[media-credit id=175 align="aligncenter" width="650"][/media-credit]Having just beaten SM South 14-0, a sweaty, proud boys’ lacrosse team makes plans to continue their celebration at Mexican restaurant Don Chilito’s. As one of a handful of freshmen on the varsity team, Nic Bailey isn’t sure if he’s allowed to tag along. Bailey waits around a little bit, worried that he won’t be invited. After all, he’s just a freshman. His worries are soon forgotten when a teammate steps up and invites Bailey. While sharing food with his teammates, Bailey realizes that while he may only be a freshman, he’s still part of the team. He’s still part of the family.
The lacrosse team has come a long way in the past several years to become the team it is today. Three years ago, the team lost to Rockhurst by 21 goals, but this year, under the direction of second year head coach Chris Kliewer, the team was finally able to beat Rockhurst 9-7. Using an emphasis on family to drive them, the team has become the first ever undefeated team in the Kansas City area and entered playoffs as the number one seed.
When Kliewer arrived at the Lancer lacrosse program last year, one of the first things he established was their sports motto, “family.” Coming from a large family, Kliewer understood the importance of being not only a team, but a family as well. At first, the team was confused and didn’t understand the significance of the saying.
“We kind of looked at it as a joke [at the beginning of the season], but embraced the idea in the end,” junior Connor McGannon. “It really brought us closer together.”
As the 2011 spring season progressed, the team really started to understand the concept. Through countless amounts of practices, games, team dinners and just joking around with each other, the team got what being a family is. Their off-game relationships had strengthened their playing and it was apparent on the field. They went into the Lacrosse Association of Kansas Schools (LAKS) State Championships as the number two seed closer than ever and continued on to win the LAKS Championships spring of 2011.
After the success of his first season at East, Kliewer reapplied the same team motto for this season. The players, especially the seniors, have continued to embody the motto and showed their younger teammates not only how to become better players, but how to be better people.
“They’re great leaders,” Bailey said. “They make me feel like I’m on the team and that I’m not an outcast, which I was afraid of.”
Kliewer said that the family bond is apparent everywhere in the team, during practices and games — even at tryouts. During the first week of tryouts, Kliewer remembers watching his team go over to a struggling athlete and support him as he finished a rigorous drill. Some teams would have just easily stood there and watch the kid struggle on his own, but not this team. This team was a family, and family must help each other out.
“These guys don’t see each other in the halls on a daily basis so when we’re here for our time of practice or at games, it’s important to stick together,” Kliewer said. “We talk about family a lot just in terms of helping each other out and when things are good, we are going to celebrate together, but when things are bad we all are going to get there to pick each other up.”
The record of past seasons 2007-2009 had been a disappointing 20-21, but ever since Kliewer took over the program, his record has been 33-7. This season, the team is 15-3. Having only lost to power schools in St. Louis and Dallas, the team has been ranked number one in the state.
“Everyone has taken it upon themselves to get better in the offseason,” senior Droste Milledge said. “We want to be the best in the Kansas City area and I think that we have accomplished that this year. We just want to keep that up and start a tradition.”
As the team continued beating team after team, they were excited, yet apprehensive about playing Rockhurst. In the 45 games against Kansas City teams over the past 17 years, Rockhurst has outscored their opponents 816-106. Rockhurst is known for being a very physical and merciless team.
“The Rockhurst game was unbelievable,” Bailey said. “I didn’t think I could compete with those guys. The defenders there are giant and really fast. And for years they’ve been top dog around here. And when we beat them, I really knew that [we were top dog].”
Kliewer is really proud of his team and the success they’ve had.
“The fact that these guys have done that [is great],” Kliewer said. “They’re kind of building their own tradition and
we’ve only been here for a short amount of time. It helps with confidence and belief and believing in what they’re able to do.”
The Lancers took on St. Thomas Aquinas at 5:30 on Wednesday night at Livestrong Sporting Park in the semifinals and won 12-7. The team will advance to play the winner of the Pembroke Hill vs. Olathe game at 7:30 on Friday night at Livestrong Sporting Park. The team hopes to repeat history and win the championship again, but they know that no matter what, they will always have each other.
“I’m a loyal guy and I hope to not go anywhere but I want these kids to come back and know that they’ll always be a part of this family,” Kliewer said.