By Tris Wykes

LEBANON – Sara Ecker left her Lebanon High girls lacrosse players with a final thought Tuesday after their 15-12 loss to visiting Hanover. 

“Let’s get 10 minutes of stretching,” the veteran coach said. “Big muscle groups. Tomorrow’s going to be a tough day for those of you who did a lot of running.”

Hanover High’s Lia Naughton shoots against Lebanon goaltender Lena Nowell and defenders Clara Smyrski (11) and Amalia Hickey (5). Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

That would be pretty much all the Raiders, given that there are only 15 of them. Hustle and determination allowed them to avoid a blowout loss to their neighboring NHIAA rivals, who led by seven goals during the first half. Lebanon (0-1) responded with a four-goal run and trailed, 10-5, at intermission.

“You don’t really know what to expect after being off so long,” said Ecker, who has five returning players from her 2019 varsity, three of them starters. “So today tells me our younger players have been paying attention for the last three weeks. 

“I don’t feel I have even one player who doesn’t put in everything they have. It doesn’t mean they’re always perfect on throwing and catching, but they’re always hustling and doing what they need to do. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”

Lebanon surrendered the second half’s first goal before notching three of the next four to pull within 12-8 midway through the period. The Marauders scored three of the subsequent five goals to put the game away, but the Raiders popped in the final two tallies to build confidence for the teams’ rematch Thursday at Hanover.

“They’re legit; they really pressured us,” said second-year Hanover coach Sarah Martin, a former Dartmouth associate head coach whose team improved to 2-0 and has scored 36 goals during its two contests this spring.

Hanover’s Lia Naughton had six goals for a second consecutive game and Caroline Adams had four. Lebanon was led by Kayla Taber, who posted a hat trick. 

Maddie Jewell, Sydney Gonyea and Ella Longacre each had two goals for the Raiders, who received 14 saves from senior Lena Nowell. Marauders senior netminder Macy Demara, an emergency replacement for a quarantined teammate, stopped eight shots.

Lebanon High’s Maddie Jewell is sandwiched by Hanover’s Caroline Adams (11), and Sadie Higgins (16). Catherine Cole is at left. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Hanover boasts multi-sport standouts including Naughton (skiing), Adams (soccer, basketball), Maeve Lee (soccer, hockey), Danielle Rudd (soccer, hockey), Kali McDonnell (hockey) and Mia Madden (soccer, skiing). 

Martin doesn’t want to stifle such athleticism, preferring to instead work daily on fundamentals and not overly complicate game plans with tactics.

“We let the game come to them,” Martin said. “If their stick skills aren’t strong enough, that’s ok. We’re a strong enough coaching staff that we can teach that. But I can’t teach speed, hustle and the willingness to go after ground balls. 

“In high school, if your kids are willing to outwork their opponents and just play with their natural senses, you let them.”

One factor that often separates high school lacrosse teams is the willingness of their players to immediately drive to net upon gaining possession and spying an opening. Hanover has that with the likes of Naughton, Adams, Lee, Wylie Lucas, Lauren Eiler and Sadie Higgins. 

“We have to find a balance between knowing what’s a smart opportunity and when to slow it down and look for a better chance,” Martin said. “With a young team, we’re going to have some growing pains. Lia Naughton is stepping up at attack and really being our quarterback there.”

Adams has played in so many pressure situations in so many sports that she’s rarely fazed. The junior’s poise and high motor make her resemble a college competitor on a high school field. 

“We ask her to do everything in the midfield,” Martin said. “She sets the tone and she’s our goal scorer. The kids really respect her. She has that quiet confidence and presence that I just love.

“She not a loud player; she just outworks people.”

Hanover High’s Wylie Lucas, center, looks for room against Lebanon defenders Clara Smyrski (11) and Amalia Hickey (5). Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Ecker found similar characteristics in her players Tuesday. Staring down the barrel of a potential rout, the Division III Raiders didn’t dissolve into finger-pointing and self-pity, instead chipping away at a foe that’s been a longtime Division II power.

“Our kids didn’t hang their heads and they didn’t give up,” Ecker said. “It could have been over early and the score was a testament to them not wanting it to be.”

Lebanon’s defense struggled at times, however, allowing Hanover shooters clear lanes of fire. Ecker, a former college defender, is known for teams that squeeze opponents the closer they get to goal, but the Raiders’ three weeks of preseason practice didn’t include any scrimmages. Teaching defensive slides and back-side help in theory only goes so far.

“We only have one low defender with some experience,” said Ecker, whose team practiced sporadically last week because of school vacation and weather. “There are obviously things we need to do different and better, but now that we know what (defense) looks like against somebody else, our players realize that.”

Notes: Nowell, who also plays field hockey and ice hockey, plans to attend Union (N.Y.) College, about 15 miles from Albany. The school has roughly 2,200 undergraduates. Its alumni include Chester Arthur, the 21st President of the United States, and Jimmy Carter, the 39th U.S. President. Carter studied nuclear physics at Union’s graduate school… Lebanon principal Ian Smith, father of Raiders player Molly Smith and previously an assistant principal at Hanover, watched from the sidelines in a Raiders baseball cap, jacket and tie. He occasionally gave the referees mild guff… One of Martin’s online bio pages from her time at Dartmouth lists her favorite food as chocolate chip pancakes.

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Hanover High girls lacrosse coach Sarah Martin addresses her team at halftime. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.