CLUB LACROSSE: Gold Country Stampede keeps rolling, gets top seed in NorCal playoffs
The Gold Country Stampede is showing no signs of slowing down as it barrels its way into the playoffs.
The local youth lacrosse club team closed the regular season with yet another dominating effort, crushing Oakland Tech, 19-8, Sunday.
The Stampede (15-1) now turns its attention to the Northern California Junior Lacrosse League playoffs with the hope of claiming its second NorCal championship in the last three years.
“Since the beginning of the year we’ve been coming together as one unit and getting stronger as a team,” said Stampede midfielder Tre Maronic, who scored four goals in the win over Oakland Tech. “We’re starting to rely on each other more. Everyone is working hard and doing their part. Everyone’s working hard and getting ready for the playoffs.”
Gold Country heads into the postseason as the No. 1 seed and riding a five match win streak. Since a 12-10 loss to Woodcreek in early April, the Stampede has been on a tear, going 5-0 and outscoring its opponents 73-27.
The Stampede opens the playoffs Saturday in Pleasanton, where they will face off with No. 4 seed Pleasant Grove, a team they beat twice this season. If the Stampede gets past Pleasant Grove, they would face either No. 2 seed Woodcreek or No. 3 seed Napa in the NorCal title match.
A trip to the postseason is nothing new for the Stampede, as the varsity team is a perennial power and is only two seasons removed from its last NorCal championship. But for one player, the season, let alone a trip to the playoffs, is something he almost didn’t get to experience.
TORAN’S TRIUMPHANT RETURN
It was a little less than two years ago that Toran Maronic led the Stampede to an undefeated record, a NorCal championship and a California state championship. But, it wasn’t long after his MVP performance in the state title game, that the multi-sport star suffered a traumatic brain injury during a non-contact football clinic while preparing for the upcoming season with the Bear River Bruins.
Toran spent days in a coma, weeks in a hospital and months rehabilitating, all the while not knowing if he would ever be able to return to a lacrosse field again.
The ever persistent and talented athlete was undeterred by the many mental and physical obstacles in his way and overcame them all. He was cleared to return to lacrosse this season.
Toran admitted re-acclimating to the sport and high level of competition took some time, but the gifted scorer and passer looks to have found his stride once again.
“It’s a miracle,” Stampede head coach Greg Porter said of Toran’s return to lacrosse. “It sounds cliché but there’s no other way to put it.”
Making his return even more special is that Toran is joined on the team by his younger brother Tre and his father Dave Maronic, who is an assistant coach.
“It’s been crazy special,” Toran said. “The last time (Tre) and I played on a team together, we won NorCals. Having my brother and my dad on the field with me is the greatest feeling.”
For the season, Toran has 36 goals and 19 assists, both rank third on the team.
“It’s been really special,” said Tre of getting to play alongside his brother once again. “When he got injured I thought I’d never be able to play alongside him again. When I found out he could get back on the field I was so excited… When he came out at first he was a little timid, but after his first goal he started to get back to his old self.”
With Tre’s 44 goals and 17 assists this season, the Maronic brothers have combined for 80 goals and 36 assists.
HEAPS OF TALENT
A big reason for the Stampede’s success this season has been the play of attackman Drew Heaps, who leads the team in scoring with a whopping 75 goals and 25 assists.
Heaps, now in his fifth year on the Stampede varsity team, is an incredibly efficient scorer, having netted 75 of his 90 shots on the season.
“He’s fearless,” said Porter. “He drives the cage and there’s nothing you can throw at him that he’s going to quit on.”
Heaps was the Offensive MVP in the Stampede’s State Championship win two years ago and said this year’s team has a lot of similarities to the title team from 2016.
“We had a strong defense, that year and this year, and we have a good attack,” he said. “We definitely have a cohesive team and we all gel really well.”
What makes the Stampede such an unstoppable force is in addition to the Maronic brothers and Heaps, the team boasts elite players at almost every position.
Gold Country also has offensive weapons in Dylan Scott, Tanner Takahashi and Will Smith. Scott leads the team in assists with 49 and also has 21 goals. Smith has netted 10 goals and doled out 12 assists and Takahashi has 21 goals and nine assists.
Takahashi is also a force as the team’s faceoff specialist, winning 69.7 percent of his faceoffs this season.
“Tanner’s tremendous,” Porter said. “The kid goes to every clinic in the offseason. He’s busy living lacrosse and it shows, because a kid his size has no right beating half the kids he’s beating out there. He’s very physical and he’s got extremely good technique.”
The Stampede is strong defensively as well, getting solid play from Keith Ward, Danny Gratten, Jack Blair, Carsten Siebels and Tyler Velasquez.
Goalies Peyton McGovern and Ben Beeman have also done their part as both boast save percentages in the upper 60s.
Despite all their talent and determination, Porter said a NorCal championship is not a forgone conclusion for the Stampede.
“We got to keep getting better,” he said. “We can’t get complacent. If we get stagnant we leave ourselves open to be beat.”
He added he believes his team is the best in the state and if they play to their capabilities, they will once again be champions.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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