Emphasis on culture, discipline, belief drives Northridge boys lacrosse to region title
LAYTON — At 5:50 p.m. Tuesday, Reed Keller stood on Northridge High’s turf field holding a paper roster and a red pen.
One by one, the first-year Northridge boys lacrosse head coach took roll while the Knights players got ready on the sideline for their 6 p.m. practice.
It’s a simple gesture, and emblematic of the Knights’ cultural shift.
“Definitely discipline. Wasn’t much discipline in years past, but now we’re going to be held accountable for the things you do, so you’re probably going to do a lot better and not make stupid choices,” said senior attacker Cy Ketts.
Cultural changes, emphasis on discipline and more belief by the players have played a big role in Northridge’s one-year turnaround from an 8-10 record to 15-3.
The Knights are co-Region 5 champions, the No. 4 seed in the 5A playoffs and host Box Elder on at 7 p.m. Thursday in the second round.
Practices are very structured. At the sound of a whistle, Northridge’s players know where they’re going and what they’re doing for the next drill.
Good discipline, which Northridge aspires to have, comes in handy in lacrosse, especially with fouls. Lacrosse fouls work like hockey penalties, where they elicit time in a penalty box.
“It’s more so not hitting people illegally, not hitting them in the head, playing fundamental defense, staying in front of them, bodying when you need to and only throwing those checks once you get beat, and not doing stupid things that’s going to put you in the penalty box,” junior midfielder Rusty Baldwin said.
Keller served 24 years in the U.S. Air Force and now teaches ROTC at Northridge after previously teaching and coaching at Utah Military Academy. Like many in the western half of the country, he didn’t grow up with a lacrosse background.
“My kids got into it in the fourth grade, I stood at the field too long and they said, ‘You’re the coach, welcome,’ and I was like ‘Oh ok, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ So I started learning how to coach,” Keller said.
A few years ago, he sought advice from former University of Utah coach Brian Holman, who told Keller that discipline and culture were important to running a program, and that’s how Keller rolls.
Some familial obligations have meant Keller hasn’t been at every practice this year, the extended winter weather cut field time, the team is young (only two seniors) and it’s still learning its offense.
Regardless, Northridge players proverbially “bought in” to Keller’s emphases and the team has made lots of progress. The Knights are a self-described “gritty” and “physical” team that “aggressively” pressures the ball.
“I think skill-wise we’re around the same, if not worse, than last year. I think last year we had more talent on the field, but this year we’ve just put the pieces together and it’s worked out good,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin ranks second on the team in points (combined goals and assists) with 59. Max Skousen has 67 points — 52 goals, 15 assists — and Ketts has 29 goals with 14 assists.
The highlight of the season so far is last Friday’s 7-6 win over Bountiful that clinched the Knights a co-Region 5 championship, a game where they led 6-1 at halftime and held off the surging Redhawks.
“It was awesome. Us as a program, we didn’t really think of that until this year, but we knew we could do it,” Ketts said.
According to the banners in the Northridge gym, and Standard-Examiner record keeping, it appears the school counts 34 region titles across all sports since opening in 1992. Boys lacrosse appears to be No. 35.
“Northridge doesn’t win a whole lot, so it was real nice getting that one, doing something not a lot of other teams do at our school,” Baldwin said.
Not only has there been a turnaround from last year, but there’s been a big shift in this season since a 9-0 loss to Park City on March 11.
“Kids did not believe they could win a game, they thought our preseason schedule was too hard, you could see in the film from Park City that they were scared to get on the field with them,” Keller said. “Kids aren’t scared to get on the field with anybody anymore.”
Once Keller turned his attention to Tuesday’s practice, he pointed out a foul one of his players committed and then another. Discipline was front and center.
“We need to lock it up and be ready, because the playoffs are a whole different ballgame,” Keller said.
Thursday, May 18, 2nd Round
Boys: No. 15 Mountain Ridge at No. 2 Fremont, No. 14 Syracuse at No. 3 Davis, No. 12 Pleasant Grove at No. 5 Farmington, No. 10 Weber at No. 7 American Fork, No. 13 Roy at No. 4 Westlake, No. 13 Box Elder at No. 4 Northridge, No. 19 Bonneville at No. 3 Park City
Girls: No. 10 Riverton at No. 7 Fremont, No. 15 Roy at No. 2 Lone Peak, No. 9 Syracuse at No. 8 Davis, No. 12 Clearfield at No. 5 Mountain Ridge, No. 16 Copper Hills at No. 1 Farmington, No. 18 Bonneville at No. 2 Lehi, No. 12 Box Elder at No. 5 Maple Mountain
Saturday, May 20, Quarterfinals
Boys: No. 5 Judge Memorial at No. 4 Bear River; 6A/5A matchups TBD
Girls: TBD at No. 1 Bear River; 6A/5A matchups TBD
Tuesday, May 23
Girls semifinals at Westminster College
Wednesday, May 24
Boys semifinals at Westminster College
Thursday, May 25
Girls championship games at Zions Bank Stadium
Friday, May 26
Boys championship games at Zions Bank Stadium
Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.