The Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse team expected to struggle last season, and it did, going 0-14 in its inaugural campaign.
With a year in the books, though, and actual lacrosse experience up and down the roster being the norm rather then the exception, the Pats aren’t planning on going through another winless campaign.
They’re hoping that year two of girls’ lacrosse at Pilgrim will be vastly different than year one.
“That’s our first step – to win a real one,” head coach Tom Flanders said. “Then, we’ll go from there. But that’s where we’re at right now. We want to get that first win, and we’ll celebrate that.”
The team is already on the right track, as it has been impressive in two pre-season scrimmages so far. It beat both Cranston East and North Providence, and at one point had an eight-goal lead in the North Providence game.
The players just have a better understanding of the game now than they did at this point a season ago.
“They went from the time they started, all the way to the end,” Flanders said of his team’s performance against North Providence. “There was a gameplan, they stuck to the gameplan, and then they repeated it over and over again.”
One of the biggest reasons for the team’s improvement this season is, obviously, having a year of high school experience in hand. But many of the players also took it upon themselves to play in the off-season for various club teams.
That dedication has made a world of difference.
“We have a lot of players who really embraced the game, and played on some club teams in the off-season,” Flanders said. “They’ve been working at the game, and making themselves better. We have a pretty good nucleus coming back.”
The Pats have four captains this season, all of whom played on the team last year. Three seniors – defender Brianna Boucher, midfielder Emma Kunz and defender Ali Widmann – as well as junior attacker Amibeth Marks will handle the leadership duties.
The experience goes well beyond that, however, as goalies Courtney Cardoza, a sophomore, and Kayleen Murphy, a junior, are both back in net. Murphy can also play defense.
“They’re both very strong at that position,” Flanders said.
Junior Kelly Vatter returns as one of the mainstays on defense, and Flanders expects her and Widmann to be the anchors in the back.
“They’re the constants for us,” Flanders said.
The Pats also have their fair share of experienced scoring options, which the team expects to be one of its biggest strengths this season.
Sophomore Haley McCusker is back in the fold up front after a standout freshman campaign a year ago, and she’s poised for big things.
“She’s going to be a very dangerous scorer for us,” Flanders aid.
Junior Betsy Heidel will play center for Pilgrim, moving back from attack, and she is also a candidate to put the ball in the net.
Senior Guilia Garcia has improved in the off-season, and she will provide another scoring option.
“We’re extremely quick, so we move the ball very well,” Flanders said. “We possess the ball very well at times. The other day, we had them do 15 passes before we could have a shot on goal and they were able to do that.”
Junior Megan Sullivan is another top offensive option for the team, but she’s expected to miss the first few weeks of the season with a knee injury she suffered playing soccer. Once she returns, she should be a major factor.
Sophomore Kelsey Martin is also back with the team after joining the program as a freshman, as is senior Jessica Rajiotte, who should help out in the midfield. Gabrielle Demers, a sophomore, returns after playing defense last year.
Pilgrim also has a number of newcomers on the 20-player varsity team.
Juniors Britney Howland and Julianna Mollo are giving lacrosse a try for the first time, as is junior Erica Hammond. Senior Kassandra Lussier, playing for the first time, has already turned some heads in practice, as well.
The Pats are also hoping for a solid season from freshman Michaela Giuttari, who already had lacrosse experience prior to high school.
“She’ll definitely be out on the field a good amount of time,” Flanders said.
It all adds up to a different feel than last year, when just about everybody on the team had to learn the game for the very first time.
“Some kids are able to do demonstrations this year for younger players, when you’re explaining something,” Flanders said. “Last year, it was (assistant coach) Charlie [Benson] and myself. Nobody knew anything.”
That being said, it’s still a process. Flanders points to total team defense as something his group still needs to work on, for instance. But if everything continues to progress like it has thus far, the team believes it’s headed in the right direction.
The plan is that sooner, rather than later, Pilgrim will be celebrating the first interscholastic league win in its girls’ lacrosse history.
“I want them to win more than anything,” Flanders said, “because of all the hard work that they’ve put in.”
Pilgrim’s first chance at a win comes Wednesday with a 3:45 p.m. game at Narragansett.