Filling a niche: Lacrosse breaking through at Fruita Monument, in Grand Valley
Fruita Monument High School has had plenty of successful athletic programs throughout its history.
Everything from state champion wrestlers coached by Jim Stockert to state championships won in boys and girls basketball during the 1980s, not to mention deep runs in the playoffs under former football coach Billy Moore.
That being said, the next sport potentially on the verge of breaking through at Fruita Monument is the boys lacrosse team.
“We have a lot of talent on this team,” Fruita Monument coach Mark Young said. “I had an opposing coach tell me ‘when you guys pull someone off, you have someone just as good coming on.’ “
The Wildcats are in their first year as a high school program after spending last year as a Grand Valley united team. When the unified team split into a team from Grand Junction and a team from Fruita Monument, the Wildcats seemed to have the upper hand.
Of the five Grand Valley players to make the Mountain League all-conference team last season, four (Willie Stevens, Jeff Cunningham, Archer Maddox and Ryan Reece) are on the Fruita Monument team. That’s not to mention players like AJ Meil, Gabe Merluzzi, Trevor Allen, John Heil and Cameron Lang, who all played significant varsity time last season.
“Our guys are very businesslike,” Young said. “It’s amazing, we have five or six kids that knew they were the leaders and they took control. I say a few things, but it’s those guys that go in and they want people to follow them.”
The team’s leadership has translated to a 3-1 start for the Wildcats. Aside from a humbling 12-3 loss to Steamboat Springs this past weekend, the Wildcats have started the season living up to their expectations. Fruita has outscored its opponents 45-9 heading into today’s game at Aspen.
Young said the Wildcats have a couple of simple goals when they get onto the field.
“We pride ourselves to be very fast, very physical and very smart,” Young said. “The biggest thing is everyone knows where everyone is on the field. We don’t have the mindset of ‘I’m going down and shooting the ball.’ They play together as a team.”
Leading the way is a player like Stevens. One of the seniors on the Fruita team, Stevens is in his fifth year of lacrosse, and said the Wildcats are on the right track for a successful season.
“When we move the ball around we have so many threats,” Stevens said. “We were confident before the season, but once we saw the talent we’d have, we were pretty excited.”
One reason for Stevens and the rest of the returners to be excited was the addition of Ethan Grider. A senior, Grider didn’t play last season, but had four years of experience of playing in Denver. Grider’s made a contribution already, scoring at least five goals in the Wildcats’ first two games.
Grider said he was looking forward to joining the Wildcats for his senior season.
“I went to a lot of the games last year, and I was like ‘wow these guys can play,’ ” Grider said. “Then this year being on the field, I was rusty but not one of them have gotten on me. They’ve been great.”
Lacrosse has filled a niche for the good athletes like Grider and Stevens, who were looking for something else to play in the spring. Young said the high numbers of kids coming out for both Fruita and Grand Junction’s teams reflects lacrosse’s growing popularity in the Grand Valley.
“This valley had soccer and baseball, and that’s all it had for the summer, so there were a lot of kids who wanted to do something else,” Young said. “They found lacrosse and it’s been a great sport for them. They tell their friends and they come out to watch a game, and I hear the kids out here, and you can hear them saying ‘I’m doing this next year.’”
Fruita Monument has home games this weekend with Battle Mountain and Aspen before its first showdown April 7 with Grand Junction.