By Sue Pascoe
Kevin Donovan was named head lacrosse coach at Palisades High School just three days before the Chaminade game last February 2016. The Dolphins lost, 17-4.
“It was a train wreck,” Donovan said. “I was still learning the players’ names.” But as the season continued, “the players were excited to get new blood and it was about get- ting the program going.” The season ended 16-3, with Palisades taking the City championship against Hamilton 19-9, which would be considered successful by most coaches, but not Donovan.
“We could go 16-3 [in the city] and win everything, but I’d rather go 7-7 and get the team better prepared for the [Southern Section] playoffs,” he said. (Last year, ranked 16th the Dolphins played Palos Verdes, losing 21-3 and were eliminated in the first round. Palos Verdes went onto the championship game against Loyola, losing 7-6 in overtime. Loyola then beat Corona del Mar to win the Southern Section title.)
This year, Chaminade was again one of Pali’s early opponents, on Feb.y 25, and although the Dolphins lost 13-11, “We played well and could have won, but it was in the details,” Donovan said.
He has put together a much tougher schedule for his players this season, which includes not only Chaminade, but Oak Park, Redondo Union, Mira Costa and Thousand Oaks.
When Donovan entered Lehigh College, a Division I school as an attack player in 2008, the school was ranked 47th in lacrosse in the nation. When he graduated in 2012, the school was ranked seventh in the nation.
The same year Donovan graduated with a degree in psychology from Lehigh, the Palisades High reached the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section title game. Since then, the Dolphins haven’t advanced beyond the round of 16.
“Playing City schools, we’ll continue to get the 16th seed,” said Donovan, who hopes to improve Pali’s playoff chances by bringing more discipline to the program.
“I hold the kids accountable,” Donovan said. “It is about the growth of the student athlete and teaching kids how to be men, and face adversity.”
This year Donovan has 12 seniors, with 10 of his 11 starters returning, including co-captain Noah Robinson, a long-stick defenseman.
“Our success relies on the leadership and commitment of our seniors, who add a lot of depth and talent to our team,” Donovan said in a MaxLax LA interview in September.
Against Culver City on March 2, Robinson was credited with numerous ground balls, causing turnovers. Senior goalie Spencer Au made 10 saves in Pali’s 13-3 victory.
Co-captain Macchio Rissone, a junior attackman, had three goals, as did sophomore Jack O’Rourke and freshman Reicher Bergstein. Sophomore James Burks had two and seniors Joey Hamwi, Giovanni Mazariegos and freshman Alexxandro Caso each added one.
Senior Brandon Kay did the face-offs and helped the Dolphins gain possession, which is a key to scoring.
Initially after graduation, Donovan came to San Diego and worked with Adrenaline Lacrosse for a year before entering a two-year MBA program at McGill University in Montreal. “I finished the first year and realized I didn’t want to be in the corporate world,” he said.
He returned to the West Coast to Los Angeles and worked for the nonprofit Movember, which focuses on men’s health. Donovan left the company last December and is currently looking for another sales/marketing position. He also started coaching with the Santa Monica Dragons (santamonicadragons.org), which is a lacrosse nonprofit that works with boys from second grade through high school, and girls through middle school, developing skills.
Starting his second year at PaliHi, Donovan was happy that he could add defense coach Will Manning, who grew up in Garden City, Long Island, and graduated from Colgate, a Division I lacrosse school. “He’s a blessing,” Donovan said. “We can split up the players; I take the attack and he works with the defense.”
Manning is running the Santa Monica Dragons program while he completes his student teaching hours. He was a Division III coach and recently earned his master’s in education at Whittier.
When the two men initially talked, they realized they had played against each other on the east coast.
They told the Palisades News that lacrosse on the East Coast is like football is to Texas, that from middle school on, kids work so they can play at Division I colleges.
The difference between the east and west coasts? “Kids back there have coaches that were all-Americans from grade school on,” Manning said.
“It’s not ingrained here,” Donovan said. “It’s more of a hobby. But it’s evolving here. It’s cool to be part of something that’s like a new frontier.”
The plan for PaliHi this season? “Our goal is to make the second round [of the Southern Section playoffs] and upset a team or two in the top 10,” Donovan said.
The Dolphins lost to Agoura 15-5 on March 7 and beat Brentwood 11-3 on March 11. The next home game will be 7 p.m. Friday, March 24, against Redondo Beach.