With still one game to play, Tuesday at home against Crowley, Lake Ridge has already assured itself a playoff berth, and the Eagles are off to the postseason with a district trophy in hand in just the school’s second season.
“It’s huge for us and huge for our program,” head coach Cory Elolf said. “Most importantly, it’s good for our seeding in the playoffs.”
It’s not a total surprise that Lake Ridge was the best team in District 16-4A this season. The Eagles finished second last year and advanced three rounds deep in the playoffs, then lost only three seniors from that squad.
“We had the kids in place, it was just a matter of them stepping up and playing their roles,” Elolf said. “We’re still young. We have only five seniors. There are three freshmen on the team and some sophomores that have to contribute. But they’re really mature from a lot of game experience.”
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The district title means a lot to the seniors such as midfielder Juan Correa.
“It was a pretty big deal to me because it’s my senior year and I wanted to go out as a champion,” he said.
“It was nice for the seniors to leave a legacy for those younger guys,” Elolf added. “It’s like, ‘Here’s where the bar is set.’”
One reason for the Eagles’ success this season stems from their balance. You won’t find any Lake Ridge players among the area’s leading scorers, and that’s just fine with Elolf.
“It’s not one player that has the team on his back this year,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest difference. Last year, we kind of leaned on one guy. This year is more of a team concept. I wouldn’t say that there’s one individual that we look at to score or to take over the game.”
To his point, Austin Strout and Jared Stubblefield share the team lead in scoring with nine goals each, followed by Correa’s seven. And Correa adds that the team’s balance extends beyond its starting 11.
“We have good players on the bench; we have good depth,” he said.
Also factoring into that balance is a defense that posted 10 shutouts and allowed just four goals in 13 district games. Goaltender David Lampe is the quarterback of that back line and has accounted for nine of those shutouts.
“We move the ball around and have been playing with each other since our freshmen year. We all know each other well,” Lampe said. “We just play as a family and communicate well.”
Elolf was also quick to point out that his defensemen don’t just hang back and wait to be attacked.
“We have a pair of outside backs in Steven Ponciano and Jessie Diaz that do an outstanding job of getting into the attack more and helping us stretch out a lot of the offenses that we’ve faced.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Eagles faced this season was complacency.
“We got a little cocky earlier in the year,” Lampe admitted. “We let the wins go to our head. Once we got cocky, we didn’t play the way we usually play. We have to take that into account and just play our game.”
Recognizing that now could help the team’s mentality entering the playoffs. As the district champion, Lake Ridge will face the District 15-4A fourth seed – which will be determined Tuesday. And one thing Elolf feels the team should have learned from last year is that the best team doesn’t necessarily always win in the postseason. He can point to Lake Ridge’s area round playoff victory against South Hills, when the Eagles were outplayed but managed a 2-1 win.
“The best team doesn’t always win all the time. You have to take your chances when you get your shots,” he said. “If we can take anything from that – it’s that it’s the playoffs and you can have a bad game then it’s over. You’re only guaranteed 80 minutes to play, so you have to take advantage of your opportunities out there.”