Los Gatos High boys lacrosse coach Chris Nespor will be the first to tell you the Wildcats haven’t had the season they were hoping for.
However, with two matches left in the regular-season and a strong possibility of making the Central Coast Section playoffs, the Wildcats can be proud of overcoming a season of adversity and still having a strong possibility of extending their season.
If the Wildcats end up finishing in second place in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Gabilan Division, they will play the Mission Division champion for the league’s second automatic CCS playoff berth. If that happens, Los Gatos will have done it despite having two of their top players missing most of the season and various factors such as a spate of injuries and having to replace over a half-dozen starters from the 2022 squad which has made it difficult to compete against the top teams in the section.
“Last year we graduated 18 seniors and that’s a big number in itself, but add in the fact that you had a four-year starter at goalie, a four-year faceoff guy and the whole starting defense, that’s a lot of key pieces that needed replacing,” Nespor said. “This year’s guys just needed more experience to get up to speed to the varsity level.”
Los Gatos entered the week 6-9 overall and 4-1 in league. The Wildcats are favored to beat Pacific Grove and Carmel before the regular-season finale against first-place Stevenson on May 5. They lost the first match to Stevenson by a 15-5 final, though it was just a one-score game at halftime.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot [in the second half] so we’re excited for the rematch,” Nespor said. “We’ll have a chip on our shoulders for sure.”
By far the northernmost school in the Gabilan Division, Los Gatos had to find a new league after the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League decided to not support boys lacrosse for the 2023 season. The Wildcats applied to be a supplemental member school to a handful of leagues but the PCAL was the only one to pick them up.
Despite logging extended travel time for road games, Nespor felt fortunate to get picked up by the PCAL and not have to go independent this season.
“We’re lucky the PCAL brought us in and the competition level has been fine,” he said. “Travel-wise, we got the short end of the stick, but we’re happy to be in this league.”
Nespor said the team has been led by players such as senior attack Colt Cali, junior attack Jack Baldwin and freshman defender Zach Otoupal. Cali leads the team in both goals and assists and draws plenty of attention from the opposition.
Baldwin has had more of a reserve role in the last two years but has come on strong this season, his third year on the varsity. Nespor said Baldwin has been explosive on draws and also draws a lot of attention.
Otoupal has made an immediate impact as a freshman, collecting ground balls at a prodigious rate and often causing turnovers which lead to fast break attacks in the offensive end.
“Zach has definitely been a really nice surprise and has scored multiple goals running the long stick,” Nespor said.
Concussions have limited two of the team’s top players—Chase Hooper and Michael Hoffman—to a handful of games this season. However, Nespor said Hoffman was expected to return against Aptos on April 20 and Hooper’s return could be imminent.
“Having those two guys back will be a big boost not just performance-wise but morale-wise as we are putting our best unit on the field,” Nespor said. “Chase is our main faceoff guy and good offensively and defensively. He can do it all.”
To underscore what the team has dealt with this season, it is down to its fourth goalie after the first three were lost either due to injury, academic ineligibility and other issues. Los Gatos had to look to its junior varsity roster and pulled up sophomore Alex Canning, who has done an admirable job as the new starter.
Canning had six saves in a 12-5 league crossover win over Hollister on April 13.
“We had to call an audible and go with Alex, and we’re lucky we have two JV goalies and were able to use one of them,” Nespor said.
Despite having a sub .500 overall record, the program is thriving in numbers with 32 players on the varsity and 26 on the junior varsity. For everything the team has had to deal with, it has stayed resolute and now has a probable playoff appearance upcoming.
‘We’ve still got a lot to play for,” Nespor said. “That’s always a good thing.”