Miners boys lacrosse start season with back-to-back wins
The Park City High School boys lacrosse team is off and running for the season, having already notched victories against two high-caliber Utah teams this season – a 7-6 away win over Herriman on March 14, and an 11-5 rout of Corner Canyon away on Saturday.
Brian Bilzi, who became head coach after the end of last season when James Meyer stepped down, had suspected last week that the team had all the pieces for another successful season. Now, he says, everything is going according to plan, even if the Herriman game was a bit of a close call.
That win, he said, reminded him of last season, when the Miners started their undefeated run to a championship title with a series of close games. That year, senior All-American midfielder Beau Pederson carried the team with a handful of crucial early season goals. Last Thursday, it was junior attackman Dylan Bauer – a key player at the team’s sharp end last season – who notched six of the team’s seven goals, with freshman midfielder Thomas Vandenberg slotting in the seventh.
The close score resulted from a strong comeback bid by Herriman. The Miners led 4-1 at halftime before Herriman scored four goals to the Miners’ two in the fourth quarter.
“Luckily they ran out of time,” Bilzi said.
He said the Miners and the coaching staff had anticipated a shaky first performance.
“The offense is still a little tentative,” he said. “It was expected. We weren’t surprised or disappointed.”
The next game, however, was surprising. After the Herriman game, Bilzi and his coaching staff – Stephen Chen and Elias Fairman – weren’t expecting their offense to run rampant over Corner Canyon, which finished third in last year’s state championship. But the Miners scored six goals in the first quarter and nine in the first half.
Bilzi said the offense had learned from its mistakes in the first game. Against Herriman, all but one of the team’s goals were unassisted, compared with five assisted goals against Corner Canyon – which Bilzi considers a sign that the offense was working better as a unit.
Vandenberg scored one goal, Bauer scored three, sophomore midfielder Kirby Banes scored two, sophomore attackman Connor Monson scored three and senior midfielder Ketch Schueler scored two.
“We expect to win every game, but it was night and day from the first game,” Bilzi said.
The solid start to the season is a promising sign that the team has the potential to repeat last season’s state-winning performance.
But Bilzi isn’t looking to just replicate last season.
“The message (to the team) has really just been we have to start over from last year,” he said. “A lot of these kids – and pretty much our entire defense – they were exposed to all that last year. They saw what they had to do, to work hard, and they know what it takes because they were big parts of it. We’re not trying to recreate these guys like (All-American goalkeeper) Connor French, (face-off specialist) Eli Levine and Beau Pederson, we just need the younger guys to step up and improve, and if they can do that we’ll be better for it.”
So far, the team’s starting lineup has consisted of Bauer, senior Conner Hales and Monson up front; Schueler, senior Toby Burke and Baynes in the midfield; and senior Teddy Elbert, senior Marc Colaizzi and junior Luke McCall on defense.
Senior Griff Riggs is guarding the net after playing some varsity time last season. Bilzi said the senior would have been a starter on almost any other team, but the Miners had French. On Saturday, Riggs stopped 10 of Corner Canyon’s 15 shots on goal.
The only other question mark for the team was whether someone would step into Eli Levine’s shoes to take the team’s faceoffs.
As luck would have it, Sam Levine – Eli’s brother – returned to the sports after taking two years off to focus on competitive skiing.
The junior Winter Sports School athlete is picking up where his brother left off.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do with that position because we didn’t have a guy on our roster who took the faceoffs besides Eli, so we didn’t really have a guy we were grooming,” Bilzi said. “Out of nowhere, Sam showed up. He was super impressive in tryouts and he’s just been looking pretty good at it. That was a stroke of luck.”
The team is also awaiting the return of junior Andrew Pederson, who has been out with a wrist injury since before the season started.
Bilzi considers Pederson to be the state’s best long stick defensive midfielder, and having him back would change the team’s dynamics.
“We’re optimistic about him,” Bilzi said. “We’re hoping maybe 3-4 weeks will have him back.”
He will play alongside Brady Baumann, a formidable short stick midfielder and one of the most experienced players on the team.
“He’s just a sparkplug,” Bilzi said. “When he’s playing, you just kind of can’t take your eyes off him. The way he plays, he’s just fast and physical and we all love him.”
Bilzi said he was excited about the way that team has started to come together this season, but to make it through the postseason again, they will have to stay sharp.
“Corner Canyon will be better next time we see them; so will Herriman,” he said.
“Were just not going to get comfortable, that’s for sure. We gotta keep pushing.”
An earlier version of this story listed Corner Canyon as taking second last season in the state lacrosse tournament. It took third. Brighton was the No. 2 team, and Park City was No. 1.
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In a season full of growth, Park City finished seventh at the Class 5A state playoffs. With five starters expected to return next year, coach Matt Carlson is taking the adversity from this past season and using it as lessons to be learned for another state title run next year.