Chris Branon is as excited and motivated as ever to coach the Hollister High lacrosse team.
The program started play seven years ago and has momentum going for it with solid participation numbers. Despite getting bumped down to the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Mission Division this season, Branon is optimistic because of the players and their commitment level and passion for the sport.
Branon expects the Haybalers to contend for the league title this season, a division that includes Monterey, Pacific Collegiate, Palma, Salinas and Watsonville. Hollister entered the week 2-0 with a 16-1 win over Soquel on Feb. 27 and a 9-0 victory over Leland on March 6.
“As long as we continue to stay healthy and continue to improve—which I haven’t seen anything to stop us yet—it would be great to put a banner in the gym,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a Gabilan or Mission—it doesn’t matter to me. It would be nice to see that happen.”
The anchor of the team is goalie Kohen Nelson, a four-year varsity player who is among the best in the entire PCAL.
“Kohen is our biggest leader and just an animal,” Branon said. “He’s got one throttle and there’s no gears on that man. It’s full on all the time. When you see a goalie stand on his head save after save and shot after shot, he’s a leader who gets it done by example. We probably averaged giving up double-digit goals a game last year, but he’s making 20 to 30 saves every game. That’s not good defense on our part, but he never stops.”
Carson Brown, Michael Dawson and Carter Eggers lead the attack with Neoh Texeira and Christian Zumiga also contributing. Branon said Brown has improved immensely from last year—his first competitive season in the sport—and is a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder who is projected to put up a high point total by season’s end.
“Carson’s work ethic stands out because last year was his first year of lacrosse,” Branon said. “The hardest part of our sport is not the athletic side, but the actual hand-eye coordination in knowing how to use the stick. And the only way to learn that is like anything else—you got to put in the time. That’s what Carson did. His heart is all into it and that’s what you have to have.”
Some of the impact midfielders include Theodore Meredith, Damian Ortiz, Jack Corlis, Gaven Homen, Matthew Kashiwagi, Zach Watt and Justin Pieracci. Ortiz scored three goals against Leland, while Homen and Watt are first-year players but have excelled at a rapid pace.
Hollister doesn’t have a girls team yet but participation among girls in lacrosse is rising. There are six girls on the junior varsity team and one—junior Andrea George—earned a spot on the varsity squad. A backup long stick middie, George has made appearances in both games.
“Andrea has done very well, is a strong player and works very hard,” Branon said.
Branon commended defender Justin Corea for helping lead the team with his playmaking ability and making sure everyone is on the same page.
“Justin is such a big part of our team and kind of the leader in regards to knowing what everyone is supposed to do,” Branon said.
Other key defenders include Isaac Barragan, JT DeWitt, Devin Espinoza and Omar Espinoza. Daniel DeShazer and Jayden Long are the backup goalies but should see playing time at other positions. Branon emphasized stickwork in the team’s off-season skills and strength and conditioning program.
The extra work has paid off as the players’ ability to possess the ball and connect on passes have improved.
“I never want to be too positive in a conversation at the beginning of a season, but I think our lacrosse IQ got a lot better,” Branon said. “And that’s by putting in more time with the sticks in the off-season.”
Even though junior Jake Varnes is out for the season due to an injury he suffered during football season, Branon said his inspiring play last year has earned him captain status along with Brown, Corea and Nelson. Branon, who is involved with the Hollister H.A.W.G.S. club lacrosse program, said he’s happy to see the growth of the sport locally.
Ideally, kids will start the sport at an early age so by the time they get to high school they’ll be well versed in every aspect of the sport.
“We’re starting to see that growth pick up and having more kids start to realize what a great sport lacrosse is,” he said.