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Pacers set to defend title

After losing two 50-plus goal scorers to graduation, everyone figured that the defending state champion Lakeridge boys lacrosse team would face an uphill battle this season.

Guess again.

This year's squad, which features a more balanced approach, is 4-0 and has out-scored its four opponents by a 50-9 margin.

That includes an 11-5 victory over a very good Sunset team and a 10-0 win over an up-and-coming Liberty team. In addition, the Pacers scored a 19-3 win over Oregon City and a 20-1 victory over Putnam - a pair of second-tier Three Rivers League teams.

'And I don't think we've played a complete game yet,' Lakeridge coach Curt Sheinin said.

Sheinin wasn't sure what to expect coming into the season, knowing that he would have to replace the departed Connor Martin, who topped the 70-goal mark last season, and Justin Blackmore, who turned in a 50-goal, 50-assist season in 2006. It was no surprise that both of those players made the All-America team.

'Those two were incredible,' Sheinin said.

Replacing that high-scoring tandem will be three attackmen - Max Schlesinger, Danny Purcell and Andrew Clayton - who all have the capability of scoring 50 or more goals in a season. Schlesinger and Purcell both showed last year that they could play at a high level. In the state championship game against Oregon Episcopal School last year, Schlesinger scored the winning goal while falling down backwards. Purcell added two tallies in that game.

The Pacers also have a strong midfield with senior Brett Klitz, senior Joe Cramer and junior Connor Ryan. In addition to being a hard-nosed player, Klitz also is one of the best face-off men around. But when he got injured in last year's state semifinal game against Lincoln, Cramer showed he could pick up the slack.

On defense, all-state performer Spenser Halvorsen is back for his final year. 'I think he's the best defender in the state,' Sheinin said.

But fellow defender Grant Neely isn't too far behind.

Sheinin also feels that goalkeeper Cooper Robbins is the best in the state, and he turned in a playoff run last season that would make it hard for anyone to argue.

'I wouldn't trade him for anyone in the state,' Sheinin said of goalie. 'And he's playing better now.'

Lakeridge has won seven state titles, including the last two in a row. Because of that success, 87 kids turned out for the team's first practice this winter. That large turnout meant Sheinin had to cut seniors - three of them, in fact - for the first time ever. Still the coach is carrying 30 kids on the varsity squad, which is about five more than he usually suits down. The only problem is a majority of those players have no previous varsity experience.

'We don't have a lot of depth, so we've got to depend on our starters more,' Sheinin said. 'But this year's team just refuses to lose.'

The Pacers are off to another great start, but the team's record might have a blemish or two by mid-April. During the two weeks that follow spring break, the Pacers will meet Mercer Island, the defending Washington State champs, and St. Ignatius (Calif.), which is ranked No. 2 in the West. Following the St. Ignatius contest will be games against two more very good California teams. Plus, the top two Three Rivers League foes - Lake Oswego and West Linn - also appear on the schedule during that time.

If the Pacers are still standing after that brutal stretch, people will once again be talking about the possibility of another state title. Is it possible that Lakeridge could win a third state title in a row?

'If we stay healthy, I think we can,' Sheinin said. 'The players are very hungry still … two is not enough for them.'

Sheinin calls this an extremely fun team to coach, partly because there's a lot of character among the players.

'It's the attitude,' the coach said. 'I can't ever imagine that we'd ever have any discipline problems.'

Couple that with a talented nucleus and Sheinin could be smiling once again at the end of the season.

'It will be a fun season,' the coach predicted.