LAKEWOOD — Columbine’s boys lacrosse first-year coach Henry Sulzbacher might have been the most nervous person Friday night at Trailblazer Stadium.
“Tons of nerves,” Sulzbacher admitted about his feelings coming into his first game coaching the No. 4 ranked team in the CHSAANow.com Class 5A boys lacrosse pre-season rankings. “With so much talent, it’s like the scariest position. I think we are really good. We came out firing that eased the nerves a little bit.”
Sulzbacher, an assistant coach last season and Denver East and before that was at Legend, took over the program from longtime Columbine coach Matt Plitnick.
The Rebels (1-0 record) came out extremely strong with a 12-2 victory against Grandview in a non-league season opener for both programs. Sophomore Tanner Hollens, along with seniors Gabe Mein, David Dooley and Nate Surd scored goals in the opening quarter to give Columbine a nice 4-0 lead.
Junior Taylor Gustafson opened the second quarter with a goal and Mein added his second goal of the game before halftime to extend the Rebels’ lead to 6-0.
“That was a nice start,” said Mein, who finished with four goals. “We had a couple of turnovers we need to clean up. We can always play better. There is always something to work on.”
The only real misstep Columbine had came midway through the third quarter. Grandview got back-to-back goals from freshman Luke McGahey and sophomore Ty Hussey to trim the Rebels’ lead to 7-2.
However, Mein scored two goals in the span of 32 seconds in the final minute of the third quarter to push Columbine’s lead back up to 9-2.
“We like how our attack is. Everyone can dodge,” said Mein, who led the Rebels win goals (31) and assists (42) last season. “Our first line is all returning and we’ll run four lines. It’s nice to have that depth.”
Seniors Nick Darrow and Will Chizlett added second-half goals for Columbine. Hollens and Surd buried their second goals of the night in the final quarter.
“Good leadership and they are really committed to getting better,” Sulzbacher said. “They are a mature group and I give them a lot of freedom. We have a really basic offensive system where they can really do what they want.”
The Rebels return their top four goal scorers and goalie Gavin Beilman. The biggest change has been the coaching staff, but the mix of old and new seems to be working out for Columbine.
“I think it’s the perfect mix of 26 guys returning on varsity and a new coaching staff,” Mein said. “It’s a nice mesh of styles.”
Columbine is still looking for more postseason success. Getting to the semifinals is something that has eluded the Rebels. Last year, Columbine lost to eventual state runner-up Regis Jesuit in the 5A state quarterfinals.
“They haven’t had the Final 4 (state semifinal) experience yet, but they are a mature group,” Sulzbacher said. “These kids, especially the four captains, play a lot a high-level lacrosse during the summer.”
The Rebels won’t return to Trailblazer Stadium until they face defending 5A state champion Cherry Creek on April 4. For right now, Columbine is taking it one step at a time.
“We’ve got to focus in, but we also have to take it one day at a time,” Mein said. “We are worried about Monarch next Friday and then Arapahoe after that. May (state tournament) is a long ways away.”