It’s not easy to start a high school sports program from scratch.
Cedar Valley strength and conditioning coach Drew Rykert knew that would be the case when the Aviators decided to start boys and girls lacrosse.
“The reason I got hired was because as the strength and conditioning coach I had access to all the athletes,” Rykert said Friday. “They said, ‘Go recruit your football players and your basketball players and soccer players, and put together a squad’ and so I did just that. As far as athleticism, we match our opponents but not when it comes to game IQ. We need to get better on that over the offseason, get film and teach these guys the game. But the aggression is there and that’s something I couldn’t coach.”
It’s been an interesting challenge for Rykert because he never played lacrosse.
“We’ve got seven seniors that came from Westlake with a lot of experience that are basically our leaders,” Rykert said. “They’ve taught me more about the game than I’ve could have taught myself in the last year, being so new to the sport.”
With Rykert and a lot of players still figuring out the nuances of the game, it’s not surprising that there has been a number of losses for the “Top Guns” during this first season.
“In addition to our region, we picked up games against Brighton and American Fork,” Rykert said. “Those are really good team but I wouldn’t say it was disheartening. I would say that it was learning and seeing how those programs are after so many years. I said, ‘Hey, this is what we want to be. This is what we’re going to be in two years. That’s our plan.’”
It’s been much the same story with girls lacrosse for the Aviators.
The school wasn’t sure it was going to be able to field a program but Rykert got enough athletes on board. Challenges with getting officials and other obstacles, however, have limited the game opportunities for Cedar Valley’s girls squad.
“We got basketball players and volleyball players, athletes that just kind of understand how to move in space,” Rykert said. “The trick is getting that stick in their hand, learning to cradle and things like that. They see the boys hitting each other and hanging on to the ball, but their stick is a lot different. The strategy of their game is getting open, getting girls to use their speed.”
He said keeping the girls focused through the difficulties hasn’t always been easy.
“I’ve coached their psyche more than I have their physical abilities,” Rykert said. “When you’re put in a region, you expect to have games, but some of the teams in our region don’t have a girls team. The girls have been told that they’re having games and then they’ve been canceled with hopes that they’re rescheduled. But they keep fighting. They still show up every day and it’s a good nucleus. We only have one senior.”
The Utah High School Activities Association is approaching dividing the lacrosse teams up for the state tournament differently than other sports.
Instead of teams playing by school-size classification, the ratings percentage index (RPI) will slot teams into either Division A, Division B or Division C, depending on performance.
That means Cedar Valley and other new programs won’t be squaring off against elite, experienced competition because they will be in the Division C tournament.
“I haven’t told my players about that,” Rykert said. “They’re going to prepare through this season to face the teams that we’ve played before, and I think it will become come as a surprise that we can see, Payson and Springville and Maple Mountain. We saw Maple Mountain early and we lost to them, but we are a different team. I think that’ll play to our advantage.”
While the Aviators still have a lot of work ahead of them to grow their lacrosse programs, Rykert said he has really come to appreciate the exciting play the sport provides.
“This is one of the most fast-paced and aggressive sports I’ve ever seen,” Rykert said. “I wish I would have played myself, and maybe I would have preferred it. There’s the individual aspect of skill and stick development, but the team aspect is just magical when it works well. It is awesome. I think it’s the best team sport out there in the spring.”