As he enters his fourth spring at the helm of the Whitman-Hanson girls’ lacrosse team, head coach David Rowell is expecting his club to be back in the tournament for the third time in four seasons.
However, the Panthers are going to look a lot different on the field. W-H comes into its new campaign without four of its top five scorers from last season in Rylee Holmes (2016: 22 goals, 16 assists), Rachel Kelly (46 goals, 18 assists), Gabby Majenski (35 goals, 12 assists) and Lauren Bonavita (42 goals, nine assists). The tandem, which combined for 62 percent of the Panthers’ points, helped propel them into the Division 1 South Sectional tournament, where they fell to Braintree 18-10 in the first round.
Leading the charge in 2017 will be senior captains Mel McAleer, Taylor McVeigh and Mikayla White. Rowell said each offers a unique asset to his club.
“Taylor has been with me all four years,” Rowell said. “Taylor is the type of leader who leads by example. She never complains, never takes a drill off and is always putting in the effort to improve. She is a hard worker in the classroom as well. Taylor will never miss a practice or ever leave early.
“Mel is one of the toughest players I have ever coached,” he said. “There is never a doubt in my mind that she wants the ball more than anyone. She is more of a vocal leader on the team, always helping to focus the girls.
“Mik has also been with me for four years,” Rowell continued. “Mik is always early to practice and last to leave. She has a calm demeanor even when she is fired up. She brings out the best in her teammates with her support and leadership.”
Returning between the pipes is junior goaltender Kasey Molito, who started her lacrosse career as a defender her freshman campaign.
“Kasey did not have any experience coming in to last season as a goalie,” Rowell said. “She has a great attitude and is willing to play any position that the team needs her to. Kasey has good reflexes, a very competitive spirit, and good communication with the defense.”
A few areas on which Rowell said he is aiming to improve on is on transition and just implementing the offense. He said the scoring woes came from the implementation of a brand new scheme at the outset of last season.
“There were some growing pains with players learning their cuts and spacing,” Rowell said. “We also had a couple of players last year who could score more off of the break. Now we are in year two of the same offense, so we have more players who are confident in the system. We also have a very good passing team which feeds right into the offense.”
Rowell said his team recognizes the ball can move faster than any player so the troubles in transition should be limited.
“Last year we tried to run up the field more than we needed to,” Rowell said. “We have worked tirelessly on transition and where players should be on the field to maximize space and help to the on-ball player.”
Rowell said he believes the Panthers are in a prime spot to be successful this season if they work as a team.
We have a very challenging schedule by design,” Rowell said. “I wanted to set up the most competitive games that we could so if we make the tournament, we are used to playing close games. This team has the leadership and will to win that it needs. We just need to execute better in transition and on the offensive end. Everyone needs to trust one another and trust the system and we will be successful.”
The Panthers sit at 1-4 on the season and will be back in action Thursday at 11 a.m. on the road against Scituate.