By Kody Acevedo
It’s starting to become as mainstream as football or basketball, but there is still a lot of work to be done for the leaders of the Aztec lacrosse program at Corona del Sol to reach that point.
While schools such as Hamilton, Gilbert and Desert Vista have established lacrosse programs, Corona del Sol is looking to become a contender as they attempt to develop a program that starts years before the high school level.
Established in 2003, the Aztec lacrosse program is a club sport on the Aztec campus. But this season, first year head coach and program director Remo Montalbano is looking to change things up and bring in more kids to the program than ever before.
“It’s fairly simple, we want to make it really fun and keep it really basic,” Montalbano said. “We are working really hard to change the culture.”
Montalbano enters his first year as a head coach and his first year at the high school level. A former college player, he was a three-year captain and a four-year starter for Dominican College in New York, where he scored over 100 collegiate points.
He went on to graduate school at Grand Canyon University where he served as an assistant coach for four years. He said he made the move to the high school level earlier in the fall because he felt he was ready to be a head coach.
“It was also an awesome opportunity that popped up,” Montalbano said. “The timing was really, really awesome.”
Montalbano spent the first four months of the fall season observing the talent he had on his team to determine what they need to work on when the spring season gets going in January.
“Our first goal was to teach practical, mental and live skills, but we also wanted to create a practice environment that was challenging, motivating and rewarding,” Monalbano said.
He stressed the idea of simply having fun. He also hopes to teach his players more than just the sport itself.
“We are really focused on the development of the players,” he said. “We want them to be problem solvers and learn lessons that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
To accomplish that feat, Montalbano, along with booster club president Lu Ann Bussler, set out on a mission this year to strengthen their youth programs that will eventually feed into the high school level. For the time being, all players from K-12 will play under the Aztec name, but the challenge has been trying to fill all the roster spots needed to make the program complete.
“We’ve been reaching out to school districts in the area for help,” Bussler said. “If we can get into the middle and elementary school level, that would be ideal.”
Their plan seems to have worked. They received help from the Kyrene School District and had a fall ball team full of middle school kids this fall. Bussler said they expect to expand the middle school team in the years to come.
Their work has not only caught the attention of the local school districts, but also at the college level. Bussler said the Arizona State University Lacrosse board provided their program with equipment and sent some of their players to visit and coach the high school kids.
Their partner, Corona del Sol, has also been their biggest supporter.
“We get to play home games at the school’s stadium,” Bussler said. “The school and the parents are very critical to the success of this club.”
Just as the kids play for their love of the game, the parents too give their time and effort for the love of their kids. Bussler’s son, Trey, is a sophomore at Corona and has played since he was in fourth grade.
“One of the reasons I got involved was to make sure he has a team to play on,” Bussler said. “It’s tough. I spend all of my free time on Lacrosse, but it is worth it. There is a pretty passionate group of parents and booster club members who would do anything to help.”
Between Bussler and Montalbano, the program seems to have a solid foundation in this revamped era of the club sport. The two leaders are constantly trying to come up with new ways to spread the word about Lacrosse.
They’ll have another crack at it this weekend when they host a free camp for all ages K-12 at Tempe Sports Complex Saturday afternoon.
“We’ll work on skills and play mini games,” Montalbano said. “It’s a slow and steady climb, but the idea is to try and get new players interested in the sport.”
“It’s all about the expose,” Bussler said. “Our main goal is to make it sustainable for players and parents for years to come.”
That’s what it’ll take to make Lacrosse a mainstream sport in America. It’s catching on, but only through the hard work in our local communities. We have a good example of this here in Tempe.
You can learn more about the club on their website: www.azteclax.club