Dan Marut cannot stop smiling as he looks out at the 52 players at Mountain View’s lacrosse practice.

Two years ago, the Cougars coach did not know if he would have enough players to field a varsity team, much less the program’s first JV squad.

Mountain View had a total of 18 players in 2017, and 12 were graduating.

“We want the word to get out that it’s a fun sport and we’re teaching more than just sports,” says Marut, who credits luck and hard work by Mountain View’s volunteer coaches for keeping the school’s boys lacrosse program alive.

“We’ve picked up athletes from football and basketball. The movements are the same. You have the speed and power of football and the movements and teamwork of basketball and the stamina of soccer. It’s a crossover of a lot of different sports, so we want to gather athletes from each game.”

Riley Oates was a freshman on that 2017 lacrosse team.

“The players were just not as committed as they are now,” Oates says. “I was on varsity because there was no JV. You didn’t really have to fight for your spot. It’s a more competitive atmosphere than it was my freshman year. I like it way better now. The atmosphere is way better.”

The Cougars had 24 players last season.

James Lewis, who has played lacrosse since he was 6, joined the team from Northern California.

“He’s one of the best players in the state hands down, without a doubt,” says Marut of Lewis, a senior midfielder who made the ­Oregon High School Lacrosse Association all-star team last season and has committed to the University of Oregon’s club team.

Along with lacrosse, Lewis grew up playing the more mainstream sports like basketball and soccer.

“I fouled out of every game,” Lewis says of basketball. “I was so aggressive and they were like, you need to go cage fighting or lacrosse. It was such a good outlet for somebody who was a little bit more inclined to be a rough-and-tumble guy.”

The Cougars finished 11-4 overall last season and 3-0 in the High Desert Conference, including the program’s first-ever win over crosstown rival Bend High.

Mountain View then reached the final four of the Cascade Cup, a 16-team postseason tournament for the squads that do not qualify for the state playoffs.

“Last season nobody expected anything from us,” Lewis says. “It was all bonus. It was ‘Bad News Bears,’ nothing was expected of us and it was all great. Every win we got we were so happy and this year there’s a little bit more pressure, but I still feel like teams are underestimating us and it feels so good every time we get a win.”

Marut says Mountain View’s success last season made it easier to persuade students to try lacrosse this year.

“One of the things I talk about when recruiting players is come play with us because we’re making history,” Marut says.

The Cougars also began to benefit from their feeder program. Mountain View added a seventh- and eighth-grade team to its club three years ago and expanded to fifth and sixth grade this year.

Of Mountain View’s 52 current players, Marut says 10 had never played lacrosse before this season.

“They’re a bunch of hardworking, attentive athletes that are amazingly good kids that are ready to learn all of the time,” Marut says. “It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy coaching. I enjoy the kids.”

Jack Barret, a junior defensive back and receiver on Mountain View’s football team, decided to try lacrosse for the first time this season after watching many of his friends participate.

“I have a lot of my best friends that play (lacrosse) and I had nothing going on in the spring,” Barret says. “I met coach Marut when I was lifting (weights) for football and he was just super positive and his outlook on the sport was compelling. I decided to come out and see what it was about. If everyone else is doing it, might as well.”

Barret is starting on the Cougars varsity defense.

“It’s something that comes natural,” Barret says. “I like the physicality of it and the speed and endurance that comes along with it.”

Mountain View is 6-2 this season, with games against intracity foes Summit and Bend still to come. The Cougars play their conference opener Tuesday night at Summit.

In terms of participation, Mountain View is just now catching up to the Storm and Lava Bears.

Summit coach Luke Hansen says his program has had 60-plus players for at least the last five years and a JV team since 2010. The Storm started their fifth- though eighth-grade feeder system in 2012.

Lewis wants to leave the Mountain View program better than he found it. And while last season’s Cascade Cup run was nice, this year’s Cougars have their sights set on playing in the state tournament.

“I definitely want to say years later that I was a part of growing the team and then I want to see it get better and better and just keep growing,” Lewis says.

Marut, who learned the game playing at a high school in New Jersey, is focused on building leaders on and off the field.

“What I’m trying to do with these guys is teach them about life and leadership lessons that they’re going to carry with them,” Marut says. “I tell them all the time, if they come out of here just learning lacrosse and learning a sport, I haven’t done my job. I want them to be leaders in the community and their school.”

­­— Reporter: 541-383-0307, dwiley@bendbulletin.com .