Chippewa and Dakota boys lacrosse in midst of inaugural season

By: Mark Vest | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 16, 2017

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Mike Benavides and Rob Dameron are the co-coaches of the combined Macomb Dakota and Clinton Township Chippewa Valley boys lacrosse team, which is in its inaugural season. 

Although, at press time, the Cougars were 2-11 overall and 1-7 in the Macomb Area Conference White Division, Benavides understands that as a first-year program, there were going to be some struggles.

And while he said the players have made great strides, the team’s win-loss record isn’t Benavides’ top priority this season.

“It’s all about their future,” he said. “I tell the kids, we don’t really care about the scoreboard, in essence, because this first year’s all about laying the foundation. The seniors that I have are incredible. I talk about the legacy that they’re going to leave and the history that they’re writing.”

When the team beat the combined squad of Sterling Heights High and Warren Mott May 1 at home, it gave the program its first victory.

In order to have more exciting days and nights ahead, the program, which is not funded by either Dakota or Chippewa, is going to need some help.

“Our long-term goal is to continue to recruit the halls of Dakota High School and Chippewa Valley High School,” Benavides said. “With two schools of that size and two schools with so many great athletes, we’d love to give any student the opportunity to come out and try something new.”

Benavides would like to recruit more students like Dakota senior Nikola Blazevski to the program.

“I couldn’t be more blessed with this opportunity,” said Blazevski. “When I first heard of this program coming to my school, I jumped on the opportunity. I find it interesting, cool and meaningful to try something new and go out of your comfort zone and push yourself.”

Given that Benavides has more than 10 years of experience as an assistant coach on the Dakota football squad, he is well aware of the rivalry that exists between the co-oping schools.

After it was learned there wasn’t enough interest to field a full team at Chippewa, Benavides was open to the idea of welcoming students from Dakota’s rival school into the program and calling them “brothers.”

“Tickles me a little bit to have them wear their Dakota jersey,” said Benavides. “They’re great kids about it. …  One of the things we do, we wear our uniforms to school on game day. … The first time I said that, some of the kids looked at me like I was crazy … But they now embrace it. They look forward to it.”

Of the 27 student-athletes on the roster, six are from Chippewa.

Chippewa junior Nathan Ford said he was excited to play the sport, and teaming up with Dakota students is no problem for him.

“It gave me an opportunity to meet more people and create new friends and new teammates that I call brothers now,” Ford said.

As the season has progressed, Benavides has observed that the players have been paying more attention to detail and getting better.

And while he said this season has been exhilarating, the best could be yet to come for the Cougars, who also have a JV squad.

“I’m super excited about our future; super excited about our growth this year,” Benavides said. “Moving forward, I’m really looking forward to our first full offseason of weight training, speed and agility work, and doing the things that we didn’t have an offseason to do. … This year’s almost like an apprenticeship for all of us.”

Up next, the Cougars play in a road playoff game against Romeo High at 6 p.m. May 19 at Memorial Field.