---- — Danvers High girls lacrosse coach Nico Prandi is brutally honest about his personal expectations and his experience coming into this season.
This is Prandi’s first gig patrolling the sidelines of a varsity lacrosse team and the Falcons have cashed in on his honesty and open-minded approach so far. Danvers managed only four wins a year ago and they’ve already doubled their win total this season. The Falcons are also at the top of the Northeastern Conference North standings at 5-0.
”Honestly, I didn’t know too much (in the preseason). I knew when we were having tryouts that it felt like we had a great team that could do a lot of damage. (But) I wasn’t sure how we’d be against actual teams because last year wasn’t that great,” Prandi said.
”I went into it pretty positively and thought we could do much better than last year.”
Prandi’s inexperience made for an interesting — and effective — coaching method. He wasn’t trying to make his players fit a specific system, the dreaded square peg in a round hole approach. He’s simply played to his players’ strengths.
”I don’t think we had a very strict style to begin with,” Prandi said. “It was pretty open. I’ve just been kind of molding it into what I want it to look like because I didn’t have that much experience.”
Prandi is quick to credit his players with the early success. He feels the team’s balance has made it a tough matchup for their opponents.
”I think a huge part of it is that the girls are just really teachable. We see something that could be different and make a point to say it, and they try it out the next game. It’s very easy to be improving because they’re willing to do it and they jump on it,” Prandi said.
”The whole team blends in very well together. It’s easy to run an offense together and learn each other’s moves and use each other’s strengths. I can say the same for the defense; they’re on the same page.”
Rachel Trocchi and Meaghan McKenna are the two players that drive the Falcons’ offense. Trocchi is an excellent goal scorer and a calming influence on the team. The offense runs through her; Prandi says she “acts as a good QB for the team.”
McKenna, meanwhile, is a fast and aggressive midfielder. She’s dangerous driving to the cage and is also an excellent scorer.
Goalie Kara Connors is the backbone of a very solid defense.
Just as Prandi kept an open mind coming into the season, he’s keeping that approach as the team heads into the second half of the schedule. His focus is more on the team than reaching specific goals.
”I think it’s perfecting the way we run things. We’ve just been identifying a couple injuries and girls being away and playing girls we didn’t before. We want to keep perfecting the offense and running things to perfection as a unit,” Prandi said. “It’s the same on defense, we want to be perfecting the little things we haven’t been very consistent with.”
Peabody boys coach Anthony O’Donnell plans a trip for his team each season, and this past weekend he took his team to Southern New Hampshire University to check out the school and the lacrosse program, plus play a game. This year’s trip was a huge success, other than the tough 9-5 loss to Swampscott.
Southern New Hampshire was an obvious choice for O’Donnell because two of his former players -- Keifer Heckman and Nick Ouellette -- are freshmen with the Penmen lacrosse program.
”It was a great experience. We got there Friday afternoon, Nick and Keifer met us and gave us a tour of the facilities and the campus, and we watched them practice,” O’Donnell explained. “They broke down film (after practice) and we sat in with them. It was a neat experience for me and the kids; it’s not something you see on an every day basis.”
The Tanners then got to practice together that night. They played Swampscott Saturday morning, enjoyed a cookout with the Big Blue, then watched Southern New Hampshire play.
The real treat for the Tanners was watching their former teammate, Heckman, score his first two collegiate goals.
”It was pandemonium when he scored,” O’Donnell laughed. “We had to hold everyone back. And he scored another goal (after the first). It was a three-goal game and he put it out of reach. It capped off a really good weekend. It was great.”
Lax Lowdown, a column on North Shore high school lacrosse, runs each Tuesday during the spring sports season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.