Rising Maverick boys focused on seizing CIF lacrosse title
In the five years (not counting pandemic-halted 2020) that Kevin Cooper has coached at La Costa Canyon the boys lacrosse team has never finished lower in the post-season than the semi-finals of the CIF Open Division Playoffs. During that span, LCC has registered a sterling, 78-23, overall mark despite playing a national caliber regular season schedule and competing in what is likely the toughest league in San Diego.
So far, the 2023 Mavericks seem every bit capable of extending that streak of excellence, sitting on a 10-4 record and the No. 3 ranking in the section. The four losses have come against the No. 2 team in Colorado (Valor Christian), the No. 5 team in Texas (Southlake) and the No. 3-4 teams in Los Angeles/Orange County (Loyola of L.A./Foothill). Despite the promising start, Cooper feels his current club is still ascending.
“Honestly, we’re still trying to figure out our identity, who we’ll eventually be,” said Cooper. “We do know we want to be a really selfless group that plays hard and cares about each other—we’re doing well in that department.”
Beginning from the back, senior Cade Conahey is the starter in goal but Cooper has a pair of good stoppers there. The defense is has some new faces, with junior Ben Auger, senior Drew Gonzalez and freshman Ford Mitchell leading the way.
LCC is tough and gritty in the middle of the field with senior Ryder Ochoa anchoring things while pairing with offensive-minded junior Beau Hokanson and freshman Jackson Schaffer. Cooper calls Ochoa “our unsung hero” and “a guy who does everything for us, basically on the field the whole game and a player whose contributions can never really be measured in the stat book.”
The offense is the strength of the squad. With ultra-skilled senior Ben Beacham at the controls, the LCC attack is formidable. Led by Beacham and his running mates, senior Carson Craft and junior Tommy bull, along with Hokanson and Ochoa, La Costa Canyon is capable of piling up goals against even the best defenses.
A recent clash with highly-regarded Foothill offered a prime example. Despite suffering a 13-12 defeat, the Mavericks’ offensive talents were in full force as they scored on 12 of 16 possessions.
Missing face-off specialist Cooper Mau, they lost 21 of 23 draws and saw their opponents rack up 21 more possessions—and still lost by just a single goal.
“ It was a case of ‘loved the game but hated the results,’ ” summarized Cooper. “There were some positives and for us to be in a game like that was amazing.
“I think our boys learned from it and were better off after it.” Cooper’s long term focus is seeing “complimentary lacrosse” from his charges.
“We certainly have a high-powered, aggressive offense and are an athletic group overall,” said Cooper. “But unless we produce on both ends of the field, win our face offs and take care of the little things, it doesn’t matter how impressive our attack is.”
LCC will have a perfect opportunity to see how much they’ve improved this Friday. The Mavs travel south to square off against arch rival Torrey Pines. The Falcons are 11-3, ranked No. 1 in San Diego and have won the last three CIF Open Division titles, knocking off LCC en route each year, twice in the championship game. When queried about the big Avocado League game a week ago, Cooper acknowledged its importance but took a one step at a time approach.
“It’s obviously our biggest game of the year, no dancing around that,” he said, “but that’s something I won’t get into until the week of the game.
“I always focus more on my team than the other. My message before every game is ‘if we handle what we need to handle we can beat anybody.’ “ That said, there was clearly a healthy respect for the defending champs.
“Torrey Pines is always a deep, talented, well-rounded and well-coached team,” said Cooper. “Our main goal is winning the CIF Championship and as the saying goes, ‘iron sharpens iron.’
“They’re always a great measuring stick and winning that game would be massive heading into the playoffs.”
Q&A WITH LCC’S BEN BEACHAM
Encinitas native Ben Beacham seems like he was born to play this role. The 6-2, 185-lb. senior is the latest in a line of dynamic offensive performers at La Costa Canyon, a fantastic dodger who can shoot and feed with both hands. He’s played the sport for roughly a decade, following in the footsteps of older brothers, Andrew and Noah, who now play D-1 lacrosse at Towson and Maryland respectively. A four-year varsity starter who’s racked up 42 goals and 13 assists so far this season, he’s clearly earned the respect and admiration of his head coach.
“For my money, Ben’s the best player in town and one of the best in the country,” said Cooper matter-of-factly. “We’re going to be leaning very heavily on him down the stretch.”With the end of the regular season and the CIF Playoffs rapidly looming, the 18-year-old standout took the time to share thoughts on a variety of subjects including his time at LCC, how he sees his role on this year’s team and what the team hopes to accomplish before the season is concluded.
Q—Can you believe your LCC career is almost over?
BEACHAM—Honestly, no. It’s gone by really, really fast, especially this year. The LCC program has been very special to me. I watched my brothers play what seemed like forever. I watched, learned and looked up to them. I wanted to be in their position, now I am and it’s almost finished.
Q—How does this year’s team stack up against the previous LCC teams you’ve played on?
BEACHAM—We had a group of impactful seniors that graduated last year and this is definitely a younger group of guys. It’s been kind of an identity-finding season with a lot of kids sort of forced into the fire.
For myself and the other veterans, part of our job has been to make sure the program stays consistent with what’s made it great—get across the message that when you step onto the field, you’re not playing for yourself but as part of the team and we won’t win unless everyone connects with each other.
It’s important that the new kids are able to learn and not be afraid to make mistakes. Guys like sophomore Jackson Schaffer and freshmen Ford Mitchell and Everett Kerkhoff are among those who have been able to step in and contribute. We have a lot of talented players and I think this team has the ability to be really successful because of the closeness and energy we’ve developed.
Q—For a person who hasn’t watched lacrosse, how would you describe your style of play?
BEACHAM—I like to approach the game of lacrosse in terms of making everybody around me better, focusing on team, not individual success, so I try to play as much as I can with the guys around me.
I play a lot behind the goal and from there, I am able to see everything in front of me. When I start the attack and am dodging defenders, I can analyze how they react to different situations and figure out how we can take advantage of that. When I see guys winning their individual match-ups, I try to get the ball to them.
Q—What gives you more satisfaction, scoring a goal or making a great pass?
BEACHAM—I would have to say creating offense for others. A lot of the time, I can be kind of like a quarterback and getting the ball on my stick seems to allow the offense to settle in and create match-ups that will be beneficial.
If I have an open shot near the goal, I’ll take it but if I can force defenders to come near the goal it opens things up for our outside shooters. It’s easier to distribute the ball than trying to beat two guys on the other team. Making the one extra pass is more likely to result in a goal for us, especially with guys like Beau Hokanson, Carson Craft, Tommy Bull and Ryder Ochoa taking the shots. I trust that my teammates can make the play when I get them the ball.
Q—What kind of impact has Coach Kevin Cooper had on your game?
BEACHAM—He has been a phenomenal coach. He’s been the key factor in making my LCC career so memorable and preparing me for college lacrosse. Kevin’s tremendously experienced and has a great lacrosse mind. He’s able to explain the simple things that make the difference in games very well.
He’s pulled me aside hundreds of times, corrected my mistakes and explained how to improve on something I’m already doing well. He teaches us something new and evolves our games every single day.
Q—How important is it to you and your fellow seniors to finish this season with a championship?
BEACHAM—Extremely important, but it won’t be easy. We’ve got a tough game with Torrey Pines Friday that would be a significant step in that direction. It’s a little different now, though. In the past, it was just us and Torrey Pines but lacrosse in general has grown in San Diego the last couple of years and there are other teams out there that can present difficulties.
That said, this what we’ve worked for the past four years. For me, I watched my oldest brother win CIF his senior year and remember the happiness he felt. I want to feel that myself and I’m sure my teammates do too.
If we play as a team, I believe we have the capability as a unit to go as far as any team in San Diego. Our senior co-captains have worked hard—in pre-season, after practice and in games—to show what it takes.
Q—What’s on the horizon for you, post-graduation?
BEACHAM—I will be attending University of Pennsylvania and playing Ivy League lacrosse next year. I’m looking to live in the weight room over the summer to be ready for fall ball. Academically, I’ll be studying at the Wharton School of Business so that’s something else I’ll have to adjust to. After high school, my most important goal is to be as ready as I can in all aspects when I step foot on campus next fall.
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