The Souhegan High School girls lacrosse team knows what is at stake this season. If not, there have been plenty of people to let the Sabers know.
Back in early March, Souhegan coach Maren Petropulos was at Harvard University, watching the Crimson women’s lacrosse team beat Cornell in its first home game of the year.
After the contest, Petropulos went to talk to Lisa Miller, the Harvard head coach. Miller, who coached Petropulos’ daughter, Tyler, during her four years playing for the Crimson, had a message for the Souhegan coach.
“She said to me ‘I know you have a good team this year. If you guys lose, it’s coaching error,’ ” Petropulos said. “I think if we don’t play well, I think it will be something we should have done differently. I certainly have the tools.”
The tools would be Souhegan’s five senior captains, all of whom are committed to continue playing lacrosse in college at the Division I level. For a school with an enrollment of under 900, that’s an absurd number, even to the players.
“I think it’s unbelievable,” said Jesse Jay, one of the five. “Our youth program is very strong and it all starts there. Even our youth coaches still have a big part of what we’re doing now. They’re some of our biggest fans and they want us to do as well as we can. We have a lot of support, which makes it even easier.”
Jay will be playing at UMass-Lowell next year, while fellow seniors Mickenzie Larivee and Madison Learned are heading to Boston University, Jocelyn Donohue is going to George Washington University and Taylor Behn signed with the University of Albany.
“It starts young,” Larivee said. “It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It takes a lot of time to become that skilled, to be able to play at a Division I level. We’ve just played since fourth grade, fifth grade, and we just kept going with it.”
It’s not anything new for the Sabers to have D-I college prospects. Several Souhegan alums have gone on to the next level, including Tyler Petropulos, sisters McKinley and Jojo Curro, who went to BU and University of New Hampshire, respectively, and Danielle Pelletier, who played at UMass-Amherst.
Souhegan’s last championship team, in 2008, had four players who went on to play at the next level, and that group of seniors, like this year’s, had to take their lumps before winning that title. As sophomores, they were undefeated before losing in the semifinals, and in 2007, the lost to Nashua South in the championship game.
After back-to-back championship game defeats, these Sabers are eager to get back.
“It’s expected and it’s kind of our norm,” Learned said. “We know we can get there because we have the past two years. We’re capable of it. What we’re focusing on are all small things.”
Maren Petropulos has watched this group work on those things for all four years of high school.
“They’ve all just gotten better,” the coach said. “Sometimes good athletes plateau, but these kids, whether they are working out offseason, whether its summer lacrosse, they are just so dedicated and focused. They are just special.”
None of them knew that when they each started playing lacrosse for the Amherst Lacrosse Club. It took a few years before they were playing together, but once all five were on the same team, coaches began to take notice.
“We started playing Granite State Elite (lacrosse) in fifth grade and we were all on the same team,” Donohue said. “We started beating all these nationally ranked teams. We knew this was going to carry on.”
It was playing on those teams that helped Behn decide which sport was the one she wanted to put most of her focus.
“I never thought personally that I was going to play in college,” she said. “I just thought lacrosse was a fun game to play. We went to these tournaments and the coaches told us we were getting good feedback.”
Although there were so many of them considering the next level, the five Sabers tried to keep the decision process separate.
“We’d love to play together in college, but we’re very different people,” Donohue sad. “We picked the school that was right. It was stressful. The fall of junior year, there were a ton of college visits. Lots of talking to coaches, but I definitely found where I belong.”
For Larivee, there was someone she wanted to check with before committing to BU.
“The only question I asked McKinley (Curro), because I knew she had fun, I asked her what did you not like about BU,” Larivee said. “She said ‘graduating.’ I was like OK, I’ve got to go here.
“We kind of did our own thing. We didn’t want to influence each other on that because you could be biased about different schools.”
They may not have looked into colleges together, but that didn’t stop them from working on the field to get better.
“It wasn’t until they came here as freshmen that I saw the potential that was in them,” Petropulos said. “They weren’t all good when they got here, but they’ve worked hard at it.
“All of five of them are captains. I’ve never had five captains and I was wondering how this was going to work, but they’re all taking on different roles and they’re all deserving of it.”
Whether the Sabers are deserving of a championship – what would be the program’s third Division I title – remains to be seen.
“We have a big target on our back because of the players we have,” Jay said. “We’re ready for anything and ready to prove we are the best. Our chemistry is so strong, and since it’s our last year playing together, we want to make the best of it. We want to celebrate our legacy the best we can and work as hard as we can, and hopefully, that ends in our overall goal.”