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Hartford Lacrosse Not Panicking After Loss

Hartford's John Bielecki. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Hartford's John Bielecki. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Wilder — Late in Tuesday’s boys lacrosse game between Hartford High and Rutland, the visiting Raiders scored their final goal in a 17-5 rout and Hurricanes coach Bill Elberty’s reaction was immediate.

“Don’t worry about it,” he called out to his players on soggy Kilowatt Field. “Believe me, I don’t care.”

That seems downright un-American. Shouldn’t any bench boss worth his whistle be gnashing his molars and slamming his clipboard in such a situation? Surely there would be a postgame tongue-lashing, accompanied by frantic gestures and bulging neck veins?

Not from Elberty, whose lengthy coaching resume and Zen-like calm radiate like soothing warmth from a slow-burning fire. In some ways, this is the most promising start to a season Hartford has had in years, Tuesday’s score notwithstanding.

Consider that the Hurricanes, who last season often lacked for healthy bodies during a 6-7 campaign, now boast 30 varsity players and 22 on junior varsity. Also keep in mind that while Rutland was playing its fifth game, the contest was the opener for Elberty’s troops and just the second time they had been on a field this spring. And finally, ponder the young team’s reaction to the loss, which they absorbed without starting goaltender James Young, who’s in Germany on a two-week school trip.

There were no chins on chests or tossed equipment. No audible grumbling or visible grimaces. Even after being thrashed on the scoreboard, the players fed off the upbeat attitude of Elberty and his assistants. There are better days — much better — on the near horizon for Hartford, of this they are sure.

“In two weeks, we’re going to be a much different team,” Elberty said with a gleam in his eye. “The day after tomorrow, we’re going to be a much different team.”

Hartford hurt itself with penalties, committing 14 and surrendering 12 goals while a man down. Six of those tallies came during four minutes’ worth of non-releasable fouls for a pair of hits to the head. The younger Hurricanes need to learn that while lacrosse is a contact sport, it’s not football and you can’t push or run over an opponent from behind.

Rutland (3-2), exploited Hartford’s tentative defense with precise cuts and constant playmaking from behind the cage. The Raiders scored repeatedly on back door feeds, something Elberty attributed to his back line not having practiced against that tactic this spring.

“Our crease defenseman is a freshman and an incredibly capable athlete, but he’s working to contain his natural aggressiveness and learning on the fly,” Elberty said of Bailey Nott. “Athletically, I thought we stuck with them, but I essentially look at it as a preseason game and we’re going to catch up in a hurry.”

The Hurricanes have 12 seniors, but four freshmen are playing significant time. That’s a product of the town’s burgeoning recreational lacrosse program, and Elberty is quick to credit the lower-level coaches, parents and administrators for the help. Still, it can be tricky to retain youngsters if the varsity isn’t winning, and that’s where Elberty’s personality comes into play.

“He wants us to be positive and think with a clear head,” said junior attackman John Bielecki, who had three of Hartford’s goals Tuesday, while senior midfielder John Lewis accounted for the other two. “That’s the way to get guys to want to keep coming out, and it’s especially helpful for the new players to learn how to improve without being barked down on.”

One of the new guys is senior Jeremy McGlone, a hockey standout who’s been playing lacrosse for only a few weeks. He’s already seeing plenty of time in the midfield, along with physical sophomore Walkker Judd and dynamic senior John Borchert, a onetime hothead who showed poise against the Raiders even as the game became chippy.

The attack of Bielecki and senior Andrew Atkinson, both veterans, and senior Jeff Lyford is fairly polished and flank defensemen Taylor Thompson, a senior, and Willy Todt, a junior, are both multi-year starters. Freshmen Matt Luke and Chris Dorain wield long poles both on defense and in the midfield.

Nick Dorain, Chris’ twin, played attack and midfield Tuesday and sophomore midfielder Gareth Stevenson made 13 saves while filling in at goaltender.

Much of Hartford’s attack against Rutland consisted of the athletic and elusive Borchert carrying the ball into the Raiders’ end by dodging opponents or bouncing off their checks. What might be seen as ball-hogging by some is endorsed by Elberty, but he wants other players to make runs and to pop into open space to give Borchert passing options.

“If he’s willing to do that, then he should go for it,” Bielecki said. “Once he gets to the (opponent’s) restraining box, then he can slow it down so we can get into our offense without being rushed.”

Elberty, who works as his school’s dropout prevention coordinator, has learned that while teenagers can learn at staggering speed, there are limits and pushing beyond them is counterproductive. To that end, he wasn’t critical of his players for making mistakes against Rutland in areas where they haven’t yet had practice instruction.

“If they do the best they can within their capacity, then there’s no sense in talking about things outside it right now,” the coach said. “In two weeks, man, they’re going to be rolling. They’re fast and they’re developing their sticks and it’s going to get very interesting.”

Notes: Hartford visits St. Johnsbury Academy on Thursday. … Elberty said Borchert is being recruited by college lacrosse programs from all three NCAA divisions. … Jason McFarlane, Rutland’s starting goaltender, was assessed a penalty on a play that put Hartford up, 2-0, during the fourth minute. McFarlane shouted a sexual slur at a teammate as he left the field and didn’t return to action until the start of the second half.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.