Haley McCusker might have made a pretty good lacrosse defender.
But Tom Flanders and Charlie Benson weren’t going to wait to find out.
When Pilgrim started its girls’ lacrosse program, coaches Flanders and Benson put their most skilled players on defense, in an effort to build things from back to front. McCusker, who had played a little backyard lacrosse with her brother and father, was one of those who started on defense.
“With the girls who could catch and throw the best, we said ‘Let’s think defense first,’” Flanders said. “Haley would get the ball on defense, run it all the way up the field and go right in and score. Charlie and I said to each other, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make a change here.’”
They haven’t regretted it.
McCusker burst onto the scene last year and emerged as one of the top scorers in the state. As a junior this year, she helped power Pilgrim’s run to the Division III finals by leading the state in goals scored with 96.
It was quite a year.
“It was great to get to the championship,” she said. “People weren’t expecting it so it was really cool. It was a great experience to be there at the beginning, when no one knew what to do, and to watch it get better every year.”
The Pats were led by a big senior class, and a balanced attack was one of their greatest strengths. A lot of weapons could hurt you.
But McCusker was at the top of the list.
“She was one of the major factors in our success,” Flanders said. “Every team that played us had to account for her. She was in every game plan.”
The 96 goals were seven more than Lincoln School’s Larson Bennett, a future Division I college lacrosse player. McCusker also tallied 10 assists for 106 points, good for second in the state to Bennett. The next-closest D-III player was Narragansett’s Eileen Sullivan with 83.
“She put us over the edge,” Flanders said. “Without her, we’re probably a playoff team, but I don’t know if we make it as far without that potent scorer. You don’t make up for that production. She’s a difference-maker.”
McCusker also plays soccer for Pilgrim and her lacrosse season doesn’t end in the spring. She plays with New England United in the summer, which gives her exposure to college coaches and has helped her improve by leaps and bounds.
“I wouldn’t have progressed as far as I did without that,” McCusker said.
McCusker will be back leading the Pats next spring.
And, no matter what they need on defense, it’s a safe bet McCusker will be scoring.