The Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ lacrosse team, which started the year at 1-6, cracked the tournament for the fourth time in five seasons this spring.
Heart, resiliency and perseverance were at the forefront of the Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ lacrosse team’s play this spring.
Sitting at 1-6 with 11 games remaining — the Panthers could only afford to drop three more tilts the rest of the way to make the postseason. That was no issue at all and it was almost like déjà vu for fifth-year head coach Dave Rowell.
“The past two years, we scrimmaged very talented teams in the preseason and started with our league leaders in wins — Scituate, Hingham and Duxbury — in the first half of the season,” he explained. “Both years we started the season in with a 1-6 record and both seasons we fought for a trip to the tournament.”
Even after an 18-1 setback to Duxbury — the defeat that dropped them to 1-6 — Rowell had a feeling that his club would turn the corner.
“I knew with every fiber of my being that we were a good team,” Rowell said. “I saw in that Duxbury game, that I had a team that wouldn’t quit even when we were down 18-0 and they were still trying to score on us. I played everyone in that game so they could each gain experience against the best team in our league.
“We lost the game, but everyone fought for every loose ball and never quit … I always tell them that if we truly want to make tournament, then we have to earn it.”
And earned it the Panthers did by winning eight of their next 11 to make their fourth trip to the Division 1 South Sectional tournament in the past five years. So, what was the key?
“We just had to work that much harder and execute better,” Rowell said. “Every day I encouraged them and focused on our weaknesses. I kept them focused, the captains led by example, and everyone bought in.”
Making the tournament certainly came down to the wire for W-H because after a 14-5 loss to Silver Lake, it had to win out in its final two games, which were on back-to-back days. But, after an 8-6 home victory against Abington, the Panthers clinched in their final game of the regular season with an 8-5 triumph over Hull.
In the Panthers’ last eight regular-season wins, their defense — which was a focal point at outset of the season to improve — allowed just a tick over 5.5 goals a contest.
The defense was led by defenders Cam Boyce and Camille Miller and goalie Kasey Molito (Patriot League All-Star), who set the Panthers’ single-season saves record (268); all were captains.
“Every player I had learned how to play good, legal defense,” Rowell said.
That defensive mindset flowed into the tournament as the No. 17 Panthers held No. 16 Nauset to four goals in a 10-4 road victory.
W-H faced an early 3-0 deficit and was down its center 10 seconds into the game due to a yellow card, but it hadn’t laid down all spring and it wasn’t about to that game either.
“This moment was indicative of our whole season,” Rowell explained. “We don’t panic and we certainly don’t start blaming each other. We collected ourselves and executed what we worked on all year. We came back and never took our foot off of the gas pedal.”
Senior Lauren Bonavita – like she did all season — led the offense with five goals and eight draw controls. Bonavita finished her campaign with 67 goals, which included the 100th of her career.
“Lauren was just awesome,” Rowell said. “She was at every practice and always gave 100 percent. She really became a great lacrosse player, not just a great athlete that played lacrosse.”
However, the Panthers would fall to top-seeded Norte Dame Academy (Hingham), 18-3, in the first round. Regardless, it was one memorable ride.
“I absolutely would say this season was a success,” Rowell said. “If you came to any practice, whether we were winning or losing, the girls were always working hard and still having fun. The most important thing for me is that they get better every day and enjoy the sport. I find that if that is the foundation, wins are a byproduct.”
A LOOK TO FUTURE
As the Panthers turn for next season, they’ll have some holes to fill with the impending departure of eight of 12 starters. However, the return of rising seniors and captain-elects Annika Putur (defense), Samantha Whitman (eight goals, two assists) and Zoe Lydon (30 goals, 23 assists) along with rising junior Riley Bina (29 goals, 21 assists), provides them with a solid core to build around.
“This program keeps getting bigger and better,” Rowell said. “I feel like we always have a next girl up mentality and we will be ready to go in March. Three pillars of our system will always guide us: belief in each other, 100 percent effort every day, every play, and perseverance.”