Scotts Valley High girls lacrosse coach Colleen Niklaus has been having a blast watching this year’s senior class, especially Ellie Raffo and Siena Wong who helped launch the program during their freshman year.
The third-year skipper mentioned this particular group has been through it all, from the Covid-19 pandemic to most recently the rain storms that have canceled four of the Falcons’ games this season.
Most of the core group is returning along with a slew of new players, including more freshmen and sophomores, one junior and a couple of seniors who trickled in from other sports programs.
“But that’s what it is at Scotts Valley and that’s what it actually is in a lot of Santa Cruz County with lacrosse,” Niklaus said.
Niklaus continues to build the program with players that have great athletic backgrounds but are new to lacrosse. She said it’s been fun to be able to teach them a new sport, and once they get the foundational skills, they can play a good part of the team.
“All of them have really good field awareness, which I’ve noticed,” Wong said. “It’s just getting the hang of stick skills.”
Raffo said the only thing setting them back right now are the rain storms. Raffo believes they got enough introduction and preparation before the storms, but it’s not the same as being in a game situation. Plus, the Falcons haven’t been able to practice on a full length field.
“It’ll be interesting, our first game, because I don’t think we’ve played as a team on the field,” Wong said.
Wong and Raffo were the leaders from the get-go when they helped start the program three years ago. Niklaus said both players have been fantastic by trying to recruit players and welcoming the new players with great attitudes.
Raffo will compete at UC Davis (NCAA Division I) and Wong will play at Vassar College (NCAA D-III) next season.
“I am excited about this year and I don’t want to see it end,” Niklaus said. “I don’t want to see them graduate.”
Raffo said they made sure to take things easy by introducing the sport rather than perfecting it and fine tuning little aspects.
“We’re also teaching these beginners, but focusing on bettering the players who came in with us,” she said.
Some of the new players joining this year’s team include sophomore Dillon Fiorita, who is coming to them from the soccer season. Falcons tennis players Stella Cheney, a junior, and Erin Szymanski have also been nice additions to the lacrosse team.
“They are able to transfer their hand-eye coordination from tennis to lacrosse,” Niklaus said. “It seems like they’re really loving it.”
Wong believes they’ll be a strong contender this season and they’re looking forward to a rematch against Los Gatos, which beat the Falcons in overtime in last year’s Central Coast Section semifinals.
The goal is to make a deeper run in the postseason and this time win the Pacific Coast Athletic League title outright instead of sharing it like they did with Stevenson last season. The Falcons finished with a 10-1 record in league play and were 14-2 overall in 2022.
“It’s our senior year, make sure we keep the spirit alive in those freshmen and make sure the program continues,” Raffo said.
It seems like the heartbreaking playoff loss happened just yesterday for most of the Falcons players, including returning sophomores and co-captains Sofia Niklaus and Taylor Santos, who stepped into more of a leadership role this season.
“Especially since there’s a lot more new people this year,” Niklaus said. “It’s also just easier when you feel like you know more people.”
Other key returners for the Falcons include goalkeeper Olivia Tinetti and the Dufour sisters–Payton and Skyler.
Payton Dufour, a senior, said they lost some players from last year’s squad, but they managed to gain some new ones that have quickly learned to play up to a varsity level speed. However, she also brought up the storms and how much it’s affected them playing as a team on the field.
“All of the new players haven’t actually gotten to fully experience a lined-out field,” she said. “So, going into the games they’re gonna kind of have no idea how the layout of the field is, but I think they’ll be OK.”
Colleen Niklaus said she’s excited to see how this year’s group of leaders can take the underclassmen under their wings.
“This year their confidence has just grown, so the four (Niklaus, Raffo, Santos and Wong) of them are a real fun group to work with,” Niklaus said. “They’re positive, really fun to watch and they’re all coming in with high level lacrosse that they’ve been upping their game from last year.”
The Falcons are scheduled to play their first games of the season this weekend, starting at Los Gatos on Friday at 5pm, followed by a match at Mitty High on Saturday at 11:30am.