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Evolving Eagles lax reflect on one of best seasons in history

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Dylan Robbs was a consistent performer on the attack for the Gilford boys’ lacrosse team this spring. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
June 18, 2012
GILFORD – Dan Kallmerten wasn't quite sure what to expect from his Gilford High School boys' lacrosse team this spring. He had good reason to wonder, of course. The Eagles head coach lost five of his top nine midfielders, five of his six attacks, some key defenders and a three-year starting goalkeeper to graduation last year following a state championship game appearance as a number 10 seed. Not exactly the best of circumstances.

"I thought that going into the season we had tremendous holes," began Kallmerten. "We lost so many people. I didn't know how we were going to replace all that so I was hoping to be .500 but expecting to be under, to be honest. To fill those holes the way we did was remarkable."

With new players filling in all over the place, Gilford stormed out of the gates to a 5-0 record, briefly sitting as the top team in Division III according to the NHIAA rankings system. Though they went 5-4 the rest of the way, the 10-4 regular season record was the best in program history, and the fifth seed the Eagles received for the postseason was also the best in history. Not bad for a team that came a few goals from being state champs a year ago.

"I think they were two completely different teams though," Kallmerten said of the 2011 and 2012 squads. "Last year we had a lot of talent and a lot of depth. The difficulty was finding the right combos and getting everyone to play together. This year we didn't have that depth or talent so everyone had to play together. And the teams came from two different directions. Last year the record wasn't as good but we knew we had the talent to compete for a state title."

So when the Eagles met powerhouse Pelham in the D-III quarterfinals after dispatching of Kearsarge in the preliminary round, Kallmerten knew his team was going to be in for a tough game. Not only had the Pythons beaten Gilford 15-4 the week before in the regular season, but the team was looking to avenge last year's playoff loss to the Eagles as well.

"They were one of two teams I thought was going to win the finals," said Kallmerten of Pelham. "My feeling was it was either going to be Derryfield or Pelham that won it all. Pelham has a dominating team and they were peaking at the right time. They had an almost unstoppable attack line with three players on it that score a ton. We saw some of those things when we played them the first time around. It was a long bus ride on a hot day (in the playoffs) and we got off to a bit of a slow start. They're just a very good team. We did not have our best game but in the end, I think we just met a better team that day."

While the 14-7 loss to the eventual state runners-up was a tough one to swallow, reaching the quarterfinals did indeed show how far Gilford came throughout the course of the season.

"We were at our preseason tournament in Manchester thinking we could put a pretty good first team on the field but what about after that," recalled Kallmerten. "Dan Dormody broke his collarbone at that tourney and it forced us to look at the underclassmen even more. In the end, we found a lot of talent and I think that's only going to improve. We had six or seven different kids play on our second midfield. Defensively, Jason Hayden transferred in and allowed us to be more flexible. Ben Morris was good, Malcolm Benavides was good. So a lot of things really just came together when we needed them to be."

The success was truly impressive, with Kallmerten saying this year's team will "probably go down as one of the best teams I've ever coached and it was completely unexpected."

"We had some real character games where we were missing people and guys had to step up," the coach said. "Merrimack Valley we were missing one of our captains. That was a very important game. We had some people step up and score some goals, really contribute. The Kingswood game we lost but another character game. Games like that really helped us in the long run I think."

With the foundation now in place for what will hopefully be a prolonged period of success, Kallmerten will now wait and see which players off the radar will step up and fill in the holes for next season.

"What's crazy for us is that every year we lose major scorers," he explained. "So then we go and try and find where we're going to get those goals. It's always a mystery but four or five kids always step up."

A year to remember for the Eagles, and one Kallmerten and crew hope they can duplicate this time next spring.

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