Oxbow Scoring Aces Get Help From Their Friends
Oxbow Union High girls lacrosse captain Dilan Clements leads her team in a cheer at the close of practice in Bradford, Vt., yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Oxbow junior Mikayla Hodge receives a pass during lacrosse practice in Bradford, Vt., yesterday. Hodge is two goals shy of 100 for her high school career. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Oxbow High School girls' lacrosse goalie Savannah Fay guards the net as her teammates take rapid shots during practice in Bradford. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Emily Speck of Oxbow girls' lacrosse passes to a teammate during practice in Bradford. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Oxbow High School girls' lacrosse captain Dilan Clements, right, takes a defensive stance against teammate Vanessa Valley during practice in Bradford. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Bradford, Vt. — When junior Mikayla Hodge deposits her hundredth career goal for the Oxbow Union High girls lacrosse team, she’ll be the first player in program history to realize the milestone as it happens.
In the past, Olympians’ players were not alerted when they approached the century mark, out of a fear it might affect focus. Reilly Johnson (2011) and Meghan Hart (2012) were unaware of the accomplishment until after it happened. That was even the case for senior Emily Speck, who entered this season with 95 career goals and reached 100 with a five-goal performance in the season opener at Randolph on April 22.
“I had no idea about it, really, because (former coach Brian) Musty never said anything,” Speck recalled during an O’s practice yesterday. “None of us ever really had any idea, but it’s something to be proud of, to score that many goals. The thing about it, though, is that there is so much that goes into scoring goals that doesn’t get recognized. The vast majority of my goals have come with assists.”
Many of them have come from Hodge and Lauren Tomlinson, the other two-thirds of an experienced attack that has helped Oxbow begin the year 6-4 despite the losses of Johnson, Hart and four-year starting goalie Karley Hamilton, all while adjusting to a new system with first-year coach Jane Smith.
Hodge scored four times in Wednesday’s win at Montpelier, giving her 98 for her career.
“We feed off each other a lot, we’re good partners,” said Hodge, also a teammate of Speck’s and Tomlinson’s during the soccer and basketball seasons. “(Speck) is good at keeping me in check. She even yells at me when she needs to.”
Smith, a former University of Massachusetts player who previously coached at Northampton (Mass.) High and St. Johnsbury Academy, sees no issue with Speck dishing out a little firm instruction. Out sick with a cold yesterday, the coach left Speck and fellow senior captain Dilan Clements to lead practice.
“The girls have a lot of respect for Emily, they know she’s been around the game a long time and is a team player,” said Smith, also a first-year teacher at adjoining River Bend Career and Technical Center. “She wants to help those who are less experienced understand the game and talk about strategies.”
The Olympians have also been bolstered this year by the return of Clements, a versatile attack/midfielder who tore her right anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus midway through last season. The O’s finished 16-3 and reached the Vermont Division II semifinals for the third straight year, losing to upstart BFA-St. Albans.
Clements, who had surgery and missed the entirety of last fall’s soccer season as well as about half the basketball year, continues to wear a brace to support the knee. If the injury is still bothering her, Smith hasn’t noticed.
“I haven’t heard a word from her about it,” the coach said. “I’ve told her to be careful with it when we’re playing on hard surfaces and things like that, but you’d never know she ever had an injury from what I can see.”
Clements and Vanessa Valley are the lone returning starters in Oxbow’s midfield, where senior Ashleigh Stearns and varsity newcomers Amber Strock, Jasmin Clark and Speck’s younger sister, Abby, have been relied on to help improve an Oxbow transition game that has been coming on strong as of late. Wednesday’s 11-7 win over the Solons displayed the type of crisp movement and handling Smith has been urging the O’s to execute.
“Nothing against the old coach, but it was clear when I came in that they were more accustomed to running together in a line, not taking advantage of different positions and angles,” the current coach said. “They’ve been playing together a lot better, talking to each other and knowing each other’s positions and what each other’s roles are. That’s something I didn’t see at the beginning of the season.”
Though comprised of three upperclassmen, the O’s defensive triangle is also relatively green with first-year starters Eliza Russ, a junior, and seniors Sarah Smith and Rebecca Calhoun. They play in front of the gritty Savannah Fay, a junior who saw little action while backing up Hamilton but has been fearless while diving into the position this year.
“I have bruises pretty much all over the place, but that’s just part of the game,” Fay said. “The biggest challenge for me is that I tend to get really down on myself, so I’m always trying to keep a positive attitude when it gets stressful out there.”
Oxbow plays the second of a four-game road swing today at perennial power Chelsea, which knocked off the O’s in the 2011 final and was the No. 2 seed last year before being upset by St. Albans in the first round.
The Olympians beat the Red Devils in April at home, 11-9, their biggest win of the season along with a come-from-behind, overtime effort at Lamoille that avenged an earlier loss to the Lancers.
Oxbow has also had some poor outings this season, including a 10-6 home loss to 3-8 St. Johnsbury on May 3. Yet Emily Speck and company feel they’re jelling at the right time — with the playoffs approaching.
“It’s been a big adjustment year for us, and we’ve had so many girls step up already,” the co-captain said. “We’ve had a couple bad days, but so does everyone. The idea is to be playing your best when it counts the most, and I know we can do that.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.