Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series that examines the top club lacrosse programs in New England. NELJ focused this article on some of the top programs for girls in the region.
When it comes to talking about Mass Elite, Meredith Frank McGinnis starts with the blessings.
“All of us who have been involved with the organization have been very blessed to be a part of it,” she said. “It’s certainly given our family a lot of additional opportunities, myself included.”
McGinnis, daughter of Leslie Frank, the legendary former coach of the girls lacrosse program at Westwood (Mass.) High School, has carved her own unique path in the sport.
After a stellar career at Northwestern, she followed her mother into the coaching ranks when she became coach of the powerhouse program at Notre Dame Academy. But it’s Mass Elite that allows McGinnis to develop the skills of players on a year-round basis.
Mass Elite was co-founded by Frank and Paula Evans in 1999 (Evans passed away in 2012). Meredith remembers those early days as one of the original programs, when the club had a simple mission.
“Paula’s daughter, Nicole, was in high school; I was in the eighth grade at the time,” she said. “Paula and my mother wanted to provide us and some other athletes a chance to play more, to give us all an opportunity to play year-round.
“At the time, there were other clubs in other regions doing this, but there were no other clubs in the state that offered that sort of opportunity for players. The idea was to get a group together that not necessarily had aspirations to play collegiately but just an opportunity to continue to develop during the offseason. So she formed a group of players. It was one team.”
These days, Mass Elite fields between two and three teams at each grade level from the fourth grade through the 11th grade. The club is run from the top by Frank, McGinnis and Carla Farkes, the head coach at Hingham (Mass.) High School. In terms of guiding principles, Mass Elite has remained on course with its original mission, staying true to its roots.
McGinnis said, “In the simplest form, our goal is to give girl lacrosse players the opportunity to advance their skills by what we consider to be the highest level of coaching, then at the high school level the opportunity to pursue playing lacrosse at the college level.
“I think the aspirations that Paula had back in 1999 is sort of our foundation. We don’t begin to presume that our players will get the opportunity to play collegiately or pressure our players into thinking that it’s Division 1 or bust. We want to give girls the opportunity to play as frequently as their passion allows, yet to be cognizant of the other sports that they play and to really develop, I would say, the whole athlete.”
Although the club attracts players based on the quality of its coaches, Mass Elite doesn’t adhere to a singular coaching style.
“We don’t have a one-coach-one-team philosophy,” McGinnis said. “We feel like we have a lot of coaches with a lot of information. There’s a wealth of knowledge collectively, and we want each of our players exposed to that. Certainly, I think from a foundation standpoint, we pride ourselves on holding high expectations for our players just in their level of commitment, their intensity, their work ethic, their character, their sportsmanship, but in terms of how we coach our players, there’s a broader approach at work.”
Getting back to the blessings, she said, “We’re just grateful that the sport continues to develop and grow and we’re very happy with where we sit now, not just regionally but also nationally in terms of the level of competitiveness of our program.”
In 2005, Yale assistant coaches Clarissa Clarke and Laura Field set out to fill a void in the organization, coaching and guidance necessary for youth players in the region.
Turnover of coaches in the Connecticut high school ranks allowed the creation of Nor’easter to provide stability within the girls game and, over the past 13 years, the club has blossomed into a widely respected program in the Northeast.
With an emphasis on the player development end, the practice-based club places a focus on growing player IQ and skill within the team environment, backed by a wealth of highly regarded college and high school coaches.
“Our approach has been to employ professional coaches from both the college and high school ranks that are able to guide our players’ lacrosse development and serve as mentors for our players,” Clarke explained. “We try to keep kids and coaches together for consistency and to foster the most growth possible.”
Being the only club in Connecticut with at least seven Division 1 and Division 3 coaches on its full-time roster, they offer a unique opportunity for those looking to advance in the game to get personal tutelage from those who know how to get them there.
Nor’easter, which offers teams for players from fourth through 11th grades, considers its club to be one for the multisport athlete who is willing to take the notion of practices, as well as individual and team development, seriously.
“We are able to see growth in their fundamentals and in their understanding of the game as they age through the program,” Clarke said. “One of the areas we have targeted recently has also been in leadership development for each player, to be able to help them develop good habits both on and off the field.”
Nor’easter is fully committed to helping each and every one of its players with the college recruitment process. Recent commits include two-sport standout Emily Clorite (Yale), Riley Kokoruda (Boston University), Erin Mammele (Fairfield), Katharine Eddy (NESCAC Player of the Year at Colby) and two-time Division 3 Player of the Year Libby Morrison (The College of New Jersey).
“Placing our athletes in college programs is always a goal, however placing our athletes in the right college program for them remains the goal,” Clarke emphasized. “To that end we are proud of each and every one of our players’ placements.”
Because Maine is the biggest state in New England, it’s fitting that Maineiax Lacrosse Club is built as it is to accommodate such a broad area filled with young players. Each year, more than 500 players from 100 different towns participate within the organization.
Although the organization was founded 10 years ago by Jeff Perkins, it then was acquired by a trio of lacrosse enthusiasts in 2014, who collectively looked to take the growth of Maineiax up another notch.
Those three — Lauren Reid Kane, and married couple Heidi Howard Allen and Brett Allen — had broad reach in mind when they took over control of Maineiax.
“Our mission is to get any girl lacrosse player in the state of Maine who wants to participate, we want them playing with us,” Heidi Howard Allen said. “We have players who are from York all the way to Augusta. It’s a really large state.”
Howard Allen brings an impressive lacrosse resume to the table. As a player at Middlebury College, she won two NCAA championships and was named Division 3 Player of the Year in 1999. She also helped her husband, Brett, coach the women’s lacrosse program at Bates College for eight years until 2017, when she focused more of her time on managing the growth of Maineiax.
“The growth since 2014 has been pretty incredible,” Howard Allen said. “Lacrosse is just booming in the state of Maine. There are new programs every year and there are more kids with a stick in their hands. It’s been fun to watch and be a part of. We’re growing constantly, but we’re also always trying to adapt to the market and the players and creating new programs.”
The club offers programs for students ranging from first to 12th grades. In terms of the club’s attitude on teaching the game, Howard Allen believes the organization takes a family-based approach.
“We’ve really built our club into a family,” she said. “It’s not just about the skills; it’s about teaching these kids how to be great teammates, how to interact with their coaches and how to work together. It’s a really family-based atmosphere. The other thing we pride ourselves on is being very organized and very communicative with our players and families.
“Then, lastly, our coaching is of huge importance. We work hard to get great coaches and retain them.”
Primary among those coaches is co-owner Reid Kane. As a player, she spent a season with the University of Maryland, a team that advanced to the NCAA semifinals that year in 2003. She later transferred to UMass and played three more seasons there. On the sidelines, Reid Kane has coached women’s lacrosse at the University of Southern Maine and Bates.
Facilities used by the club include a series of locations in Portland, including the indoor Maine Athletic Complex, the turf fields at Fitzpatrick Stadium and the Deering High School grass fields. Beyond Portland, the club operates some programs at Bates and south of Portland in Saco.
“Portland is very central for a lot of people,” Howard Allen said. “A lot of clubs run out of Portland because there are facilities there and it’s pretty central for people driving. But we’re pretty sensitive to the fact that we have people traveling two hours each way to one of our travel practices. So we try and rotate with the other locations as well.”
She added: “We pride ourselves on offering a great product, but we are all about the player, and how can we help them grow as lacrosse players and people.”