Raiders’ Division Shift a Reaction to the Future
Lebanon’s Amelia Gage (18) loses the ball while sandwiched by Plymouth’s Risa Mosenthal, right, and goaltender Sierra James. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon lacrosse defenders Hallie Bergwall, left, and Kyra Taylor (3) watch Plymouth attacker Angelina Stewart during the Bobcats’ 18-13 win at Lebanon High School. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — The Lebanon High girls lacrosse team lost 18-13 to visiting Plymouth yesterday, its defense unable to quite keep up with the Bobcats’ speedy attack and decisive drives to the goal. Of larger, long-term concern for Raiders coach Sara Ecker, however, is the fear that within a few years, her program might not have enough players to compete at all.
For the first time in recent memory, the Lebanon Recreation and Parks Department isn’t fielding a junior high girls lacrosse team. That means that when the high school squad loses its seven seniors to graduation, there could be no one from the lower ranks to fill their roster slots.
“I’m panicked,’’ said Ecker, a former Hanover High and Lehigh University standout who is in her 19th season on the job. “There were only three or four kids who signed up for (a junior high team). It’s heartbreaking, and the hope is we’ll get some of the current eighth graders to come out next year after a season off.
“Next year, our numbers are going to be terrible. It’s frustrating, because the future of Lebanon girls lacrosse does not look good.”
The Raiders (3-2) have eight freshmen this season, a 25-player roster and, after initially canceling their junior varsity season, brought it back in time to recover seven games. But two of the varsity’s better players are seniors Taylor Friedman and Shauna Rankin-Byrne, who are in their first seasons with Lebanon, and the program’s only goaltender is sophomore Erin Landry.
In response to gradually declining participation, Ecker and Lebanon athletic director Kelley Carey decided to return the Raiders to NHIAA Division III this season, their rightful home based on enrollment. Lebanon had successfully petitioned to play up a level in the past.
“Hopefully, this is cyclical and lacrosse will grow here again,” said Carey, who’s in her sixth year. “But kids these days are more and more busy and pulled in lot of directions. So you do the best you can.”
Lebanon senior lacrosse player Amelia Gage has also competed in field hockey and ice hockey for the Raiders and will play field hockey at Wheaton (Mass.) College starting in the fall. Her older sister, Hannah, is a Keene State junior who played lacrosse for the Owls after being a two-time all-state performer at Lebanon.
Amelia Gage said she remembers the Rec Department fielding girls lacrosse teams at both the seventh- and eighth-grade levels when Hannah was playing, but the grades had a combined team and included students from other towns by the time she got there. She said starting lacrosse early makes a significant difference in a player’s skills, but that the sport faces challenges from other spring offerings.
“Anybody can throw and catch the ball, but you have to be confident, and playing before high school makes you not as nervous,” Gage said. “The track program in Lebanon has been so strong for so long that more people want to play that sport. Lacrosse is less popular for girls.”
Ecker said she has offered to run clinics at the junior high level for Lebanon Rec. She also helps direct an hour-long introduction to the sport for more than 30 boys and girls between ages 5-10 on Saturday mornings at Lebanon High, but she has a full-time job and is the mother of two young children. For now, she hopes landing in Division III will allow the Raiders to compete on more equal footing.
“A lot of the teams south of us, they have kids who play lacrosse two or three seasons out of the year,” Ecker said. “We have no one who does that. The hope was that if we dropped down a division, we might gain some notoriety by making the semifinals or finals and get some more interest going in the sport.
“I have an awesome group of kids this year, and I love them. But it doesn’t matter how wonderful your kids are if you don’t have enough of them.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.