UTICA — When Utica took the field against L’Anse Creuse on March 21, it was not only the first time the school was represented on a lacrosse field, it was also the first time on a lacrosse field for several of the players.
After playing as a unified team with Utica Ford II for the past three seasons, MHSAA rules mandated that the two schools must now play separately. With the vast majority of the unified team’s players attending Ford, Utica was left with six athletes from that team to begin the lacrosse program.
In an effort to get enough kids on the team, junior captain Eddie Janis took it upon himself to recruit his friends and other athletes to the new team.
“I didn’t go by if they knew lacrosse or not; I just knew by other sports if they were quick, fast and strong, and I knew by their heart if they were good, so I just went with that,” Janis said of his recruiting efforts.
Having played lacrosse since the third grade, Janis is the most experienced member of the Utica team. Seven players have experience at the junior varsity level from last season, but Janis is the lone Chieftain who played prior to high school.
“The team’s improved exponentially,” Janis said. “They’ve been doing better than I’ve ever thought. As a team, as a whole, they’ve been doing amazingly. Yes, we’ve lost games, but we’re growing so we’re still learning.”
Gabe Marquez is the head coach of the squad. He joined the coaching staff of the unified team two seasons ago after playing lacrosse for a season at Davenport University.
Russ Janis will be Marquez’s assistant coach, and he brings with him 11 years of experience coaching lacrosse at the middle school level.
Despite the youth of his team, Marquez said that his team is learning the game very quickly.
“It’s been going pretty good because we went from literally playing out in the parking lot with cars in our way to playing on a field that has no lines,” Marquez said. “The first time these guys saw an actual field was last Friday against L’Anse Creuse, so that was their first actual time on a field seeing the lines and seeing where the positions are actually supposed to be played.”
Freshman midfielder Chris Holdstock was one of those athletes stepping foot onto a lacrosse field for the first time that night. Less than a month ago, Holdstock had never seen a lacrosse stick before.
“The first time I stepped on the practice field was basically the first time I ever saw a lacrosse stick,” Holdstock said. “The game was a good time. It was something new, so I didn’t know what quite to expect, but it was something I enjoyed a lot. At first, I was intimidated, but then I felt the flow better and more comfortable as the game went on.”
Utica has no seniors on the roster, and the team is largely made up of freshmen and sophomores. Janis, and sophomore defenders Joe Brown and Ethan Fromm, make up the trio of captains.
Although Utica has struggled in two losses against L’Anse Creuse and Port Huron United to start the season, Marquez has high hopes for his group moving forward.
“They’re committed. There is a community here with these kids. They love the game. … It’s a tight-knit group that I really like,” Marquez said.
“In the next two years, this will be a really good team. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the district. Our kids are respectful, and they don’t play dirty. They play for the love of the game, and I think that’s what’s going to make our team really strong.”
Utica will be playing a full schedule in the MAC White this year. The Chieftains’ next game will be on April 3 when they host Warren Cousino at Swinehart Field.