I-L freshman Caitlin Rotonnelli was a second team all state selection after leading the Lakers to a 10-7 season. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
November 18, 2012MEREDITH – Caitlin Rotonnelli wasn't around for the tough times at Inter-Lakes High School. She did her best to make sure they didn't stick around either.
The freshman phenom scored 26 goals this fall, leading the Lakers to not only their first win in five years, but 10 victories in total and a Division III postseason appearance. Not bad for the diminutive Rotonnelli, who was named to the all state second team as a result.
"Going from zero wins for that long to winning 10 games is definitely a big change," said Rotonnelli. "And then making the playoffs on top of that was a really good feeling for everyone."
The change in culture truly began during the summer months, when the Lakers played together against other Lakes Region schools to prepare for the fall. But Rotonnelli was still a bit unsure how I-L would fare when the first official practice of the season opened in August.
"I had played with the girls on the team before and I knew there was potential there," she began. "They just hadn't been putting the ball in the net so I was excited to help them. We needed a win to boost the confidence of everyone on the team."
Getting the seniors in the program on the winning side was also a priority, as Rotonnelli knew the upperclassmen didn't want to close out their varsity careers without getting to feel the excitement of a victory.
"I didn't know the seniors as well to start the year, but I was friends with a lot of sophomores going in and knew that everyone was tired of losing games," she explained. "The sophomores didn't like going one year without winning so I imagined the seniors felt even worse about it. There was definitely disappointment about the past few years."
Luckily for the Lakers, winning their first game didn't take long. In the season opener on the road at Laconia, I-L stormed out to an early lead and pulled away for a 4-1 win. Rotonnelli scored a goal and had two assists to help lead the way.
"We were so excited," said Rotonnelli of the opening victory. "I didn't feel it as much as maybe the seniors did because I was just a freshman but it meant the world to the seniors and it made me happy to help out."
The Lakers took off from there, winning games against some solid clubs like Prospect Mountain to eventually secure a winning record. The regular season finale was the icing on the cake however, as I-L hosted perennial power Gilford High School on the turf in Meredith. While the Golden Eagles won 8-0 when the teams met earlier in the season, the Lakers wouldn't be denied. In a pouring rain that made for a miserable afternoon, Rotonnelli scored a goal and assisted on the game-winner to Charlotte Morrow in a 2-1 win.
"From losing 8-0 to beating them was pretty far," began Rotonnelli. "But I thought our first game against them was definitely not a reflection of how we played. We definitely played better the second time."
Those end of the season games were a little difficult for the speedy forward however. Battling an injury, Rotonnelli was also seeing double and sometimes triple coverage down the stretch. That was especially the case when the Lakers would play a team for the second time, knowing the prolific goal-scoring had a knack for finding the back of the net.
"It was frustrating," she admitted. "I tried to use it to my advantage, to draw people in and play the ball to other players. All of our other forwards are capable of scoring goals. But yeah, it got to be very frustrating because I wasn't really used to that. Just had to learn to get around it."
Rotonnelli plays her club soccer with Seacoast Express, where the competition is high for the U-15 squad. Her team plays showcases all over, with one scheduled for Thanksgiving in Mass.
"I played Seacoast last year but now playing for Seacoast Express, it's more competitive," Rotonnelli explained. "But I enjoy playing club (soccer). I've had a good experience with it and making friends from different places through it."
With the season over now after a first round playoff loss to eventual state champion Hopkinton, the Lakers and Rotonnelli are now already looking forward to next season. With a new environment of success surrounding the program, the sky is the limit for the upstart Lakers.
"I think we can win more games and be just as successful," she said. "Other teams are losing seniors everywhere. I expect that we're going to be very competitive again."
With Rotonnelli leading the charge, it's safe to say the Lakers aren't going away any time soon.