Woodstock Lacrosse Team Finds Right Time to Get Hot

Thursday, June 06, 2013
Woodstock — After a disappointing and underachieving regular season, the Woodstock High boys lacrosse team hopes it’s rounding into form at just the right time. The Wasps defeated Rutland, 13-5, yesterday in a Vermont Division I first-round playoff game, scoring six consecutive goals during the second half to defeat the Raiders for the third time this spring.

Eighth-seeded Woodstock (9-7) now visits top-seeded Essex (14-2), which hosts the teams’ quarterfinal clash on Saturday afternoon. The Hornets have won 11 consecutive games and scored double-digit goals in all but four contests this season, but Wasps coach Brandon Little isn’t conceding a thing.

“Woodstock is the smallest school that plays in Division I,” said Little, whose team hasn’t played Essex since 2011 and entered yesterday having lost four of its last six games. “We take pride in wanting to be here and not backing down from the best.”

The Wasps have one of the state’s top players in attackman Hunter Schmell, and the senior put on a clinic yesterday, scoring five goals and adding two assists. Classmate and long-pole defender Jesse Davis added two goals on charges up the middle, attackman Haven Lantz posted a hat trick and Nehemiah Wood had two goals.

Taylor Lessard also tallied for the hosts, who also received eight saves and a strong performance from goaltender Ben Orr.

“Hunter’s an amazing athlete and as long as he stays positive and keeps his head up, not many defensemen can run with him,” Little said. “We’ve been practicing having the other (attackmen) moving when Hunter makes a cut, so that he always has options. They’re getting more comfortable and we’re dropping fewer of his passes on the crease.”

The victory was indicative not only of Woodstock’s better play, but also its better health. The Wasps were 11-5 last year and began this season talking about reaching the state title game for the first time since 2003. They started the campaign 5-0 before losing four of their next five games. Injuries to midfielders Oliver Kaija and Zane Fields and defenseman Nick Fields were partially to blame, but the players also had to adjust to the graduation loss of standout attackman Andrew Kimbell and unheralded but talented midfielder Jordan Fields.

Another injury struck last month, when freshman midfielder Nikolai Davis missed about a week after being whacked in practice by his older brother. The younger sibling lost the two front teeth on his upper jaw and needed five stitches.

“This week was the first week we had everybody at practice since maybe fourth week of the season,” said Schmell, who plans to play for Stevenson (Md.) University, the 2013 NCAA Division III champion, next season. “The team chemistry is coming back and we’re getting back to the way we were when we were on that five-game winning streak. It feels good to be playing as a team and we had good flow up and down the field today.”

Woodstock built a 3-0 lead after a quarter, but ninth-seeded Rutland scored three of the next four goals before Schmell bounced in his third goal 57 seconds before halftime for a 5-3 lead. The teams traded tallies coming out of intermission ,but the Wasps used a man-up goal from Lantz with two minutes remaining in the third quarter as a starting point for blowing the game open.

“We took a few key penalties and because of that, Woodstock had a lot more possession in the second half,” said Rutland coach Jake Rick, whose team finished 7-10. “When they possess the ball for that long, your defense gets tired and you make mental mistakes.

“Our style is real slow-down and they were able to run and gun on us. That was the big factor.”

Another was the looming presence of Jesse Davis, who didn’t see much playing time before this season but who has now scored five goals while wielding his long, composite shaft.

“If they’re going to play man-to-man defense and lock on to the attackmen, Jesse’s got a straight path to the goal and he’s going to take it,” Schmell said of his teammate, who goes by the nickname “Oak Tree.”

Added Little: “We figured out it’s nearly 17 feet that the ball is coming down at the goalie. He’s (6-foot-6) and he has a six-foot stick and two-foot arms and he’s jumping when he shoots. It’s absurd.”

The idea that Woodstock, which reached the state semifinals two years ago and the quarterfinals last spring, would finish eighth out of the division’s 12 teams during the 2013 regular season seemed silly two months ago. However, the Wasps have a chance to all but erase memories of their stumbles if they can upset Essex.

“We should definitely have been a higher seed, but it just didn’t go our way during the regular season,” said Schmell, whose team has lost three games by a goal this season and two others by two tallies. “I’m looking forward to the challenge because I know Essex has a lot of great players. Then again, we’re not a typical No. 8 seed and I have complete confidence in our guys to do the job.”

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