The Climb: What to Know About Lebanon Girls Lacrosse

  • A few of the Lebanon girls lacrosse players prepare for their game with Kearsarge by braiding each other's hair in Sutton, N.H., on May 26, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Senior Lebanon lacrosse players Baleigh Clark, left, and Lily Heir play a game of telephone for the team's last practice on May 25, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. Seniors on the team ran the practice that day. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon lacrosse players Cara Cole and Erin White high five at a practice that worked on team building on May 18, 2017 in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon lacrosse players Molly Pelletier, left, Hannah Bunten, Lily Hier and Baleigh Clark enjoy a trip to Dairy Twirl in Lebanon, N.H., on May, 18, 2017 instead of a practice on the field. With them is coach Sara Ecker's dog Kinsman. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lebanon — As we start “The Climb,” our weeklong series on the Lebanon High girls lacrosse team, here’s a look at eight things to know when it comes to the Raiders program:

Carefully Chosen

The team was picked for the series for several reasons. First, boys games historically have gotten more attention, so a girls squad in a sport outside the mainstream seemed right. Second, coach Sara Ecker, despite not enjoying the spotlight, was open to the idea of allowing a reporter and a photographer access in almost all situations. Lebanon athletic director Mike Stone and principal Ian Smith concurred, and we’re grateful to all three.

Additionally, the school draws from multiple towns such as Lebanon, West Lebanon, Plainfield, Meriden, Grantham and Cornish. Perhaps most compelling, the Raiders were rebuilding with a core of 10 sophomores who would face substantial challenges along the way. If anyone could handle the job, however, it would be Ecker, in her 23rd year at the helm and considered one of the Upper Valley’s best and most empathetic prep coaches.

Kindness and Caring

High school students can be cruel, petty and unsympathetic. The Lebanon lacrosse girls are no different, but they treat each other remarkably well. Players who privately acknowledged they didn’t much care for a certain teammate didn’t ostracize or put them down, at least not obviously.

It was common to see one girl drape an arm around another while they were assembled to hear Ecker talk. Fingers lightly traced across a teammate’s back in passing were an unspoken gesture of support. During one early gymnasium practice, two players waiting in line and reveling in each other’s company, rubbed cheeks and burst into delighted laughter.

When sophomore Izzy Peress capped a bad school day with a crying jag that sidelined her at Bow, her teammates were distracted by her angst. Usually upbeat and effervescent, Peress’ distress drew worried looks from her peers, even after they returned to the field following halftime.

Midway through the season, student assistant coach and junior Julie Barber wasn’t going to attend the prom. However, senior captain Lily Hier insisted the two go together as friends, then was an upbeat presence at the event despite battling a fever and strep throat. Throughout the season, players readily took turns pushing Barber, who uses a wheelchair, when it was needed, none more often than her best friend Elizabeth Jones, the team’s goaltender.

If a reserve was cold or wet on the sideline, a starter would offer her their jacket or warmup pants. When Cecilia Webber arrived at a Saturday morning practice in tears because her dog had suddenly died the night before, Lexie Roberts hugged her close with one arm while they listened to Ecker.

Wicked Smart

Seven Raiders earned high honors during the first quarter of the current school year, along with former player Barber, who served as a de facto assistant coach. Eleven others were honors students during the same span.

That’s 18 of 26 players in the program who are top-notch students. Among the high honors earners are Peress, who hopes to become a pediatric surgeon, and Webber, who took a Dartmouth College sociology course this spring and is considering studying Spanish there in the fall.

Another high honors student, Anna Wolke, also plays soccer and basketball and made the NHIAA Division III all-state lacrosse team. Emma Thibodeau, an honors student and a lacrosse goaltender, is pursuing a local engineering internship for the summer.

I’m Going to Manitoba On Monday

Attendance at practice and games is a thorny issue. Ecker leaves that decision up to her players, while making it clear she expects them to be there without a compelling family, school or health reason otherwise. At the same time, players’ commitment levels vary.

Some Raiders were absent because of what was widely understood to be phantom illnesses. Others chose to work at jobs on Saturday mornings, a time when Ecker has long scheduled practices. A few players missed lacrosse because of driver’s education classes or for family vacations. A starter missed a game because extended family members from another country were visiting.

Players who missed practices sat out at least the first half of the next game, sometimes more. Those absences certainly seemed to affect the Raiders’ record, which left them two victories short of the eight-team NHIAA Division II playoffs.

Fun Without the Sun

The Raiders endured consistently dreary weather, but enjoyed themselves, nonetheless. One day they played kickball at practice, and on another, they split into teams that competed in a relay-race form of tic-tac-toe, using hula hoops for squares and scrimmage vests to mark them.

On a rare sunny afternoon, the team walked to Dairy Twirl in downtown Lebanon for ice cream, racking up an $88 bill paid for by their coach. The Raiders regularly sang and danced on bus rides home and took Hazel, the emotional support dog of Barber, with them on warmup laps around the field before games.

There was also a Saturday morning workout when Hazel was joined by a half-dozen other pooches belonging to the players. So despite a 5-9 record, laughter was a frequently a facet of Lebanon’s season.

The Rules

Girls lacrosse may share a name with the boys version of the game, but it’s very different. The girls wear goggles or approved glasses over their eyes but, aside from goaltenders, they don no other outer protection. Body checking is illegal, and should a stick check enter an imaginary “sphere” around the ball carrier’s body, a penalty results. The attacker is not supposed to cradle the ball inside that sphere, either.

Defenders cannot stand in front of the net for longer than three seconds without being within stick’s length of an attacker, and ball carriers aren’t allowed to try and bull their way to the goal. They also may not shoot if a defender has already established position between them and the net, but if the defender is judged to have moved into that space too late, they’re the ones penalized.

Defensive fouls near the net result in a free-position shot, in which play is restarted with the ball carrier having a clear lane to the goal. What’s known as a faceoff in the boys game is called a draw control in a girls contest. The ball is placed between the sticks of two standing opponents and flung aloft at the referee’s whistle.

Finally, girls lacrosse sticks have virtually no pocket on their stick heads, the leather and nylon string being drawn taut from top to bottom. The string or mesh on boys sticks is allowed to be looser, giving a ball carrier a better chance to keep the ball while withstanding body checks.

The Trouble With Mouthguards

You see NBA star Steph Curry and NHL standout Patrick Kane play with their mouthguards halfway out, but NHIAA referees penalize players for doing so. Twice this season, it happened to Lebanon, driving Ecker a bit nuts.

The bench boss was on repeat offenders like sophomores Emma Hansen and Peress from day one, but it didn’t much help. Some models are bulky and make it hard to talk and breath, especially if the player has orthodontic braces and is breathing hard. There are slimmer versions, but they tend to be more expensive or need to be fitted by a dentist.

The Hastings Triplets

Actually, they’re not triplets and only two of them are sisters. And there’s another one on campus who also plays sports, so it’s a tad confusing.

Josie Hastings is a junior lacrosse defender from West Lebanon. Her younger sister, Maddie Hastings, plays field hockey and basketball and plans to attend Kimball Union Academy starting in the fall. Their cousins are lacrosse attackers Hannah and Jessie Hastings of Grantham. Hannah is a junior and Jessie is a freshman. They’re also equestrian competitors.

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