By Conor Walsh
---- — As spring sports get underway throughout New England, the lasting impact of this year’s particularly nasty March weather promises to be a recurring talking point.
With field space limited by the piles of snow that lasted much father into the spring season than usual, many local teams were forced to adjust their practice schedules and, oftentimes, were unable to even get outside much.
The expected result? A healthy dose of rust.
While it remains to be seen if the initial impression of Manchester Essex girls lacrosse coach Sarah Holch is correct or not, the Hornets expect the epidemic of rust to pass them over.
With nearly all of their starters returning from last year’s 11-7 squad that reached the Division 2 North quarterfinals and the good fortune of having the turf of Hyland Field to practice on throughout the snowy season, Holch is expecting her squad to come flying out of the gates -- a trend that began with yesterday’s 17-5 thrashing of Winthrop in the season opener.
“We only lost that one snow day,” Holch said. “After that, we had part of the turf field plowed by the maintenance guys so we were able to get out there quite a bit. I think we’re doing really well.”
To extend the advantage that the Hornets appear to have over much of their competition, Holch said her veteran squad showed up ready to go. Behind senior captains Carolyn Heslop and Olivia Mastendino, the Hornets have been sharp from day one, allowing them to focus on the more detailed aspects of their strategy rather than devoting the early parts of the season to the basics.
“The girls came ready to play, so we haven’t had to work stick skills and all that,” Holch said. “We’ve been able to jump right in. We’ve had a couple of scrimmages and everyone looks really good. I’ve got a lot of returning players, so that helps a lot.”
Holch isn’t exaggerating her team’s experience. When asked which new faces might contribute to the squad, she was unable to come up with anybody. Nearly all of her starters from last season have returned.
It all starts between the pipes for Manchester Essex, where the combination of senior Maddy Bistrong and sophomore Katie Furber gives Holch a surplus of talent in a supremely important spot.
Ahead of that goalie tandem, the Hornets will lean on an experienced defensive corps that includes senior Sarah Sergeant, junior Sophia Guerrero and sophomores Maya Heath and Olivia Lantz.
From there, Holch expects her team’s skill and speed to allow it to transition quickly and smoothly from the defensive end to the offensive end, relying on the likes of midfielders Heslop, juniors Brittany Smith and Taylor Meek and senior Megan Jones and Mastendino at attack to get set up and put up numbers.
The recipe, it seems, is there for a successful year for the Hornets.
While it’s certainly a different situation for the Gloucester girls lacrosse team, the team’s approaching this season with a similar attitude to its counterparts at Manchester Essex.
The Fishermen aren’t accustomed to much success, having gone winless in 2011 and 5-11 last season.
That 5-11 campaign a year ago, though, was a giant step in the right direction, and fourth-year coach Amanda Levie can feel the energy from that campaign every time her team comes together.
“I’m feeling really positive,” Levie said. “The past couple of years have been a rebuilding experience, but there’s a much more positive energy coming from the team after last season. They’ve got another year of experience together and another year to get more familiar with the style of play.”
With just four substitutes on the bench, the Fishermen expect to have their usual depth struggles this season. The group on the field, though, appears to have the potential to continue the program’s upward trajectory.
They’ll rely on endurance, speed and athleticism, hoping to capitalize on those with some quick transition play. The midfield appears to be the team’s strength, where co-captain Melodie Orrell will be joined by juniors Kenna O’Maley and Kelly Foster and sophomore Tess Destino to form a skilled, athletic bunch.
The defensive end also appears strong, as co-captains Alex Barusso and Airanna Puopolo will be joined by freshman Charlie Gillon to protect junior goalie Yazmeen Shahain.
Throw in junior Caity O’Leary at attack, and Gloucester appears to be primed to continue its progress. So long as the Fishermen can put it all together, and, of course, stay healthy.
“We were 5-11 last year, but I don’t think our record showed the improvement the made,” Levie said. “From no wins in 2011 to that, we were much more competitive last year. We did lose a handful of seniors, but I think we have plenty of experienced players to fill those shoes.”
Gloucester :Last Year's Record: 5-11 Coach: Amanda Levie (4th Season) Captains: Melodie Orrell, Sr., M; Alex Barusso, Sr., D; Arianna Puopolo, Sr., D. Key Returning Players: Kenna O'Maley, Jr., M; Kelly Foster, Jr., M; Tess Destino, Soph., M; Caity O'Leary, Jr., A; Yazmeen Shahain, Jr., G. Key Newcomer: Charlie Gillon, Fr., D. Strengths: Fitness and momentum from a year ago. This team looks to have plenty of athleticism, and Levie noted her players came in in very good shape. And while a 5-11 season doesn't seem like much, the strides the Fishermen made after a winless 2011 season should carry over to this season. Concerns: Depth. The Fishermen will have just four subs on the sideline. Coach's Outlook: "I'm feeling really positive. The past couple of years have been a rebuilding experience, but there's a much more positive energy coming from the team after last season. They've got another year of experience together and another year to get more familiar with the style of play." Season Opener: Next Tuesday vs. Winthrop (4:00). Manchester Essex :Last Year's Record: 11-7 (Lost to Ipswich in Division 2 North quarterfinals) Coach: Sarah Holch (7th Season) Captains: Carolyn Heslop, Sr., M; Olivia Mastendino, Sr., A. :Key Returning Players: Maddy Bistrong, Sr., G; Brittany Smith, Jr., M; Megan Jones, Sr., M; Taylor Meek, Jr., M; Sarah Sergeant, Sr., D; Maya Heath, Soph., D; Katie Furber, Soph., G; Olivia Lantz, Soph., D; Sophia Guerrero, Jr., D. :Key Newcomers: None. The Hornets return nearly all of their starters from a year ago. Strengths: Transition. The squad came in ready to go, Holch said, and with their stick skills sharp, the Hornets have already been able to capitalize on their team speed in transition. Concerns: Rust. While the Hornets may bring back a ton of experience, it's still be nearly a year since this squad was together. The hope for the team is to shake off the cobwebs quickly and get out to a quick startCoach's Outlook: "The girls came ready to play so we've been able to jump right in. I think we're doing really well. Everybody looks really good, and having so many returning players helps me a lot." Season Opener: Yesterday vs. Winthrop (17-5 win)