Sixteen Bishop Guertin girls lacrosse players commit to college programs

Bishop Guertin's Stephanie Reap(15) and Madison Keating (10) are two of 16 Cardinals committed to play lacrosse in college either next year or in 2023. (Telegraph photo by TOM KING)

NASHUA – It’s a Sweet Sixteen.

A lot of high school girls sports teams are thrilled if they have four or five players set to play in college in the future, either the next season or the season after.

Well, how about 16?

It’s an amazing number. There are nine Bishop Guertin seniors moving on to play in college next season, and seven juniors who have made their college plans already, and two of them play junior varsity.

It’s just an example of how the program has come along over the last few years, with former coach Kerry Gobiel setting the foundation and coaching the Cardinals to two straight Division I state titles, and her former JV coach, Leslie Why, taking over last fall and holding things together in the wake of a year with no season.

The Cardinals have become one of the premier programs, if not the premier program in the state.

“What are my thoughts when I start to think about having that much depth? The biggest challenge is getting them all playing time,” Why said. “Just getting them all the time they’ve earned, the time they deserve.

It’s almost (16) a full roster of commits.

“They’ve all worked hard to be committed (to schools). You could really see it last spring, kids either dug in deep, spent time on turf with a friend or just alone, with a cone and a net, and they just went at it. They worked on their footwork and their stickwork. You could really see their skills. Those kids really separated themselves apart, and they made videos, and just sent them off. They worked hard.

“We have a history of having a strong program, but I don’t think we’ve ever had this many commits, and this many kids interested in going on and playing. It’s just developing them all to the extent they want to be developed.”

It helps when there’s a staff of six coaches – all but one are paid. And they had 60 players on the first day of practice with 71 signing up, and likely a varsity, JV-A and JV-B teams. So you can almost see why the commits are that high – and with a JV-A team that could beat some varsity clubs.

Why has been in the program since 2017, and the question has to be, how did this program explode over time? Why notes that other Guertin sports teams for the last three years or so have had multiple sub-varsity teams.

But how did the Cardinals get so many players committed two years from now?

It goes back to the off-season program, the New Hampshire Tomahawks.

“The focus on the ’22s was as we came through (the) Tomahawks,” Why said. “The Tomahawks had a purple team and a gold team. And both teams were very good, and both teams had kids who wanted to go on and play in college.”

So, as Why explained, you had two rosters of 22-24 players, “and pretty much all of them want to go on and play.

“The ’21s kind of led the way on that. They were really focused. They had Kerry as a coach, and she was very focused on getting them recruited, and the same thing with the ’22s. Kerry was really focused on them, too, and she did a great job. They’re all very engaged, and they all want to play (at the next level). That’s really where you get the feeder program of the New Hampshire Tomahawks. And, once you get the momentum, kids are going to want to leave their town to (play in school).”

The fact Guertin has been mainly in-school rather than online also has brought some talent in terms of transfers.

“COVID almost worked to our benefit,” Why said. “BG was just more prepared.”

But the quality of the colleges that the athletes are going to is a great mix.

From Virginia and Stanford to Saint Leo’s – Division I, II and III, there’s all sorts of opportunities at all three levels, and the Cardinals have taken advantage of them.

“I think there’s some great schools, there’s some variety, and there’s a fit for every kid to where they’re going. We’ve got Stanford, Oregon, UVA, Holy Cross,” Why said. “And then we’ve got some kids who have chosen to go (Division) II because the size of the school, or the major they’re choosing or the program is a better fit for them.”

Here’s the key: The Cardinal players who are moving on to play in college want to get on the field right away.

“They want to walk on the field and be an impact player,” Why said. “We have a wide range of types of programs, but I think they’re all pretty high quality if you look at where they’re ranked, and things like that. These programs are well regarded and well ranked. And the schools are well regarded and well ranked.”

And some are in warmer parts.

“These kids are sick of (the weather),” Why said. “Part of it is COVID. Of the seven (seniors), I think we have two going down to Florida.”

And Why said the Cards are starting to see a pattern with those future destinations.

“We’re starting to see kids go to the same programs, and even competing programs, which is pretty fun,” Why said.

Here is the full list of commits:

Emma Hayhurst, senior, Saint Leo University; Lindsay Hult, senior, College of Holy Cross; Maddy Keating, senior, University of Indianapolis; Teagan McInnis, senior, Southern New Hampshire Univerity; Tannah O’Neill Blake, senior, Roberts Wesleyan University; Kyla Pascucci, senior, Gardner Webb University; Amelia Piercy, senior, Bryant University; Kate Simpson, senior, Framingham State; and Frida Turriza, senior, UMass-Lowell;

Rylee Bouvier, junior, Stanford; Katherine Campel, University of Virginia; Natalie Coutu, junior, University of Oregon; Delaney Ramalho, junior, University of New Hampshire; Stephanie Reap, junior, Falgler College (Fla.); Mikhaila Mendell, junior, University of Mount Olive (N.C.), and Debra Moyer, junior, Saint Leo University.

How is it so many juniors committed so early? How unusual is that? The first time they can be contacted by schools is Sept. 1.

“There was a lot of back and forth whether that was going to happen because of COVID,” Why said. “I’d say four out of the seven were contacted on Sept. 1, and a couple within a few weeks. There was more of a delay because of COVID, but some went to later fall and into January.”

Some will even go on to Division III programs. And if you think that was early, Why said before the NCAA rules changed a couple years ago, they used to be contacted even earlier. The current Sept. 1 junior year recruit date has been in place for the last two or three years, Why said.

“And the summer before your junior year is usually a big recruiting summer,” she said. “(Players) will do a lot of recruiting tournaments. And you do a lot of outreach leading up to that. You’re sending out emails, and contacting coaches and sending out film.”

Bouvier, again just a junior, is Exhibit A. One of the best offensive standouts on this year’s team – and the Cardinals Offensive Player of the Year as freshman – she committed to Stanford right away in September.

“I wanted to challenge myself academically and athletically at the highest level possible, and Stanford offers me both of those opportunities,” Bouvier told The Telegraph last fall. “The coaching staff is one of the best in the country, and showed me tremendous support throughout my recruiting process.”

Bouvier, who is from Hollis, was one of the first players of the class of 2022 from the New England region to commit to a Division I program.

“She’s been at it for a long time, since the seventh grade,” Why said of Bouvier’s search for the right collegiate fit. “She’s been going to camps and identifying the Top 10 schools she was interested in, sending film, etc. Stanford coach Danielle Spencer is the former Dartmouth College head coach.

“I talked with (the Stanford coaches), and they indicated they intend for her to play and be an impact player right away.”

Stanford isn’t a national lacrosse power, but was ranked in the Top 20 in Division I during the 2019 season.

Players like Bouvier, who committed early, will have to, Why said, get bigger, stronger, faster – increase muscle mass, strength, etc.

Why remembers back to when she played, and it was Sept. 1 of a high school player’s senior year before coaches could make contact.

“And now, it happens earlier,” she said. “But your recruiting efforts – or rather your efforts to get recruited – really should start in the eighth or ninth grade.”

And that, she said, is “to make sure you’re getting film, you’re getting to camps, and you’re getting out to these schools, getting in focus and go through the process. Those are the kids who tend to get into colleges first (to play lacrosse).”

Why said the fit is key, not the size of the school.

“There are several Division II or high Division III teams that are better than a low Division I team, if we were to compare,” she said. “We’re working hard on inclusion and to put to rest this ‘D1 or Die’ attitude among the players.

“We’re encouraging our student-athletes to find the best academic, athletic and overall fit for them so they are best positioned to have a mentally healthy, physically and socially healthy and fulfilling college experience.”