Macomb Dakota senior John Gutmann (26) advances the ball during a May 10 match with Macomb L’Anse Creuse North. Gutmann is one of nine players on the team from Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.

Macomb Dakota senior John Gutmann (26) advances the ball during a May 10 match with Macomb L’Anse Creuse North. Gutmann is one of nine players on the team from Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Aided by Chippewa Valley, Dakota lacrosse eyes playoff success in sophomore season

By: Timothy Pontzer | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published May 14, 2018

 Macomb Dakota freshman Robbie Dameron carries the ball in a May 10 match with Macomb L’Anse Creuse North. The Cougars beat the Crusaders 10-9, improving to 13-3 overall.

Macomb Dakota freshman Robbie Dameron carries the ball in a May 10 match with Macomb L’Anse Creuse North. The Cougars beat the Crusaders 10-9, improving to 13-3 overall.

Photo by Donna Agusti

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — This past fall, Macomb Dakota and Clinton Township Chippewa Valley clashed twice on the gridiron.

In both instances of the bitter rivalry, the Big Reds were victorious, winning a regular season matchup and a playoff affair to keep local bragging rights until next year.

However, for the past two springs, the two sides have met on Dakota’s turf under one banner. Pushing aside any animosity, the schools have combined to form one lacrosse program.

“We go back and forth, always bringing up football scores to argue who is better,” said senior John Gutmann, a student at Chippewa Valley. “It’s really cool. They welcomed us right away. They took us in simply as their teammates, and the coaches have given us equal opportunities to compete. There may be two separate teams in the future but for now we’re building up one program in the district and it’s fun.”

Nine players from Chippewa Valley wear Dakota’s colors as a part of a program  only in its second year of existence. In total, 42 players are on the varsity and JV rosters.

“I joke with the kids and say could you imagine what we could do if we combined both football or basketball programs?” Dakota co-head coach Mike Benavides said with a laugh. “It’s great to see the camaraderie and brotherhood. When we put on that uniform, we don’t see school colors, skin colors or even gender. We have three girls on the team. Everyone is in it for the love of the game.”

The female players are underclassmen competing on JV. In the future, Benavides hopes to see both a boys and girls team competing for the two rivals.

“Being a second-year program, we’re approaching this like a business with a five-year plan,” Benavides explained. “We want to continue to grow and have enough for a JV B team. We’d like to see a girls team. At Chippewa, I would love to see them get their own program and continue on that tradition of our rivalry.”

A physical education and health teacher at Iroquois Middle School, Benavides has served on the Dakota football staff since 2004. A 1993 graduate of Macomb L’Anse Creuse North, Benavides played lacrosse for the Crusaders for three years and hoped to eventually bring the sport to his place of employment.

“I joined my high school team as a way to stay in shape for football and, within two days, I fell in love with the game,” Benavides said. “We tried to get lacrosse started at Dakota 10 years ago, but it didn’t work out. Two years ago, we were approached about starting one.”

Together with fellow co-head coach Rob Dameron, Benavides oversaw the creation of a brand new athletic venture at the largest public high school in the state.

A 1989 graduate of Warren De La Salle, Dameron was an All-American lacrosse player for the Pilots before serving as a team captain for Michigan State University. Dameron coached at De La Salle from 1995 to 2000 and Grosse Pointe North from 2001 to 2005.

“(Dameron) has more experience in coaching lacrosse and I had more experience coaching Dakota athletes,” Benavides said. “We thought that together we would be a good blend. It’s worked out really well. He does all the offense and I take care of the defensive side.”

While the team competes in MHSAA competition and in the Macomb Area Conference White Division, the new program is entirely self-funded by players and parents.

“We’ve been very fortunate to get really good kids from really good families,” Benavides said. “They’re willing to work very hard both on and off the field for this to work.”

In the inaugural season, Dakota went 2-12. At press time, the varsity was 13-3, while the JV side was 9-3.

“The biggest thing was we had our first offseason. We had a very positive turnout in conditioning and the weight room,” Benavides said. “Guys played lacrosse in the fall and winter leagues. The players returning simply got so much better. Last year, we were teaching the game as it was going on, but now we’re moving fast and flying around. It’s night and day.”

The fact that a team was available led to an influx of talent this season, with seven underclassmen joining who carried travel or club experience. In the MAC White, Dakota holds a 6-2 record, with both losses coming to first-place Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse.

“We would’ve liked to win the league, but that’s something we’ll shoot for next year,” Benavides said. “We’re so proud of the team this year. Our goal is to play a better lacrosse game than the previous day. Our approach doesn’t focus on the opponents, we only look at us. We want to work hard and get ready to have an opportunity to be successful.”

With the regular season dwindling down, the club has its sights set on a historic postseason push.

“We’re hoping to finish out our regular season strong and take the momentum into the playoffs,” said Gutmann, who will play lacrosse at Grand Valley State next year. “The seniors set a goal at the beginning of the year that we will bring Dakota the first playoff win in program history and we hope to deliver on that goal.”

Given their winning record, Dakota has a chance to be seeded high enough to host a playoff contest.

“We’d love to host a playoff game in only our second year,” Benavides said. “We just want to get in and be the spoiler and look to mess everyone’s spring up. It’s kind of hard to be under the radar at Dakota, but that’s exactly how it is for us being the new kids on the block.”