A lacrosse stick is a simple piece of equipment: a metal pole, a plastic head and some coarse netting.
However, one stick in particular, carried by Desert Vista goalkeeper David Wieneke, is anything but.
This stick, with its yellow and purple head, belonged to junior varsity lacrosse and football player Trenton Keller, who tragically committed suicide in late October.
“I was in shock,” Wieneke said. “I felt like I could have done more and that’s really what everyone felt like.”
Varsity attacker Austin Abbadessa, who had played with Keller since fifth grade, had to adjust to not seeing his long-time teammate every day.
“It’s just a weird feeling not having him out there this year,” Abbadessa said. “He was always a happy kid, he could always make you smile and it was just different not having him out there.”
That was the bizarre thing about Keller’s passing. He seemed to be a happy kid and not only was he funny but he was also compassionate.
“He was a fun guy,” Wieneke remembers fondly. “He loved to play a lot, he was a funny kid, always making jokes, just a really fun kid to be around.
“He cared about you more than anyone else did. It was remarkable how much he cared and he really made you feel like he genuinely cared, not that he was just trying to make you feel better. He genuinely cared how you were doing.”
On the surface, all seemed fine, but deep down that wasn’t the case. Wieneke remembers private conversations with Keller that showed a glimpse to what was going on in Keller’s mind.
“I personally talked to him one on one a few times and he seemed sad, but I never thought it was that bad.” Wieneke said. “I really do think it was the concussions that he had from football that led up to the depression.”
After Keller’s death, the team grew closer and rallied around his memory, turning their pain and grief into motivation.
“They responded to it and drew strength from it just like they thought Trenton would want us to,” Thunder coach Dan Lannon said. “His family has been very supportive so we’ve just been trying to draw strength from it which we did.”
And strengthened it as the Thunder advanced to the Arizona club state championship on Saturday.
“It really, really made us come together as a team. We played for each other because we didn’t know if we could play for each other next game,” Wieneke said.
According to Abbadessa, Keller had a mantra that he played by, and one that the team took to heart.
“His saying was ‘dominate’ and we kind of took that into the season and made it our motivation and try to dominate every game we could,” Abbadessa said.
Dominate they would.
United by the loss of their friend and teammate, the Thunder compiled a 16-1 record and advanced all the way to the state championship game against Brophy, the one team to beat them all year.
However, there would be no storybook ending to this tale. The Thunder would fall in a razor-close battle to the Broncos 5-6 on Friday night.
Before Wieneke took the field, the thought of his late friend and fellow goalkeeper was on his mind and his performance was a tribute to Keller.
“Today, I really played for him and I’m happy with the way I did play and I think he would be extremely happy with the way we played (tonight),” Wieneke said, glancing down at his right hand which grasped Keller’s yellow and purple stick.
Wieneke didn’t use Keller’s stick in the state title game, as fitting as it would have been. He has bigger plans for it.
“I did not use it in the game only because I don’t want it to break,” Wieneke said. “I want to just pass it down through the goalies at Desert Vista until it breaks.”
• Eric Smith is a junior journalism major at Arizona State. He is a summer intern at the AFN.