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Tim O

Transition season in the past, Concord girls’ lacrosse aims bigger

When Stephanie Johnson took over as the Concord High girls’ lacrosse coach last year, she was replacing a coach, Terry Anderson, who had been leading the Crimson Tide for 15 years. She also was inheriting a team that graduated 12 seniors, 11 of them starters, after an undefeated state championship season in 2012.

“There were a lot of different groups coming together last year,” said Johnson, who is also Concord’s field hockey coach. “We had girls who transferred from other schools, we had a group that was on varsity the year before, and then another group who was on JV.”

It’s a different story this year as the Tide returns 11 players from last year’s team that finished the regular season 7-10 and then lost in the first round of the Division I tournament to eventual state champion Pinkerton, 21-9.

“We’re basically the same as last year, but we’ve been playing together longer, so I think we’re going to be better this year than last year,” said senior midfielder Grace Orzechowski, a three-year varsity player and two-year captain for the Tide. “Getting the chemistry down is not going to take as much time as it did last year, that’s for sure.”

“We only have a few new additions this year, and it feels like everyone is familiar with each other,” Johnson said. “So we’re one step ahead in our starting point than where we were last year.”

The Tide did start slowly last year, going 2-6 in its first eight games before jelling in the second half. The progression and cohesion seem to be coming quicker this year, even though wet fields have forced the team to play indoors except for its three scrimmages at Bishop Guertin, Bedford and Derryfield, three schools with turf fields.

“There was definitely an improvement from our first scrimmage to our last, which is a good direction to be going in, and we’re coming together as a team very nicely,” Johnson said. “And it’s not just me coaching them, the girls are really helping each other and working together to be more successful.”

Orzechowski, who has excellent speed, vision and feel for the game, will lead a deep and versatile Concord midfield. Seniors Jess Malfait (who will handle the free position duties), Keely Mills, Brook Simonton and junior Sarah Ek were all on the varsity roster last year and are all effective as both attacking and defensive midfielders. They will be joined by sophomore Stephanie Resnick and freshman Delana Erickson.

“(Erickson) is extremely fast and she can run for an entire game and not seem to be winded whatsoever,” Johnson said. “She has a great shot and she can be going though four people and still get the ball in the net and make it look graceful.”

Concord’s three attack positions will be filled by a pair of returning players, senior Adelaide Symmes and junior Veronyca Daniels, and a varsity newcomer in Kaela Nikodem. Symmes has a strong shot and is aggressive going to goal, Daniels has an uncanny ability to make difficult catches and is a tough transition defender, and Nikodem has been effective near the cage during the preseason.

The Tide’s defense is defined by leadership and tenacity. Senior Melissa Harper, the team’s vocal leader and a near constant source of encouragement and positivity, and junior Bella Rubin, a strong defender who is quick to groundballs and effective in transition, are both captains. Senior defender Molly Waite “always has fight in her no matter if it’s the first two minutes of the game or the last 10 seconds,” according to Johnson. And junior Brittany Munnell is another aggressive defender who has stepped up in the preseason as Rubin recovers from a concussion.

“When we get settled and can situate ourselves, we have a really strong defense,” Orzechowski said.

That defense will serve the Tide well as a pair of inexperienced goalies try to get up to varsity speed. Sophomore Amandaline Tibbals, the starting varsity goalie for the Concord girls’ ice hockey team, is playing lacrosse for the first time. Freshman Avery Loosigian does have some experience in a lacrosse goal, but not at the high school level.

“At this point there’s not one that’s starting over the other,” Johnson said of her goalies. “They are both in the same kind of place.”

Concord will have an immediate test when it opens the season today at home against Pinkerton, which lost only a few players from last year’s title team. The Astros, Souhegan and Exeter look to be the top three teams in D-I, but where the Tide will wind up is less clear.

“We want to be in the playoffs, that’s our goal for now,” Orzechowski said. “Obviously it would be amazing to be the underdogs and make it to the final four or final two or anything like that, but I’m not sure that’s quite in our reach yet. Then again, we haven’t really been outside yet, so I’m not entirely sure what we’re capable of.”

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

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