses personally. This is in comparison to a school-sponsored sport like football, where the school has equipment to loan to their players. Gear alone often cost more than five hundred dollars.
The final clear contributors to the success of these programs are the coaches. Harris identified coaching longevity as one of three major reasons for the continued success of select few programs around the state, including the recent success for Sunset and Lincoln. “It is the same reason that Lakeridge, Lake Oswego, OES, and West Linn always field competitive teams. That is not coincidence,” said Harris. Coaches Harris, Dill and Wright have all been coaches and advocates of lacrosse for many years and have worked on establishing and developing programs around the Portland Metro area.
These factors have given Sunset and Lincoln the basic formula for success. What sets these teams one goal above the rest is the experience. The field awareness. The lax IQ. The skills picked up in the offseason, after hours shooing on an empty net. “Both teams have a lot of very good athletes who are very passionate about the sport. Without speaking for Lincoln it is obvious that they have boys who spend a lot of time on their own working on their skills,” said Dill.
This season, both teams will have significant holes to fill in their starting lineups. Lincoln returns nearly their entire defense as well as senior goalie Jack Edwards, who has been apart of the past three championship teams. Sunset returns a young and promising team from last year, but will be looking to replace the graduating Peters.
In 2013 Lincoln will be playing for their fifth state title in the last six years and fourth straight overall. Sunset looks to finally break the cusp and win the school’s first state championship in men’s lacrosse.
When asked to describe the rivalry in a single word, Wright responded casually, “Annual.” I believe him.
Key Lincoln Players for 2013-
Jack Edwards – SR – Goalie
Erick Reister – SR – Defense
Ben Paris – SO – Defense
Reed Zabel – SO – Midfield
Jack Gross Jr. – JR - Attack
Key Sunset Players for 2013-
Trevor Shiffler – SR – Defense
Matt Burton – SO – Midfield
Locke Rohan – SO - Attack
Jeff Bieber – JR - Attack
Kelly Stavig – SR - Attack