By Tris Wykes
HANOVER – Ryan Gardner furrowed his brow as he looked at a clipboard this week, searching for a specific name on his current Hanover High boys lacrosse roster.
“It’s like a whole new team,” the seventh-year coach said.
He’s not wrong. The Marauders return only three starters from the squad that went 11-4 and finished fifth in NHIAA Division I during the 2019 season. Two others saw varsity time that year and… that’s it for front-line veterans.
“It requires a little bit of patience,” said senior midfielder Brett Simmons. “The older players, we’re trying to use our experience to help the new guys along, to build the team back.”
Said Gardner: “We’ll have kids getting varsity minutes who are having their first meaningful interaction with the sport.”
Hanover enjoyed participation numbers in the 40s during recent years, but currently has 31 players in the program. That, along with declining numbers in the town’s youth teams, led the Marauders not to do as they’ve always done, and successfully petition up to play a Division I schedule.
“Some people have gotten lazy and dropped out,” said Simmons, one of Hanover’s 10 seniors. “But this year, most of the people on the team are really serious about lacrosse.”
It’s Hanover’s first time in Division II since the NHIAA went to multiple divisions during the 1990s. The program long belonged there in terms of school enrollment, but the town’s robust feeder program allowed the Marauders to play up for more than 20 years.
“It’s an amazing testament to the youth program that we have been able to remain competitive in Division I as long as we have,” said Gardner, a 1996 Hanover High graduate who rose through those same ranks. “Many of the players for the other (Division I) programs play year-round and avail themselves of the club opportunities more.”
Gardner remembers a Division I coaches’ meeting in Bedford two years ago. He was the only attendee who had to drive more than 25 minutes to get there, an example of how much easier it is for families from Concord south to access clubs, coaches and clinics.
Hanover’s 12-game schedule includes single contests against Alvirne and John Stark and two-game sets against Manchester Memorial-West, Derryfield, Goffstown, Keene and Lebanon. Only the latter, a Division III member, is outside of Division II.
Gone are uphill tilts against powerful programs such as Pinkerton, Bishop Guertin, Exeter and Londonderry. Hanover’s four losses during 2019 were to teams that finished above it in the regular-season standings. The Marauders were outscored, 55-12, during those clashes.
Unlike previous years, when having the varsity and JV teams practice on the same field became crowded, Gardner’s leaning towards doing it regularly this spring. He often had 25 varsity players in the past, so another five or six won’t make much difference. It allows younger and less-experienced competitors to watch, learn and be tutored by their peers.
“Anybody who shows up could be called on to dress or play or be in a key role,” Gardner said. “We want to take the younger guys who didn’t get a chance last year to learn what Hanover lacrosse was about, and give them a chance to all develop similarly.”
Hanover’s three returning starters are Simmons, defenseman Noah Bradley and attackman Noah Fahey, all seniors. Classmate Danny Pitiger began 2019 as a long-stick midfielder before switching to goaltender, where he’s the likely starter this spring. Junior midfielder Seamus Murphy and senior attackman Jack Badams saw varsity time two years ago and junior midfielder/attackman Dylan Hendrick was a standout on the JV.
It wasn’t long ago that Hanover fielded teams of veteran lacrosse players, a decent chunk of whom competed at the club level in Southern New Hampshire or Massachusetts. The Marauders regularly sent prospects to NCAA Division III programs and even to lower-level Division I teams. Now, Gardner has players who’ve been in the sport for fewer than two weeks.
“I’ve heard about similar numbers issues from coaches around the state,” said Gardner, who’s coached at various levels for the past 20 years. “And talent takes you only so far anyways. I’ve had teams that were very talented but couldn’t do anything with it because they didn’t have the attitude and work ethic.
“We have a ton of really high-character kids who are leaders in other areas of the school. Some are captains of other teams in other sports and they want to compete and get better.”
Another challenge for Hanover is the lack of preseason scrimmaging. The Marauders often worked against Woodstock and perennial Vermont power Champlain Valley Union, but booking teams from the Green Mountain State is out because of Covid-19 precautions.
“We’re still a little rusty but it’s great getting back out here,” Simmons said. “We haven’t played together in a while so getting that chemistry on offense and defense is going to take time. Our stick skills are getting better but everything has room to improve.”
Notes: Dylan Hendrick is the nephew of former Dartmouth coach Dud Hendrick, who ran a noted summer lacrosse camp at Canaan’s Cardigan Mountain School for more than 40 years before retiring in 2016… Gardner said he expects Hanover to allow two immediate family members per player to attend home games… Marauders senior attackman Brendan Wolter is the younger brother of former Marauders star Christian Wolter, who later played at the University of Michigan.
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