The Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse program will play its fourth season this spring, and there has been a clear trend in the previous three – the Pats always seem to get better.
Pilgrim has gone all the way from zero wins in year one to eight wins last year and a spot in the Division III championship game, where it nearly captured the title before falling 10-8 to Narragansett.
But continuing the upward climb in year four might be the program’s biggest challenge yet.
The Pats relied heavily on a big group of seniors last year, many of whom had been playing since the program started. That means that now, for the first time since its first year, Pilgrim is breaking in a new cast.
“We’ve had a lot to replace from last year’s team,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders. “That’s been a big chore, because the seniors from last year’s team occupied most of the playing time for the last three years. It’s been a big void to try to replace all of them.”
That senior class was led by players like Betsy Heidel, Britney Howland, Amibeth Marks, Julianna Mollo, Kelly Vatter and Kayleen Murphy, all of whom made All-Division teams last year. Another player, Michaela Giuttari, moved on to prep school after earning all-league honors last year as a sophomore.
It’s certainly a lot to replace, yet Flanders is confident that it can be done. The program has 40 players in it now, and there’s plenty of talent to pave the way.
“The girls that graduated last year, if they come back and watch some of the games, they’ll be happy with the product that we’re putting out there,” Flanders said.
Pilgrim’s top returning player is senior Haley McCusker, one of the best goal scorers in the state. She’ll play attack, and will be counted on to put up some big numbers on the offensive end. Last season, she was an all-league selection, as chosen by the division coaches. She’s serving as a captain for the second consecutive year.
“She’s going to be our really strong scorer,” Flanders said.
The team’s other captains are junior midfielders Emily Fluette and Emma Reilly, as well as senior midfielder Kelsey Martin. They all saw significant time last season.
Defensively, Pilgrim returns seniors Jen King and Clare Birney, and sophomore Alexia Martins is up from the junior varsity team as a key cog in the back.
Behind that group will be sophomore Makenzie Driscoll, who is stepping in as the primary goaltender, filling the void left by the graduated Murphy.
Driscoll was the JV goalie a year ago and recorded two shutouts at that level. Flanders is more than confident that she can handle the varsity duties.
“She’s going to fill that void that Kayleen Murphy left,” Flanders said, “and she’ll do a great job.”
Taking draws and handling the role at center that Heidel had last year is Sophia DeLuca, a sophomore who saw varsity time as a freshman a season ago. Junior Madison Almonte and sophomore Hannah Johnson – also varsity players last year – will take on big roles at attacking midfield spots, while junior Chrissy Cavanagh will play as a defensive midfielder.
Cavanagh’s younger sister Paula, a freshman, is also out for the team, as is sophomore Hannah Page, who plays both varsity basketball and soccer.
It’s clearly a different group than the one that accomplished so much a year ago.
“We have different faces, and we’re going to produce the same quality,” Flanders said. “These kids are ready to go. They’ve been waiting, and now it’s their time.”
One thing working in Pilgrim’s favor is a minor realignment in the divisions. Narragansett, the team that Pilgrim lost to in the championship game, is up in Division II, while Johnston is joining Division III in its first year as a program.
The Pats scrimmaged Johnston already, and were pleased with how it looked at this point the season.
“When we had our starters in there, we moved the ball really well,” Flanders said. “We definitely handled our business.”
Pilgrim isn’t planning on slowing down as the season gets going. It’s scheduled to travel to Westerly today for its league opener at 5:15 p.m., and then it hosts Johnston on Friday at the same time.
The Pats want to keep that upward trend going.
“I feel very confident in this group that each and every day we’re going to be battling,” Flanders said. “We’re not going to take anybody for granted. We’re going to go at everybody and we’re going to have a shot against everybody.”