Tough guys with STICKS.
Sheldon boys lacrosse is back in the state semifinals for the third time in the four seasons since the program got started.
Now comes a meeting with Oregon Episcopal School, which has established itself as perhaps the state's elite program in a club sport that is catching on at high schools throughout Oregon.
"OES and Lakeridge are the best in the state. They are a cut above everyone else, honestly," Sheldon coach Ike Sanderson said. "This will be a real, real test. In a perfect scenario we could come out with a win, but it will be tough. This is a good barometer to measure ourselves against."
The Irish will travel to Lake Oswego High School to face OES at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in one of two Oregon High School Lacrosse Association semifinals.
"OES is a really good team, but we can definitely outrun them and I think we can beat them if we just play a team game and run as hard as we can the entire game," Sheldon senior Zach Dehnert said. "Play four quarters of the best Sheldon lacrosse we've got."
Sheldon (15-3) has won the Willamette League during all four years of existence and has a 43-1 league record during that stretch.
The Irish lost in the state final in 2002, were eliminated in the semifinals in 2003 and lost to Lincoln in the quarterfinals last season. Sheldon moved into this year's semifinals with a 7-4 win over West Linn on Thursday.
Dehnert scored three goals against the Lions to give him 55 on the season. He plays the attack position and has 136 career goals to rank first in the program's short history.
"He is a prolific scorer and a threat whenever he has the ball," Sanderson said.
Dehnert has an older brother who played lacrosse at Sheldon, so he followed those footsteps and has been on varsity for three years.
"My freshman year, I picked up a stick and started playing," Dehnert said. "I spent a lot of money and went to a lot of lacrosse camps and put in dedication and practice every day during the summer. It took a lot of my time to really get lacrosse down because it is a hard sport."
With that in mind, Sanderson hopes that lacrosse will become popular for players at an earlier age.
He said that a youth program for boys in grades five through eight and girls in seventh and eighth grade is expected to start this summer in Eugene.
Sanderson attended a game at Lake Oswego earlier this year when 300 grade schoolers went on the field at halftime to play lacrosse.
"We've got to get that in this town if my program or any other in Eugene or Springfield is ever going to compete at the level of Lake Oswego, Lakeridge or OES," said Sanderson, whose Irish were joined in the playoffs this season by Churchill and North Eugene.
This year's senior class is the first that has been able to play lacrosse for four seasons at Sheldon.
"This year is the first year where a majority of players have had a stick in their hands for at least four years," Sanderson said. "It will be a huge jump when I start to get kids who have been playing for a year or two before they get here. It's easy to pick up the basics during the first year, but it takes at least a year to get the mechanics down."
Sheldon has 65 kids in the program, which features two junior varsity teams in addition to one varsity squad.
"It appeals to kids who haven't played sports before and to kids who are three-sport athletes," Sanderson said. "I do think there is a type of kid who plays lacrosse. I don't think we're competing with baseball and track for players. There are a lot of soccer players or football players who don't play a sport in the spring, and they have a fantastic offseason sport in lacrosse."
Brett Whyte, a junior who plays wide receiver and defensive back in football, took up lacrosse as a freshman.
"I didn't really play any other spring sport," he said. "It keeps me doing something in the spring when it's not football season. It has the contact and it takes athleticism."
Whyte has 40 goals and nine assists this season as a midfielder.
"He really can't be stopped in the open field," Sanderson said. "I've seen him get triple-teamed and he has an uncanny ability to score whenever he has the ball."
Whyte is joined at midfield by junior Dane Olson, who has 15 goals and 22 assists. In need of a goalie this season, Sanderson originally thought he might put Olson at that spot.
"I tried to get him to play goalie, and he said `I want to be the best midfielder in the league,' and he is," Sanderson said. "He has come up huge."
Like Dehnert, Olson followed his brother in the sport.
"(Sanderson) was really trying to push me last year to play goalie, and when I first heard that I was kind of iffy because I knew I could play at this level," Olson said. "My brother played in the past and I knew my ability and knew if I tried hard, I could get to where I am. It really did motivate me to become a middie instead of a goalie."
Sanderson eventually turned to A.J. Sparks in goal and the sophomore has been impressive.
"A.J. has done a tremendous job, better than I would have done," Olson said.
Sanderson saw potential from Sparks last year.
"A.J. showed promise last year but my greatest concern this year was filling the goalie spot," Sanderson said. "I told A.J. at the end of last season that I expected him to work especially hard in the off-season, and he did. He went to a great camp at Oregon and played summer league.
`A huge part of being a goalie is temperament because even the best goalies have about a 65 percent save ratio. You are going to get scored on, so you have to put the last goal behind you."
The goalie is also in charge of directing the defense by letting defenders know where the ball is on the field.
"A.J. has been amazing in the cage," senior defender Todd Tsui said. "Actually, he has done a lot better than all of us expected."
Tsui is the leader of the defense, which also features Cas Alderman and Bryan Kim.
"Todd is a real emotional center of the defense," Sanderson said. "He has great stick skills and one of the best shots if he can get down to the offensive end. He is the best defender in the Willamette League."
Senior Braden Moore and junior Steve Ralls play the attack position along with Dehnert. Senior Scott Fillingame is another important player on offense.
"Scott is perhaps the quarterback of the offense with his ability to make sure the right play is being run," Sanderson said.
"When he is not on the field, he's another coach on the sideline making sure the personnel is right."
With a growing number of kids in the program, Sanderson figures Sheldon should be solid again next year despite the departures of Dehnert, Tsui and the other seniors.
"Our JV I team is a strong program because we only lost two guys off varsity last year, so all down the chain kids had an extra year at JV," Sanderson said.
"So next year I think we'll reload."
The future will be even brighter if lacrosse gets a foothold among area youth sports.
"I see the future as really, really bright in terms of progression of skills," Sanderson said. "We need kids coming in with some of those skills. Ninety percent of the kids come in not having touched a stick until the fall of their freshman year."
Olson was one of those kids.
"My freshman year was the first year I started playing, but now I wish I could have started in seventh grade when I first heard about it," he said.
"I used to play football and all the other sports like basketball, and this was the only sport I truly fell in love with and that I hope to play after high school."
First, Olson and the Irish hope to get past OES and reach the state final at 4 p.m. Saturday at Lake Oswego.
"This was my goal at the beginning of the season, to play in the final four because I knew we were going to have a good team this year," Olson said. "OES is a really good team with good coaches and I respect their team and I've played with a lot of their guys, but I am looking forward to the matchup. There is no other team I'd rather play against."
Irish midfielder Brett Whyte takes a forearm, and an illegal body check, delivered by West Linn's Michael Ail during a quarterfinal playoff match on Thursday. Sheldon won 7-4 to advance to the state semifinals and a Thursday matchup with highly regarded Oregon Episcopal. Action can be rough and tumble as Ramsey Reese takes a pass (upper photo) and an Irish player goes to the ground (above) against West Linn. Paul Carter / The Register-Guard Sheldon's Dane Olson celebrates the first of his two goals against West Linn.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; Sheldon heads into semifinals against powerful Oregon Episcopal|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||May 31, 2005|
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