Lacrosse is Boss in Park City
Last Wednesday, the Utah Lacrosse Association celebrated the end of the high school season with all-star games for all of its divisions, recognizing the achievements of individual players around the state. But the real all-star was Park City High School. Not only did the high school host all three division championship games on Dozier Field, it also boasted a record number of postseason award recipients, a second-place finish at state in the girls’ division and this fall, the Miners will send their first female player to a Division-I collegiate program.
It could have been a number of factors that contributed to the team’s success, but most of the Park City athletes who received postseason awards blame it on the weather.
Even though the long winter and lingering snow made it an interesting season for the Park City High School lacrosse team, it brought more than adversity, it also brought unity.
It was a challenging season for all of the school spring sports teams, but the snowy fields and unconventional practices somehow brought the teams together rather than tearing them apart.
"It was the adversity we faced," said senior Kasi Lemons. "It made us come together."
The boys agreed.
"This season’s practices were held in different environments," senior Corey Shurtleff said. "We seemed to step up and play better."
"There was a lot more team bonding, team unity," added Dillon Dutkanych.
In fact, sunny weather wasn’t even welcomed half of the time.
"We didn’t play that well in good weather," said Dutkanych.
"Or the other teams played worse in good weather," chimed in Matt Mersereau, laughing.
Rather than practicing at the same time every evening on the home field, both teams trained with a combination of snow shoveling on the home field, practicing on the grass turf of the Basin Recreation Field House, and practicing at outdoor fields far away from home.
Other factors also helped the Miners succeed this year.
Both Park City teams are coached by former college players, who know a lot about the game and challenge the teams to play at the highest level. Lemons said that girls’ head coach Amy Hafets is constantly teaching and encouraging the girls to play better and rewarding them for their efforts.
"How hard you work gets you on the field," Lemons said.
The Miners were also helped by a few gifts from the East Coast. Gian Sexsmith, Chris Baer and Lemons all moved into the area this season a brought a level of lacrosse rarely seen out West.
"It’s more of an upbringing in the East," Lemons said.
All three received postseason nods, including a rare All-America honor bestowed on Lemons, who is bound for the Division I St. Mary’s lacrosse program next year.
Not only did the new faces help the Miners, but Park City is finally seeing its youth development programs start to come of age. The interest level in Park City in lacrosse continues to grow like wildfire and more and more kids are feeding into the program. This year, the girls’ program had eight seniors and a number of talented underclassmen. Park City, and to some extent even the rest of the league, saw the Miners’ potential, but the girls shocked some of the top teams as they rolled through the playoffs and took the state championship games to double overtime before finally losing to Murray.
"Everyone’s goal this year was to win state," said Ashley Reynolds.
"No one thought we could get that far," added Lemons.
They struggled against some of the league’s tougher teams in the regular season, but beat them in the playoffs.
"We had to overcome as a team," player Hailey Brook said.
The boys also shocked the league with their success. Ranked at No. 10 coming into the season, the boys’ squad was clearly underestimated. Not only did they win most of their games and reach the second round of the playoffs, but they were the only team to beat the eventual state champion, Bountiful. Mersereau said the team knew they had the talent at the start of the season.
"We took second in the fall league," he said. "We knew we had the potential. We just had to step up. It was cool that we came out and made a statement."
The boys fell to Bingham in the second round after a slow start in a morning game on a small grass field at the edge of the Salt Lake Valley. But they were still pleased with their season.
"It was a big deal to get to a high level and trust each other," Shurtleff said.
The team will lose Sexsmith, Shurtleff, Ryan Emerson and Baer to graduation, but all plan to go on to the college club level next year.
When they are not playing together on the field, both teams are hanging out together off the field. The boys say they spend copious amounts of time at head coach Ryan Sheaffer’s house eating pizza, and the girls say they share most weekend activities with their teammates.
"We had such a strong bond," said Reynolds. "We’re such good friends."
They are also unified across gender lines. The boys were all there to support the girls at the state finals. Some even gave the girls a special pep talk before the game.
And now, as the sport gets bigger and bigger locally, the Park City players are hoping to see it continue to grow in the state. It is already highly organized in high schools from Provo to Logan, but needs to stretch south and west to become a sanctioned spot in Utah.
"It’s all a development thing," Lemons said. "It will get stronger as it goes."
The game is becoming a fan favorite in Park City. The girls had a record crowd at the state championship game, with bleachers filled with supporters.
"We looked over at the sidelines and were like, "Wow, we better step it up,’" Lemons said. "We had never experienced that."
Lemons said that some of the state’s top players are already good enough to compete against East Coast players but the state still needs to garner more respect. Park City players who hope to be seen by big programs need to travel to East Coast tournaments to be seen by college coaches.
"You personally have to take the step," Lemons said.
And even then, the Utah players find themselves having to earn respect from teammates and coaches.
"At competitions and tournaments, we have to have the drive to play," Traci Shurtleff said. "The East Coast players show up and expect to be chosen."
But both the girls and boys from Park City agree that it only makes them play better.
East Coast players tend to be competitive and out for themselves, not the team, Lemons said. In Park City, players encourage each other to improve and play well to help the team. Even opposing teams help each other on the field and share kind words off the field.
"Here is the total opposite of my old high school," Lemons said.
Sexsmith and Lemons said that, when they made the decision to move here, it was the attitudes of the local players that made the final decision easy for them.
"Back east, I hardly played at all," Baer said. "Out here they gave me a chance and look what I can do."
It’s that positive attitude and drive to play at the highest level that should make Park City a lacrosse all-star for years to come.
Park City award winners:
Kasi Lemons US Lacrosse All-American, Offensive MVP, 1st Team All-State
Traci Shurtleff – 1st Team All-State
Hailey Brook 2nd Team All-State
Ashley Reynolds – 2nd Team All-State
Gian Sexsmith – 1st Team All-Conference, 1st Team All-State
Ryan Emerson – 1st Team All-Conference, 2nd Team All-State
Chris Baer – 1st Team All-Conference, 1st Team All-State
Corey Shurtleff – 1st Team All-Conference, 2nd Team All-State
Erik Hughes – 1st Team All-Conference, 2nd Team All-State
Dillon Dutkanych – 2nd Team All-Conference
Matt Mersereau – 2nd Team All-Conference
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Gov. Cox announced that the state’s mask mandate in schools would end for the last week of classes. Park City School District officials strongly recommended that students continue to wear masks. South Summit officials anticipated they would not require masks for the final week.