August 22, 2012

New England lax: Lakeville, Mass.

In just their second year playing varsity, the Apponequet Regional High girls were undefeated in the regular season.

In some communities, lacrosse has a long-established presence. Others have been later to the game and, therefore, have faced the challenges that come along with creating something new.

Such was the case with Lakeville, Mass.

Five years ago, lacrosse didn’t even exist as an option for students at Apponequet Regional High School, which serves the towns of Lakeville, Freetown and Assonet. Thanks to school administrators and the founders of Lakers Youth Lacrosse, the sport was first offered as a club program for both boys and girls in 2009.

According to Chris Baril, who serves as a director at Lakers Youth Lacrosse, “When we laid out the guiding principles for our organization six or seven years ago, it was our No. 1 goal to help establish a program for both boys and girls at the high school level.”

The youth organization helped to accomplish that goal by raising money for the new club teams and by donating all uniforms and helmets to the players in 2009.

In 2010, the programs shifted to compete at the junior varsity level, then became official varsity level teams in 2011. Right away, both the boys’ and girls’ teams were competitive within the South Coast League.

As first-year varsity teams in 2011, the boys finished at 14-3 while the girls were 9-7 before each team lost in the first round of the Division 2 state tournament. This past spring, the boys had a record of 6-11, but the girls’ team took a major step forward by finishing the regular season undefeated at 18-0 before falling to Ashland in the state tournament.

Janet Tavares, who has coached the girls’ program since its inception, credits the Lakers Youth Lacrosse organization for consistently providing her teams with skilled and experienced players.

“The people there have been working with a number of our players since they were younger,” Tavares said. “I’ve had some girls playing since they were in fourth or fifth grade, and if it weren’t for the people who were coaching them at Lakers Lacrosse when they were younger, I don’t think we would have ever had the success we’ve had.”

For Trevor Gagnier, who served as coach for the boys’ teams for the first four years until stepping down at the end of this season, the relationship between Lakers Youth Lacrosse and the high school programs has been mutually beneficial.

“The Lakers Lacrosse people were the ones who first established the sport in the community,” Gagnier said. “But then when lacrosse at the high school level started playing and they were successful, I think it got a lot of young kids motivated to join at the youth level.”

Although success has come early to the lacrosse programs at the high school, the path forward hardly has been easy. Both Tavares and Gagnier were recruited to head up the new lacrosse programs because they already were successful in coaching other sports at the high school. Even so, neither had ever played nor coached lacrosse at any level before taking on their respective assignments.

Tavares was particularly daunted by her lack of experience in the sport, but took a great deal of comfort in the training that was available to her.

“When I first started,” she said, “I attended every clinic I could go to from US Lacrosse, every workshop, every coaching class, whatever I could find to get myself immersed in the sport.”

Two years ago, she expanded her coaching experience by becoming involved in the Lakers Youth Lacrosse program as an assistant coach for her daughter’s team.

“I obviously have a vested interest with my daughter playing in there, but I also want to get to know some of the players coming up to the high school level in the future,” Tavares said.

According to Baril, the youth program has faced its own set of challenges as well, most notably meeting the demands of the community with a slew of kids who have quickly become passionate for the sport.

“Where our limitations are is having the coaches available,” Baril said. “We would take on more kids if we had the coaches to do it. In years past, we’ve actually gone over and had 20 or 25 kids on a team, but then the kids didn’t get the kind of time and attention they needed to develop. So now we’re firm on limiting the number of kids allowed on teams to give them the attention that they need. As a result, we actually had to turn some kids away.”

Baril said that the rapid expansion of the youth program has made field space another issue.

“Last season, we fielded the most teams in the history of the league, but nights and weekends were full,” Baril said. “We didn’t have any extra capacity at our fields, so we had to actually find some new spaces, like the back lots of churches. I see it as a nice problem to have though. The community has really embraced the sport; it’s just exploding here.”

Location

Lakeville is in the center of southeastern Mass., two towns removed from Cape Cod.

Population

Just a shade under 11,000

History

The name of the town is derived from the wide range of water bodies within the township, including Long Pond, Pocksha Pond, Little Quittcas Pond, Great Quittcas Pond and Assawompset Pond, as well as many other brooks and swamps.

Local landmark

Lakeville was the location of the Ted Williams Baseball Camp, which was established by the legendary Red Sox slugger in 1958 and remained in operation until the early 1980s.

Lacrosse history

The Lakers Youth Lacrosse program started in 2006 with 75 boys and girls participating in a developmental program. By 2008, the program had 225 players and enrollment has continued to grow each year. The league offers teams for age ranges of U-9, U-11, U-13 and U-15 for boys and by grade ranges 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8 for girls. … The teams at Apponequet Regional High School in Lakeville started lacrosse programs as club teams for both boys and girls in 2009, then moved both to JV status in 2010 before gaining recognition as full varsity teams within the South Coast League in 2011. In just their second season as a varsity program, the Apponequet girls went unbeaten in regular-season play, finishing the season 18-1.

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.

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