OAKLAND, N.J. — Three high school lacrosse coaches stood on the sidelines with crossed arms and high hopes for the young athletes on their Oakland club team.
The 5th and 6th graders on X-Treme Lax Factory's first elite girls club team — coaches Brian Girardi, Mike Carti and Mike Menzella at the helm — were headed into the third game of the June tournament.
The first two games had been “a little shaky," said Girardi, the Mahwah High School girls lacrosse coach.
But then came the third round — and everything changed.
“All of a sudden, you just saw it click,” Girardi said. “You can see those certain skills that get executed the way they should and you’re like, ‘She just did that. That just worked.’”
The girls and their 7th and 8th grade counterparts continued to play even stronger, their coaches watching proudly as their confidence soared.
After seeing the success that Carti, Girardi and Menzella had with their girls, Rutherford High School Principal and longtime high school coach Frank Morano along with Fair Lawn High School boys lacrosse coach Scott Leathem are hoping to offer that to the boys.
Tryouts for both the boys and girls teams will be held in September.
Playing on X-Treme Lax’s elite team isn’t about being the best for Morano, though. He’s just looking for athletes who want to give it their all.
“You don’t have to be an elite player in 5th or 6th grades,” said Morano, formerly the head coach at Fair Lawn High School and Don Bosco Prep.
“We want kids that are going to work hard. Tournaments are great to go to but practices are where the kids get better," he said.
What struck Northern Highlands girls coach Menzella most this summer was how quickly his young athletes implemented the techniques that he and the other coaches were teaching them.
“At this age they’re able to take things and make adjustments, which is tough to do as they get older,” he said.
“But these kids were like sponges and soaked up everything we told them — it was the coolest thing to see.”
Working with high school coaches s what Indian Hills girls coach Carti said sets athletes up for a better shot at playing on a varsity team as a freshman.
Pair that with a year-round curriculum and the transition into high school field could be a seamless one, Girardi added.
But Menzella says the magic doesn’t always happen on the turf.
“Once they believe in what they’re doing, that’s it,” the coach said. “That’s when you have them.”
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