Stick-ing it to their opponents
When it comes to team bonding, some teams dye their hair. Some shave their heads. Others congregate for pre-game spaghetti dinners.
The South Tahoe Vikings, though, are more imaginative.
“At the beginning of every season, I give a speech to the girls,” said second-year coach Clint Lockhart. “I pull out one stick and tell them ‘This is you as an individual. You can be strong and flexible and be a great soccer player. But if you try and be an individual star instead of working with a team, you can be broken.’ And I break the stick.
“Then I pull out a bunch of sticks, one for each player, and tell them ‘But if you work as a team, then you can’t be broken.’ At that point, I hand the sticks to each girl. Before each game, the girls take out their sticks and tie them together, showing that they can’t be broken.”
The process seems to be working.
In their first season under Lockhart, South Tahoe went 18-3-3 and lost in the regional semifinals. This season, the Vikings recorded the first unblemished season in Sierra League history (14-0) and are the favorite to win the their first regional title since 1996.
South Tahoe (20-2) is a No. 1 seed in the Northern 4A regional tournament, which begins on Friday at 6 p.m. when the Vikings take on fourth-seeded Spanish Springs (6-4-2) in a first-round match. But as the Vikings chase their first regional title in 11 years, their sticks won’t be far away.
After Lockhart’s speech in August, the players took their sticks home and decorated them. Just like how each player contributes something different to the team, every stick is different.
Tess Braun’s is defined by her name, jersey number and the phrase “Peace, Love and Happiness.” Brittany Barcellos’ stick is colorful, but Braun and Morgan Cook feel Alli Fox’s is perhaps the most impressive as a fake rose is attached to it.
“Gina Locicero puts the most work into it but never succeeds,” Cook said with a smile. “I tried pretty hard, but mine turned out like a caterpillar. Getting the sticks was really emotional for us. Normally boys don’t have that same feeling that girls do, and so it brought us closer. We have been unified the entire time, and the sticks just demonstrate everything that we have accomplished.”
Lockhart inherited the idea from former University of Portland women’s soccer coach Clive Charles. Charles, who led the Portland women’s program to six NCAA Final Fours and an NCAA Championship in 2002, died of prostate cancer in 2003, but Lockhart is preserving his ritual.
“I want it to become a tradition for as long as I am here,” Lockhart said. “When we put the sticks on the bench with us, it’s our 12th man. I truly believe that a team that plays well together can beat a team full of individual stars. Look at basketball … Michael Jordan didn’t win anything until he got Scottie Pippen.”
The Vikings feel the same way.
South Tahoe has outscored its opponents 81-11 this season with 13 shutouts. Karli Vath leads the team with 15 goals and 13 assists, while Braun has 12 goals and 15 assists. Fox isn’t far behind with 10 league goals.
But for all the gaudy individual statistics, the players realize none of them matter if they aren’t working together toward the common goal of winning a regional championship.
“Ever since seventh grade, we knew that our junior and senior years were going to be it,” Vath said. “There is no doubt that we can do it. In my mind, every single player on this team is better than any other player on the other team.”
As a freshman, Braun scored South Tahoe’s game-winning goal in a first-round playoff victory over Reed. Four years later – and with her final chance to win a regional title staring her in the face – the senior striker is happy to have those sticks behind the bench.
“I think for the girls it’s really a cute thing,” Braun said. “No coach had ever done that before, and I think it did bring us closer. I think every girl has individual skills, but we are at our best when we put it all together and work as a team.”
Northern 4A Regional Tournament
at Damonte Ranch High School, Reno
Friday, Oct. 26
G1-No. 1 High Desert vs. No. 4 Sierra League, 4 p.m.
G2-No. 2 Sierra League vs. No. 3 High Desert, 2 p.m.
G3-No. 2 High Desert vs. No. 3 Sierra League, noon
G4-No. 1 South Tahoe vs. No. 4 High Desert, 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 31
G1 winner vs. G2 winner, 4 p.m.
G3 winner vs. G4 winner, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 3
Semifinal winners, 4:30 p.m.