Whitaker has Wolverines on right path
by Emily Horos
ehoros@cherokeetribune.com
June 15, 2014 12:38 AM | 2042 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
06/13/14 - AC Lax 0224 - ...Staff/C.B. Schmelter
06/13/14 - AC Lax 0224 - ...Staff/C.B. Schmelter
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WOOSTOCK — In 2002, Woodstock became the first school in Cherokee County to offer a varsity lacrosse program.

Under the guidance of founding coach, Bill Abbott, the Wolverines had plenty of spirit, but as the years went on, they struggled to find success on the field. Eventually Towne Lake rival Etowah became the team to beat in the county and programs began at Cherokee, Creekview, River Ridge and Sequoyah high schools.

Keith Whitaker, who took over the program in 2014, wants to reverse the trend and put the Wolverines back on top.

Whitaker, a longtime head basketball coach at Kell, also served as the assistant lacrosse coach there for several seasons. That is where he was infected by the lacrosse bug.

“Lacrosse is becoming more mainstream, rather than just being a fringe sport,” Whitaker said. “I fell into it my first year at Kell seven years ago. It was the first time I coached it. I grew up here playing football, baseball and basketball. I just finished by fifth year coaching lacrosse and I’m just obsessed with it.”

Whitaker saw lacrosse has tactical elements like basketball, but is more physical like football. He has tried to increase his knowledge of the game by surrounding himself with good coaches.

So far, Whitaker is off to a good start with Woodstock. With an 11-7 record, he is the only coach in the history of the program to have a winning average. Woodstock strung together a six-game winning streak, the longest in program history and also had its highest Laxpower Ranking (91.7) ever. The Wolverines also set a new mark in goals allowed, but giving up and average of just 13.5 per game this season Under Whitaker’s guidance the the team allowed the third fewest goals in program history (129) and the third-highest shooting percentage (.33).

For helping to elevate the play at Woodstock, Whitaker has been named the 2014 Cherokee Tribune Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year.

Whitaker said he couldn’t have done it without quality players such as Brock Henson, Brycen Cicero, Hunter Forbes, Sean Riley, Parker Lane, Zach Pinson and Jacob Yoder.

“They bought into it and the work ethic and change of culture,” Whitaker said. “We had a great team chemistry and they worked hard and played hard all the time. We are really tight and we had great senior leadership.”

In his first year at Woodstock, Whitaker said his goal was to establish a tradition for the program. To that end he has looked for statistical records and information about past teams and players.

“I’m trying to uncover as many records as I can and trying to build a sense of tradition and culture at Woodstock,” Whitaker said.

In order to continue that tradition past the current group of players, he has also developed a feeder program that will get off the ground in August.

“We want to compete with the top schools in the state and to do that, you need to have top feeder programs,” Whitaker said. “I’m scrambling to build everything that every other school has. I’m not here to babysit a mediocre program. I want to catch up to the level the level of Etowah and then we can push each other. I think that Cherokee County can be a hotbed of lacrosse.”

Whitaker said he has connected with people that have moved into the area from the northeastern part of the country where lacrosse has enjoyed popularity for decades. Some of those people will serve as coaches in the feeder program, while others are simply able to lend their knowledge of the game.

His goal is to get children involved with the program at a young age so that by the time they reach middle school and especially high school they know more than the fundamentals of the game.

“Traditionally a percentage of the kids will play nothing, but lacrosse and then you will have kids that are just good athletes and decide to play lacrosse because it looks fun,” Whitaker said. “Then you have a section of kids, who have never played before. It’s a huge advantage when kids have played since fifth or sixth grade. You don’t have to go back and teach the basics. It’s all about the kids and trying to get them in the best position to be successful.”

Whitaker said the style of play that he strides to achieve is uptempo and physical. The seniors embraced that this season.

“They could have turned their backs on me, but they didn’t,” Whitaker said. “They bought in. I’m really going to miss those guys. They could have made my first year at Woodstock difficult, but they chose not to.”

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