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Inaugural season ‘a huge success’ for St. Mary’s program

 

ZAC LYTLE

This time a year ago, the new hockey program at St. Mary’s High School had yet to take the ice in Stockton.

A year later, and the Rams finished their first season gaining valuable experience in the NAHL Prep League and the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League.

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According to St. Mary’s assistant coach Zac Lytle (pictured), the 2018-19 season was 100 percent positive.

“I think our first season was a huge success,” Lytle said. “We played really high-level competition, especially in the North American League’s Prep division. It was very fast hockey that a lot of our kids had never seen before, but they handled it very well. I don’t remember any negatives. We had some logistical challenges that we overcame and that we will learn from to make next year more seamless.”

Lytle is already planning on building on Season 1 for Season 2 this fall.

“For starters, we’re improving our off-ice training – workouts will be more dialed-in this year,” Lytle said. “We’re adding more video instruction and classroom instruction. Sometimes, it takes a season to figure out what you need and now that we have, there are some very good parts coming for next year. Season 1 was about building a culture of expectation and trying to develop patterns and behaviors that made people meet those expectations day after day. We have a number of very good recruits coming in next season, and now we have a core group from this year that will be leaders to show the incoming players what’s expected, how things are done and how we prepare for the hockey.

“More importantly, they can show these new students the school side of things as far as workload and how to manage their time to get assignments done and makeup tests taken care of – the things that we had to learn the hard way the first season.”

stmaryslogoWorking with Derek Eisler, the Rams’ head coach, has been an absolute pleasure for Lytle.

“Derek is extremely generous, which might surprise people that don’t know him well,” said Lytle. “He is always willing to share his knowledge with anyone that is willing to learn. Working with Derek is a day-to-day study on program building. Every player is a moving piece to the bigger picture of the program and every day, he coaches individual players within a structure that makes the team better. He coaches the team to push the program and the school farther and it’s pretty cool to see how it all comes together.

“I came to St. Mary’s because of Derek. I coached with Bellarmine Prep for three years prior to that. They were great people and a great organization, but St. Mary’s with Derek I knew was another step beyond. Just like the players that come to play, we’re all trying to get better at what we do. I’m trying to improve as a coach and who better to learn from than Derek?”

Looking ahead to next season, Lytle admitted to having certain expectations.

“We want to surround ourselves with goal-oriented, driven, competitive people, and I believe this next season will be a real jumping-off point for us and having a team full of those types,” Lytle said. “When you do have those types of people, there’s no ceiling to your success, so we could have a championship-caliber season laying right in front of us.”

Down the line, Lytle sees St. Mary’s being a very sustainable program in Northern California.

“Being part of a school with such a long history of academic success helps,” said Lytle. “Derek has connections at every developmental level across North America. Our schedule is competitive from start to finish. We practice and train every day. If a high school-age player has the goal of playing NCAA Division I hockey, we can give you every opportunity to reach your goal.”

— Matt Mackinder

(June 4, 2019)