Last year, there was a new team. This year, there’s a new attitude.
Relying heavily on seasoned vets, such as Blue-Gold All-Star selection Emiley Shuey, in 2016, first-year head coach Kelsea Ayers and an inexperienced Indian River High School girls’ lacrosse squad still managed to win five games during their varsity season.
But despite graduating their leading scorer, the new-look Indians are aiming to double their win total and make a run at the playoffs this spring, with a full year of experience and new commitment to getting the program off the ground.
“Last year, as a beginning team, it was definitely more of relying on just a couple of players. This year, we’ve all improved as a team, so I don’t think this year will be just one person stepping up — I think it will be more of a whole team coming together,” explained senior Lexi Haden. “Instead of one person taking [Shuey’s] place, it’s going to be all 12 of us on the field being one.”
As the team’s second-leading scorer in 2016 and a Second-Team All-Conference selection, Haden will again look to lead the offense, along with junior midfielder Helen Davis, who also cracked the All-Conference list as a Second-Team selection last spring.
They’ll be joined by junior defender Delaney Brannon, who could see some action at midfield this season and made the All-Conference cut as an Honorable Mention selection during her sophomore campaign.
Junior goalkeeper Mya Parks will be back between the pipes, along with senior Sara Saylor returning to solidify the defense.
Other key returners this season include junior Zofia Czyewski, junior Mckenize Johnson, sophomore Lexi Webb and sophomore Olivia Lease, who broke out as one of the team’s primary offensive weapons after making the jump from J.V. mid-way through last season.
After just a week and a half of pre-season practices, returning captains Haden, Brannon and Davis were already encouraged by the squad’s new attitude.
“We’re a lot closer. Everyone wants to be here,” said Davis. “You could even tell our first day of practice who had been working hard in the off-season.”
“We’re committed this year. The players who were serious about getting better came back,” added Brannon. “I think these girls this year are using techniques that we’re learning immediately. They’re naturally athletic, and they’re prepared to play.”
Adding to the mix this season will be Haden’s twin sister, Erin, who’s been a stand out for the Indians in both field hockey and swimming, throughout her athletic career at IR, which she’ll finish out on the lacrosse field this spring.
Also a standout for the Indians’ field hockey team, freshman Kaylee “K-Hall” Hall should make an impact in the midfield after picking up a stick and pledging to join the girls’ lacrosse movement over off-season.
“Kaylee Hall is a natural athlete. She’s so aggressive I think she’ll definitely help us out on midfield,” said Lexi Haden of the team’s new talent. “Erin’s looking pretty strong on defense, actually, and Olivia Lease — she’s gonna help on offense a lot. This team is very athletic and very dedicated. They’re committed to lacrosse.”
As for the coaching staff, joining Ayers and assistant coach Anne McBride this season will be assistant coach Maddy Hess, who coached at Sussex Academy last year after finishing out her playing career at Virginia Tech.
“It’s great, because Kelsea played attack and Maddy played defense,” said Davis of the coaching duo. “They definitely know what they’re talking about.”
While the new outlook has the Indians with high hopes headed into the regular season, they’re also remaining committed to helping the young program grow toward the future.
“Even if we aren’t winning games, I just want to see little wins,” said Brannon, “people using what we learned in practice and working together and being a team. I feel like working together should be our main goal.”
The Indians will put the teamwork to the test when the regular season gets under way on Thursday, March 23, in a home game against Polytech at 4:30 p.m.