Girls lacrosse looking for success in offensive end ‘by committee’
After losing a player responsible in some aspect for 85 of the team’s goals last year, it’s certainly understandable why Clarence girls lacrosse coach Doug Kohler is of the impression that any offensive success the Lady Red Devils have this season will be “by committee.”
Gone from last year’s team that went 8-10 overall is leading scorer Jenna Schlagenhauf, a Class A First Team All-star who had 73 goals and 12 assists — and if that wasn’t enough, the Lady Red Devils will also be without the services of three-year starter and All-WNY First Team All-star midfielder Joelle Hartke, who added 39 goals and 27 assists in 2011. Four other seniors graduated off that squad as well — all of whom Kohler said are “doing well with their college teams” — leaving Kohler unable to avoid the fact that “there is a huge gap for us this year.”
But, even after losing to Hamburg by a 13-2 margin in Wednesday’s season opener, Kohler is optimistic about the potential he sees on the field at Clarence.
“We’re young this year, and some of the kids who are returning are going to have to step up in a way that we didn’t ask them to last year,” Kohler said. “Our success is going to come from how they respond to that challenge, and how quickly they do it. Everybody will contribute. The team dynamic is different this year — we’ve got a lot of good players but not that one or two standouts to step into the roles of the departed girls so that we won’t miss a beat — but you’re only going to get better by playing against good competition. We’re searching for our identity and still feeling out how that will progress.”
Leading the way among the team’s returning players will be tri-captains Nicole Cerza and Marissa Bona, both seniors, and junior Emily Peters. Cerza, a center, had 10 goals, 16 assists and 25 ground balls last spring, while Peters had eight goals and four assists while starting all but one game last year.
“Nicole had a really strong field hockey season this fall, and I think she’ll be riding that momentum this spring,” Kohler said. “Emily’s got outstanding stick skills, so a lot of the time I wouldn’t be surprised if the ball will work through her.”
Other returning players whom Kohler is looking to for consistent contributions this season include senior defenders Marisa Peltier and Erin Kearney, and junior defender Kendal Vaarwerk. Senior attacker Gretchen Hook had 11 goals and four assists last year, while fellow senior attacker Marla Calabro added eight goals and two assists. Sophomore goalie Lexi Hartke, meanwhile, had 200 saves in net for a .588 save percentage and an 8.77 goals against average.
Eighth grader Sydney Cerza, meanwhile, will bring a youthful edge and athletic presence to the attack in her first year at the varsity level.
“I think our eventual strength is going to be our defense once we learn to play tighter in the midfield,” Kohler said. “That’s where we’ve got to find our identity the quickest. I think we ultimately can be more of a ball control team. We’ve got good speed and good depth, and I think we’ll just be better off controlling the pace of the game. The fact that we’ve been outside for a week and a half already has certainly helped our cause, except for the fact that everything we’ve done so far, game wise, has been on turf.”
After a preseason scrimmage tournament, Clarence returned to the turf to face Hamburg in what was a one-sided affair. Peters and Nicole Cerza scored Clarence’s goals in the game, which Hamburg opened up with a three-goal burst after the Lady Red Devils hung tough for the first nine minutes.
“I think we just weren’t sure how to react when they went on that early run,” Kohler said. “We saw some good things when we watched the game film the next day, but there were just a lot of early-season nerves that just need to be shaken off. We have enough talent to be just fine once we establish our identity.”
Clarence (0-1) returns to action this afternoon against Williamsville South, but then does not play again until it travels to Williamsville East on Tuesday, April 17.
“We’ve got some scorers for sure, but this has to be a case of offense by committee,” Kohler said. “Everyone’s got to identify what they best bring to the mix and then not try to do things outside of their skill range. We need to work to make life more comfortable for our goalies; we can’t let teams fast break on us. We play in ‘the league of death’ with Frontier, Orchard Park and Lancaster, all of whom are perennially tough teams, so we know that all of our games are going to be real character builders.”