Spring often embodies the beginning of new life. But for high school athletics it marks the halt in activity for the rest of the summer.
However, this doesn’t mean endings can’t be as beautiful as a flower blooming — especially when a team achieves a grand conclusion like Pingree girls lacrosse.
On Saturday the Highlanders captured their fourth-straight Eastern Independent League title after besting Winsor 14-5 in the Wildcats’ home stadium in Boston. For the seven seniors Erin Jayne, Makenzie Vasque, Sarah Faulkner, Rachel Tammaro, Eleanor Sandt, Lily Pulver and Gabriella Roelofs, this most recent victory means they’ve seized championships every season while at Pingree (16-1).
“It feels great,” said Jayne who is a team captain. “We worked so hard as a team on and off the field and to come out on top makes all the hard work pay off.”
“This was a great season with a group of great athletes,” said second year head coach Jocelyn Brault-Graham. “We had a disruptive defense and had even distribution of production all season long. I think this season was all about excellent team play the entire time.”
Any championship squad has pack-separating qualities critical to their identity and, unsurprisingly, chemistry was Pingree’s strongest asset. Brault-Graham discussed her group’s ability to convene at any point of a game en route to the program’s fourth consecutive undefeated campaign in the EIL circuit.
“That’s something that absolutely helped us,” the former UNC lacrosse star. “It even got to the point where we were able to come up with plays on the sidelines during timeouts ... being able to do that efficiently is a hard thing for teams to prepare for.”
“All of us were so close starting from our preseason trip to Florida up until the last game,” added Vasque, who also captains alongside Jayne. “It translated onto the field where we were picking each other up and feeding off of each other’s energy. It was super exciting to see all of that develop throughout the year.”
The leadership of the senior class was also a pivotal factor in their dominant campaign. While it’s easy for teams to fall into division among younger and older players, the Highlander mainstays raved about the team’s ability to include everyone which allowed players like Elsa Smith and Caroline Kagan to flourish.
“A lot of the younger players are very outgoing which makes it easier to start conversations,” said Jayne. “Everyone wanted to be friends with everyone, allowing the team to have a very welcoming feel to it. They also took every opportunity to learn from the upperclassmen and wanted to get better at practice everyday.”
Sophomore Kendall Traveis in particular had a strong showing among Pingree’s younger stars with 19 caused turnovers and 34 draw controls during the year. The underclassman also shined in their EIL tournament semifinal tilt against Dana Hall with six goals and one assist. Traveis’ knack for finding different ways to contribute certainly caught her coach and captains’ eyes.
“She helps out anyway she can,” said Brault-Graham. “She’s a good offensive threat but also uses her speed to help out with defense and ball control while being an excellent teammate off the field as well.”
“Kendall and I played lacrosse together and she’s great,” said Jayne. “There’s a lot of overlap with the players and the other sports we play, so we get to know each other quite a bit.”
Pingree’s close-knit locker room did give way to their family-like atmosphere, but don’t get this crossed with their fiery competitiveness. Brault-Graham noted that while they were league champions last spring, the team’s edge this time around propelled the Highlanders to another level of excellence.
“I think they definitely had a sort of swagger,” their head coach laughed. “As a smaller school you always want to stick it to the bigger teams and that’s exactly what we did in our non-league games. They wanted to prove they belonged throughout the whole season and it’s fitting that they’re going out as champs.”
Vasque also discussed Pingree’s performance against non-league foes and couldn’t have been more proud. The Highlanders turned in a 5-1 out of league mark which included their first win against Governors in over a decade and a victory against a stout Phillips Andover unit.
“Beating (Phillips Andover) by seven goals after we lost to them by 10 last year was one of the best moments of the season,” said Vasque. “We had a lot more people involved this season and I think that allowed us to spread our talent across the field and become well-balanced.”
It might have taken the entire team to come away as EIL victors again, but Brault-Graham noted that this title was all about the seniors and what they’ve given to the Pingree program.
“Being able to end the season with all seven seniors on the field was so special,” said Brault-Graham. “It was a great way to celebrate their careers and the icing on the cake to a wonderful championship.”
Ipswich also enjoyed the fruits of their labor after defeating Manchester Essex, 15-12, on Saturday at Jack Welsh Stadium to secure the CAL Baker regular season title. Junior captain Haley O’Connor scored six times while fellow junior captain Annie Gillis tallied three goals and three assists.
“It was a great win,” said head coach Kerri O’Connor. “We came out hard and found a way to keep up with them and pull away in the end.”
“It’s awesome to be champs,” said the younger O’Connor after the win. “But we need to keep focusing on trying to get better and improve everyday. There’s more we want to accomplish.”
This forward-type approach isn’t shocking considering how competitive the Tigers have been in the Division 2 North pool. Ipswich has taken trips to the sectional title game three of the past four seasons and is looking to capture the elusive championship.
“That’s one of the goals when we come into the season,” said Kerri O’Connor. “Our first was to win the CAL, but just because we accomplished that doesn’t mean we can’t look forward. We need to focus on winning the last of our games to get good seeding and prepare for the tournament.”
Quick Sticks Power Rankings
1. Marblehead (13-4)
2. Pingree (16-1)
3. Ipswich (11-3)
4. Swampscott (13-2)
5. Masconomet (10-7)
6. Peabody (11-5)
7. Essex Tech (9-8)
8. Beverly (8-9)
9. Hamilton-Wenham (6-8)
10. Bishop Fenwick (7-9)
11. Danvers (7-9)
12. Salem (5-7)
Quick Sticks is a weekly high school lacrosse column that appears in the Salem News each Thursday during the spring season. Contact staff writer Austin Woolman at Awoolman@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @AWoolman_SN.