Powered by three-goal performances from juniors Preston Graubart and Gabe Ornee, the Santa Fe Christian boys’ lacrosse team overwhelmed visiting Bishop’s, 10-3, Monday afternoon, April 8. In addition to opening the Coastal League schedule on a high note, the victory was the Eagles’ fifth in a row, improving their season ledger to 8-1.
Although his squad is an impressive seventh in the current San Diego section rankings (MaxPreps), sixth-year Coach Tom DeMaio’s post-game comments had the same feel as the methodical way his team dominated the first half to lead, 7-1, and dismantled Bishop’s, a key league rival that beat SFC twice last season.
“I thought we executed well,” he said when asked to evaluate his club’s performance. “There are a lot of things we’ve been working on and we were able to execute a lot of those things today.
“We have some good athletes and some toughness—when I say that, I mean mental toughness. Overall, I think we combine a good level of skill with some smart, situational lacrosse.”
Situational, or some derivate of the word, comes up often in conversation with DeMaio. A New England native who had collegiate and high school head coaching stints on his resume before moving west in 2010, he has built a noteworthy program that is tailored, not to mimic other local powerhouses, but to best utilize the circumstances surrounding him at Santa Fe Christian.
“We have an enrollment of 430 total at Santa Fe Christian and don’t typically have the same lacrosse experience on our roster as some of the bigger schools in San Diego,” said DeMaio, whose teams have nonetheless posted a 50-15 record over the last three-plus seasons, won the CIF D-1 championship in 2016, earned a berth in the Open Division bracket a year later and reached the D-1 semi-finals in 2018. “Given those and other factors, we play a little more deliberately, picking our situations and choosing our shots more carefully.
“Our first goal, our No. 1 goal, is to build our team up to put us in position to win the league. If we win the Coastal League title, then we’ve done what we need in order to get either an Open Division or D-1 CIF playoff berth. We’ll take the team as far as we can from there.”
His ’19 Eagles are off to an encouraging start. Graubart and Ornee have combined for 43 of SFC’s 100 goals to date while seniors Will Littlejohn, Griffin Morris and junior Jack Winters are also playing significant offensive roles.
“We have a strong, well-balanced offense,” DeMaio said. “We can score from a lot of different places and if we can make stops and get the ball, we’ll be dangerous.” Juniors Camden Morris and Bobby Briggs anchor a young defense and the former has come off the back line to chip in with nine goals. Freshman goalie Sam Cooper has been steady in front of the net and another first-year player, Colton Lehberg’s technical proficiency has been a positive on face-offs. The Eagles have surrendered just 43 goals, making them +57 on the scoreboard.
Most San Diego prep lacrosse teams have a fair number of two-sport athletes in their lineups, but they play an out-sized role for DeMaio’s crew. Players primarily from football, basketball and soccer teams make-up more than 75 percent of his roster and offer both physical and intangible value.
“Our multi-sport athletes certainly contribute with their play but also provide a certain leadership and maybe do even more there,” said DeMaio. “Especially the football guys—they’ve been battle-tested.” Among those on this year’s squad are two-way grid standouts Michael Linguadoca and Littlejohn.
Unlike many of its high-ranked counterparts in the section, the Eagles’ schedule has a decidedly local make-up compared to those of other top-ranked schools like La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines which will play 10 and 11 games respectively against non-San Diego opponents. DeMaio understands the reasoning but again, feels it doesn’t necessarily fit SFC’s situation or needs.
“Some of the top teams from the bigger schools tap into different areas to get more competitive lacrosse,” said DeMaio. “I get that and we did play one team from Colorado this year but for where we’re at, we can find competitive lacrosse within the confines of San Diego.”
Although they may be coming at it from a different perspective, DeMaio feels this year’s SFC unit has the potential to make more of an impact come post-season—be it in the Openf (top eight teams) or Division I. “I think we’re set up better than we’ve ever been to play in the Open Division,” he said. “We have good balance on both ends of the field, a good mix of seniors and younger players and we’re still getting better.
“I think we can compete with anyone in San Diego.”