Belmont’s Kaitlyn Berry works to get around a pair of Laconia defenders during action on May 18. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
May 28, 2012BELMONT – Kaitlyn Berry admits she did more than just gently encourage Belmont High School athletic director Rick Acquilano to allow the formation of a girls' lacrosse team at the school. The freshman co-captain was persistent.
"We definitely bugged the AD for weeks on end," said Berry with a smile prior to a home game against Merrimack Valley two weeks ago. "I've been playing lacrosse for nine years and I didn't just want to drop my stick and not be able to play once high school started."
With the Lady Raiders' first season as a program now officially in the books, the players on the squad now hope for continued growth towards becoming a varsity program. The goal is to make that a reality in 2014, with one more season as a club team playing against other school's freshmen and JV squads before making the step up.
There were plenty of positives to take from year one, namely that the team had solid numbers on its roster and got to put together an 11-game schedule. With the squad consisting of mainly freshmen and eighth-graders, it was a good first step into the local lacrosse landscape for a program on the rise.
"I think it's been exciting for everyone," said senior co-captain Kayla Robbins, the lone member of the Class of 2012 on the roster. "Just because everyone is so new to the sport and I think everyone is really enjoying it. Each game we don't really know what to expect so it ends up being really exciting going to every game. Winning helps too."
Winning does help. While the Raiders weren't sure what to expect this spring, their results against the local competition was impressive to say the least. Belmont won seven of its first 10 games during its first year of action.
"To be honest, we came in here not even really expecting to win a game," said Berry, one of the most experienced members of the team in the sport despite being just a freshman. "We just came in here looking to have fun but once we started winning games, it definitely kept people's attitudes up. We would always hope to win obviously, but we weren't sure how it was going to be."
"It definitely reinforced that everything we were doing was worth it," she said. "All the two hour long practices after school every day were paying off."
Head coach Wayne Kreiensieck knew he would have his hands full when winter clinics began for the team in February. While some players got a jumpstart on learning the sport, others never even picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time until spring practice began two months ago.
"I didn't have any experience," admitted eighth-grader Emily Ennis, one of the top scoring threats on the Raiders. "I didn't even think about playing it until a couple of months ago. I was in gym class and the coach had walked in and my gym teacher told him 'here's a player for you.' So I talked to the coach about it and saw some posters around school for it and decided to try it out."
While lacrosse isn't an easy sport to pick up right away, the Belmont team slowly grew some confidence in their abilities. It's an athletic bunch, and the team's speed and agility quickly became an asset on the field.
"I'd never played before so I thought it would be fun to try something new," explained Robbins. "I just wanted the experience of playing so I could say I've played lacrosse before. I'd seen a couple of games but until the first week of the season, I hadn't touched a lacrosse stick before."
Ennis remembers those early struggles well.
"I couldn't even catch the ball at first, it was pretty tough," she said. "But it's turned out pretty well for us. Everyone has started to catch on and we got better as the season went along."
Robbins, whose younger sister Alexa is a freshman and the team's goalie, admits her family was also pretty pleased the school allowed the program to get off the ground this spring.
"My sister was actually thinking of joining the boys' team if they didn't get a girls' team so I know my family was pretty excited that she was going to have all her bones intact after this season now," the elder Robbins said with a laugh. The sisters' mom Marta serves as the Belmont team manager.
SCHOOL TAKES NOTICE
Winning games makes everyone take notice. There's no getting around that fact. Once the Raiders started posting victories, interest in the squad steadily grew. While the Raiders aren't playing a varsity schedule, they are beating teams that are generally the same age and have the same experience levels.
"I think at first not a lot of the people took it seriously at the school but now that we've done pretty well in our first year, it's definitely shown people that we are capable of doing this," said Berry.
With Ennis and several middle school classmates also competing on the team, the hope is to generate a buzz at the lower level so younger players will be tempted to join when they reach the high school.
"I think more people started to come to our games and get into it," Ennis said. "I think people are seeing what a good sport it can be so hopefully that'll help us grow into a varsity program."
With year one in the books, things are off to a good start for the Raiders. Sustaining the program is the next issue, but the fact that Belmont's roster was very young has the team in good standing for the future.
"Over the summer we're going to try and set up clinics for the elementary and middle school kids," said Berry. "I think once a lot of people know how to get into the sport it'll be good for the whole program."
Ennis would like to see the number of players on the roster continue to grow as well, as the experience was certainly a positive one for the eighth-grader.
"It helped me get to know more kids," she explained. "Plus I have my whole group of eighth-graders and freshmen who I've known for awhile and we're all getting to go through the system together, which is cool."
Kreiensieck explained it best in the beginning of the season, when he commented on how this year will hopefully plant the foundation for future growth.
"I really think now that the high school has a team, maybe more younger girls will get into the game," he said back in April. "Before, when you were in grade school, what motivation would you have to start playing the sport when there's nothing at the high school for you?"
The current crop of Red Raiders have certainly taken to the sport, hopefully paving the way for a team that can inflict some damage at the varsity level in years to come.
"You can get into softball and you can get into track but this sport is really upbeat and I think everyone has kind of gotten on board with being lacrosse players," said Robbins.