The Palo Verde lacrosse program had plenty to play for this season in its desire to reclaim the Nevada state title the Panthers last won in 2011 and 2012.
But a greater goal was their motivation.
The team’s 10 seniors, including the five captains, dedicated the season to Jeremy Huber, a former Palo defenseman who died from pneumonia in January. Huber was a freshman on the Johns Hopkins lacrosse team in Baltimore.
The Panthers won the state title, the fifth in program history, with a 13-10 victory against Coronado and led at one point by nine goals.
They honored Huber throughout the season.
And now USA TODAY High School Sports honors them with the title of Best Boys Lacrosse Program as a result of fan voting in the “Best Of” contest series.
Palo Verde had 140,52 votes in the final round to beat Appleton United from Wisconsin (114,009) and St. Margaret’s Episcopal in Southern California (32,141). The three schools will receive donations to their athletic budgets. All 10 finalists will receive banners.
“What a great way to finish a season and pay tribute to Jeremy,”said Mark Lovejoy, the president of Palo Verde Lacrosse. “I’m sure he is looking down on the boys and jumping up and down with joy over the victory and now being named the USA Today Best Lacrosse Program in the country.”
“This brings a season full of sadness and up and downs to a great end. This is some well-needed closure. We couldn’t have asked for a better results. Our players, parents and alumni are the best any team could ask for.”
Coach Gary Campo said dealing with Huber’s death and keeping the players together was “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.” Huber’s younger brother, Justin, was on the team’s roster.
“He was such a good kid and such a part of our program in giving us a higher profile, especially for a western team and one from Las Vegas at that,” Campo said.
“It never got away from us. We stayed together throughout the whole time. It was a two-week process of beginning the healing. We came together and it’s amazing what you can do when you come together. The power of family, with the whole lacrosse community here, the whole Palo Verde Lacrosse Club here and they got us through that as tragic as it was.
“There were ups and downs during the season and we came together. We won this contest because everyone got together and got on board. It was in the stars.”
Lacrosse is not a sanctioned sport in Nevada and Palo Verde played top teams from western Canada, Washington State, Oregon, Idaho and Utah as well as in-state power Coronado three times. Coronado only had one loss before the state title game. All the players are zoned to play for Palo Verde and attend the high school or a magnet school.
Palo Verde has been to the state title game six times in the last seven years. In the lone exception, the Panthers lost by a goal in the semifinals.
Campo credited John White, the former president of the club, and Lovejoy. Campo was at another school and joined Palo Verde in 2010.
“They had a good team when I came aboard and we kept the sails going and moving it in the direction where it got to be and needed to be,” Campo said. “We maintained what we needed to do. … When they look for excellence in lacrosse, the family structure we have in the club has brought the best out of everyone.”