Baler lacrosse looks to take next step

Balers senior Owen Branon has been a stalwart for the lacrosse team. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The San Benito High lacrosse program is in its fifth year as a program, looking to take that next step into league championship title contention.

“I’d say in three years they’ll be able to contend,” said Slade Wilson, a senior midfielder. “Things are coming together well and the coaches have led us in the right direction. Now the players need to perform.”

Wilson, senior defender Owen Branon and senior attacker Nate Greene have definitely stepped up and performed, Balers coach Chris Branon said. The trio are the team’s captains and along with other key players look to take the the program and improve every year.

“This is the players’ program,” Chris Branon said. “We let the captains set up the platform in how this program goes on, not just for this year but for years to come. You give them accountability and it’s up to them to be responsible with it and work hard to achieve goals.”

As a midfielder, Wilson’s role has been the same since he was a freshman: initiate the offense, distribute the ball and win the face-offs. Wilson has shown a propensity to score clutch goals, especially against Palma. Wilson has scored game-winning overtime goals against Palma in both his freshman and junior seasons.

“It’s always a great feeling when you can beat one of your rival schools,” Wilson said.

The lacrosse team has had an influx of players off the football team starting from the 2018 season, and this year Wilson—a standout starting quarterback for two years on the varsity squad—recruited a couple of more players off the football squad to try out for lacrosse, especially the seniors.

“Since we all play football together, I told them why not play another sport in the spring instead of doing nothing for the final semester of your senior year,” Wilson said. “It’s always good to get more football players on the team.”

Greene played wide receiver and quarterback on the football team last year, and he experienced a lot of growth.

“It was a character-building thing because football is a very intense sport and helps you gain mental toughness,” said Greene, who had 18 goals through last week’s play. “Lacrosse and football are physically different but also the same in the fact you get bumps and bruises from both. In football, there is more of a priority to knock someone down. In lacrosse, you’re using your body more to get the ball away from the other guy.”

Greene has been working to improve his ball-handling and passing, and he’s adept at finding open areas of an opposing defense to attack. However, Greene said he’s also looking to make solid passes that lead to scoring opportunities as well. Greene excels in shooting from the outside—most of his goals have come from around 15 yards out—because he possesses a cannon for a shot.

“I’m looking to shoot it in the corners where the goalie can’t reach it until it’s too late,” he said.

Greene credits some of last year’s players—most notably, Jason White and Tyler Benedetti—for being strong examples of what it takes to continually play at a high level (White is now playing at Division II program Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont).

“They were kind of my mentors and this year I have to be a mentor and coach up the younger kids who will carry the program in the future,” Greene said.

Owen Branon, the coach’s son, is another standout football player who has made a nice transition to lacrosse. Owen plays tough defense and is vocal in communicating to the rest of his teammates while providing a tough physical presence. Branon can deliver some strong hits and knockdowns. Wilson sets up plays offensively while also being strong defensively. Senior Cam Arnett, a senior attacker/midfielder, and Branon are four-year varsity players. All the aforementioned players possess a strong feel for the game and high lacrosse IQ, Chris Branon said. Matt De La Torre and Arnett shoot left-handed, which is noteworthy in lacrosse.

“It’s great to have a left-handed shooter because you’re aiming at the weak side of their defense,” Chris Branon said. “They’ve made us really strong on the right side of the attack.”

Ryan Lloyd and Zach Barrios are the two goalies, with Lloyd learning the position last year under the tutelage of White, who was a terrific goalie.

“Both Ryan and Zack are learning a lot and they’ll only get better as time goes on,” Branon said.

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