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Sticking Around: Hartford Experiences Lacrosse Growth

  • Michaela Ricker, 16, of Hartford, right, defends against her sister Emily Ricker, 15, left, during a Hartford High lacrosse practice drill at Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, March 30, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford High School boys lacrosse coach Bill Elberty counts down to the end of a fifteen minute session of "barn dogs" - five sets of squat thrusts, jumping jack pushups, and v-ups - repeated up to 30 times by his team to close practice at Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, March 30, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford girls lacrosse Head Coach Jen Wheatley sets her team up in offensive and defensive positions during practice at Barwood Arena in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, March 30, 2017. The team has 28 players this year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, March 30, 2017

White River Junction — On the second day of spring, an Ottauquechee third-grader stepped off the bus onto school grounds toting a lacrosse stick along with the rest of his typical morning gear. The budding student-athlete would attend the Hartford Youth Lacrosse Club’s first practice of the year that afternoon at the White River School.

Hartford High School’s girls and boys lacrosse teams held their opening practices the day before.

Both Hurricane squads are relatively high in numbers this season, and it’s no secret that the HYLC has a lot to do with growing rosters for the boys and girls teams alike.

“It makes me smile,” HYLC board member Jason Pfeiffer said. “Those kids have put in a lot of effort over the years. They deserve to have a team they can support and a team that can support them.”

The Hurricanes are reinstating their girls junior varsity team this season for the first time since 2008.

Jen Wheatley is in her third year of coaching the varsity team. She had 15 players her first year, 21 last season, and there are 28 on this year’s roster.

The JV squad, which has 10 contests on its docket, will draw from the varsity ranks on both practice and game days.

“We talked to the swingers, and they know they’re going to be kind of running their butts off and they’re going to be tired,” Wheatley said of her five or so players who will compete on both JV and varsity. “But we’re going to make it work.”

Wheatley, who played for the Hurricanes as a member of the class of 2006, spent eight years working in the youth program.

She helped develop the players she now leads into high school competition.

The HYLC offers programs for boys and girls, split up into grades 2-4, 5-6 and 7-8. There are currently 39 girls and 73 boys enrolled in the program, according to Pfeiffer.

“We’re on the low side of average,” he said. “The last couple years we had a bubble, and those were our biggest groups. We’re on the tail end of that now.”

The high school boys team has included 45 to 50 players between the varsity and junior varsity for each of the last three seasons, but it hasn’t always been that way, according to ninth-year head coach Bill Elberty.

“The program has improved dramatically over four or five years,” Elberty said. “My first year, we had 31, second year 34, it might have gone up to 36 or 37 and then — ding! — it jumped because the youth program kicked in.”

Like Wheatley, Elberty recognizes the important work being done by the HYLC’s crew of volunteer coaches and board members.

Adding a few more coaches would be helpful, Pfeiffer said, especially in the youngest division.

“(HYLC) is really the reason the program is growing,” Elberty said. “I just sit here, enjoy it and reap the benefits of being able to install new things that I never could before, because the kids are more prepared.”

Elberty also coached for seven years at Woodstock Union High School in the mid-2000s and started the lacrosse program at New Hampshire’s Brewster Academy in the early ’80s. He shared his philosophy on youth lacrosse following a recent practice at White River School.

“The demands to be good should be reduced as much as possible, and the demands to have fun — which our youth program does a phenomenal job at; that’s why we’ve grown as much as we’ve grown to be honest — are really the most important things,” Elberty said. “It’s a blast. It’s a great game.”

Along with healthy numbers, both high school squads welcome the administration’s recent decision to hold games and practices on the high school grounds instead of off-campus. The girls played at Dothan Brook School prior to this season, while the boys utilized the Ottauquechee School.

The Hurricanes hope the exposure afforded by a move to the school will increase the fan base as well as the youth feeder program.

“This is the first year that we’ve had a home base, so that will make a big difference for us,” Elberty said. “It should be fun.”

Until the snow melts, however, the girls are working indoors back at Dothan Brook and Wendell A. Barwood Arena, while the boys have employed the White River School gym. Otherwise, players can often be found taking advantage of the high school’s new exercise facility.

“I love, love, love that we have the fitness center,” said Kaylee Williams, one of three captains on the girls team. “It’s so nice to be able to pick up a weight and come here in the morning or right after school.”

Weather and field conditions permitting, the Hartford boys will open their season on April 8 at home against Burr and Burton. The girls are slated to host Randolph on Tuesday.