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Old high school lacrosse rivals team up to form high-scoring college duo

Tuesday’s game, like too many this year, was falling apart for the Southern New Hampshire University women’s lacrosse team. The Penmen had surrendered seven unanswered goals to rival Franklin Pierce, letting a 16-8 bulge turn into a 16-15 struggle in the final minute. But SNHU reversed all that negative momentum and finally iced the win when Bow’s Lindsay Bucknam scored on an assist from Concord’s Phoebe Clark with five seconds left.

“It was one of those games where I did not want to lose,” said Clark, a two-year captain who had a team-high five goals and three assists in the game. “Playing against them and St. Anselm are our two biggest games, so it was one I was not going to let slip away.”

The win was a rarity this year for the Penmen, who enter today’s season finale at 5-11. The production from Clark and Bucknam, however, has been constant.

Bucknam, a junior attack, leads the team in points (47) and assists (18) and is second in goals (29). Clark, a senior attack, is second in assists (nine) and third in both points (34) and goals (25) and has been named the team’s co-MVP for the season.

“(Clark) does a lot on the field that gets stats, but she also does a lot that doesn’t get stats,” SNHU Coach Kate Mullen said. “She’s somebody I trust in every situation, somebody I want on the field in a tough spot.”

Even though Concord and Bow High are in different divisions, Clark and Bucknam faced each other in high school when their teams would meet in the regular-season finale. The game didn’t matter in the standings, but it did to the players, and Clark and Bucknam certainly took each other seriously.

“We were kind of rivals in high school, and (Bucknam) was always one of the people who was on our team’s radar,” said Clark, who was a two-time Class L first-team selection for Concord. “Having her skills on my side now is a lot more fun.”

“I always knew (Clark) was a really great player,” said Bucknam, who had 128 goals and 48 assists in her career at Bow. “And then after coming here and getting a chance to play with her, I think we work really well together.”

Clark was Mullen’s first recruit at SNHU, and the coach can’t imagine starting off on a better foot.

“We kind of connected right away, both as a coach and player, but she’s also just an easy kid to talk to,” Mullen said. “She’s super bright, she was really mature even as a high school kid, she comes from a great family and it was a no-brainer to want her at SNHU. She was a dream first recruit.”

Clark lived up to that hype as a freshman when she was third on the team in points (46), second in goals (36), was named the Northeast-10 Rookie of the Year and helped the Penmen to a 9-8 record and a spot in the NE-10 tournament. She followed that up with 35 points as a sophomore and 32 as a junior, both totals ranking her third on the team. And Clark’s contributions as a leader were just as valuable as her goals and assists.

“She’s not afraid to use her voice, but she definitely leads by example with how she prepares and conducts herself,” Mullen said. “She’s such a responsible kid, so she’s always thinking about the details, like who’s got the ball bag, who’s got this, this is what we’ll need for this day. She’s like an on-field coach.”

“She’s really motivated and she’s always looking out for the best of the team,” Bucknam said. “If we ever have a conflict, she’s the first one I will go to and talk to about it because she’s always reasonable and thinks things through.”

Unlike Clark, Bucknam did not have such a smooth transition from high school to college. While she appeared in 14 games as a freshman, she played multiple positions and didn’t have a clearly defined role. The result was some frustration and just three goals and one assist. Things changed drastically the next year when Mullen directed her to score goals and Bucknam happily obliged, finishing second on the team in both goals (37) and points (43). And she’s continued that progress this season.

“Her game looks a little more natural to me this year, like she knows what to do without thinking about it,” Mullen said. “But she’s a really smart player and she likes to analyze what’s happening during a game. And she’s just so solid athletically, she’s like a machine, she can go and go and go.”

Unfortunately for Bucknam, she won’t get to go any further this year than today’s home game against American International. And for Clark, today will mark the end of a stellar lacrosse career.

“I’m sure I’ll be crying before the game,” Clark said. “But I just want to end it as well as I began my freshman year. I want to get that last win.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)

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