Just last May, Kelsea Ayers was leading the Ohio State University Buckeyes lacrosse team to the Big Ten title game and an NCAA tournament appearance. Less than a year later, she’s aiming to lead the Indian River High School girls’ lacrosse team to similar success in their first varsity season, as head coach.
“I just loved everything about it,” Ayers said of her collegiate career. “The things I learned there — core values and how to work hard — is what I’m bringing to this team.”
Even after a week of practice and a scrimmage against Stephen Decatur on Thursday, March 10, that experience and enthusiasm has already started to make its way onto the field. And, to carry out the new mantra of the team, Ayers has named senior midfielder Emiley Shuey, junior midfielder Lexi Haden and sophomore midfielder Kealey Allison as captains.
“She understands us — she’s been in our position before,” said Allison. “She works us hard, but it pays off.”
“She makes us step up to the next level,” added Shuey. “She’s definitely a good motivator.”
Along with Haden, Allison and Shuey are returning as the team’s leading scorers from last year’s inaugural junior varsity season, in which they went 8-0-1, not losing a single game.
Despite some key returners, the Indians will also see their fair share of newcomers this season, by way of both freshmen and first-time players looking to get into the growing sport. They’ll also look to replace key components including defender Maggie Allison, who currently is playing at the Division I level for Towson University.
“It’s tough not having Maggie in the back,” said Shuey. “She was definitely someone we could count on back there. We just have to work together, and we all have to get better and we all have to put it all in.”
“It’s different, because I’ve never started a program and I’ve never had people where they’ve never played before,” Ayers explained. “I have to reevaluate what’s gonna work for different people, because everyone learns a different way. It’s definitely been a challenge, but I’m excited about it.”
The new squad was put to the test last Thursday against the Seahawks and saw some production from both ends of the spectrum. Shuey finished with a hat trick on the day, with Allison adding a score as well, and first-time goalkeeper Mya Parks racked up four saves in her debut between the pipes.
“Today, we focused on little successes,” Ayers said. “It wasn’t about the score of the game or anything like that. Today, we focused on ground balls, little victories. Those little things is what we’re holding on to, and we’re gonna keep getting better.”
Most impressively in that game, according to Ayers, was a new play put in place and learned before the game that ended in successful execution and a Shuey score. It’s that kind of example of focus and teamwork that she sees as a key factor in success this season.
“Everybody is rallying together,” she explained. “We run every day at the beginning of practice and every day at the end of practice. It’s so cool to see them cheering each other on.
“It’s not all about winning games. It’s about helping these girls to be better people. I’m super-stoked for this season. This season is a growing year, but I’m not gonna put a cap on it. Anything really can happen. It depends on if they’re willing to put in the work.”
No matter the record at the end of the season, for players such as Shuey, who finally get to play on a varsity team in their senior year, or Allison, who entered her freshman year wondering if she’d be able to play lacrosse for her high school, they’re just happy to finally be out there.
“It’s awesome, because my freshman year, there was just a club maybe once or twice a week. My sophomore year, it was the same thing, and then last year we finally had JV, and then now, my senior year,” Shuey started to explain. “We definitely need more practice to be able to trust each other on the field and be able to rely on each other — but you’ve gotta start somewhere.”
The Indians will face off in their first-ever regular-season varsity matchup at Polytech on Wednesday, March 23, at 5:30 p.m.