Monday, April 9, 2012
Plenty has changed for the Hood River Valley lacrosse teams in the last year. Both Eagle teams have new coaches, and many of the players who helped their offenses put up some prodigious numbers the last few years are gone.
Through it all there are a couple of constants: a hard-nosed defense with a couple of experienced goalies.
The defense on both teams will have important roles to play this year. For the Eagle boys it will be the task of giving a depleted attacking group a chance to catch its breath. For the girls, the defense will need to keep them in games while they work in new middie players and a new offensive style.
Those tasked with doing the job are not too worried.
"We have a solid defense," said HRV boys goalie Malcolm McCurdy. "Hood River has always had a good defense."
For the Eagle boys, their formidable attacking line, which averaged 10.25 goals a game last season, was completely gutted by graduation.
Their midfield, which helped set up that attack, was also nearly wiped out.
The losses are difficult to replace to begin with, but when the team physically doesn't have the same number of bodies to put out on the field, it's all the more difficult.
With so many of last season's offensive weapons gone, the Eagles will be relying on third-year starter Malcolm McCurdy in goal all the more.
McCurdy has had two years of on-the-job training with one of the state's highest scoring offenses in front of him. This year he will be counted on to help keep the score down and control the tempo.
"I've put in a lot of work getting faster and stronger; I'm more confident," McCurdy said. "I run the whole defense."
By managing the game from the defensive end, HRV's thin middie group will get a chance to catch its breath.
"We're limited in the midfield. We're going to have a lot of guys doing a lot of running and fatigue and conditioning will be the issue," said HRV coach Jon Munk.
Senior Andrew Thompson doesn't mind the extra work in the midfield, but knows he will stay plenty busy this season.
"I've been doing a lot of running so far; I definitely come out tired at the end of my shift," he said.
Munk is putting the team through its paces early, to get them mentally and physically prepared for what figures to be a grueling season.
He has had middies running half-field sprints before the start of drills and then going straight into guarding their man during practice to better simulate the fatigue that's going to set in during games.
While the middies will be busy this year, so will the offense as it tries to make up for the loss of Jesse Keopaseuth and Ryan Foster, the team's leading goal scorers last year.
The Eagles will have plenty of options to turn to make up those points, chief among them Thompson and fellow middie Miles Mayer, but for the time being the defense is going to have to hold the line as HRV gets into a tougher part of its schedule heading into league play.
"We have a solid defense and attack corps ... I'd put them up against most teams in the state," Munk said.
The defense learned the expectations early. In the first two minutes of their season opener against Summit, the Storm scored four goals on the Eagles, serving notice for HRV that they better be prepared.
"I wasn't ready," said McCurdy. "I was a little too laid-back."
McCurdy is quarterbacking a young, but tough defense which includes Matthew Harris, Jon Goatcher and Austin Kiyokawa.
"We've got a lot on our shoulders this year," McCurdy said.
The defense on the girls team also will have to step up its game under new coach Erin Currie. The first-year coach takes over a team poised to take the next step and make a run at getting to the state playoffs for the first time in team history.
"We're trying to get the girls to think defensively," Currie said. "It's not natural for them … everyone wants time with the ball but playing defense means winning the game and stopping the ball. We're trying to focus on that and let them be creative offensively."
Like the boys team, they lost some of their best middies to graduation last season. Unlike the boys, they have the numbers to fill the spots. The team has 33 players in the program this year, enough for a full-fledged JV team.
They also have a group of ready and willing attackers this year, to whom Currie is handing a large deal of creative freedom in running the offense.
"It's going to be more about adapting to the defense and playing smart," said attacker Celine Mazzoleni. "We'll be using our brains and seeing and reacting."
While the Eagles work out the kinks on offense and work in their new middies, they also have a third-year starter in goal, Cristina Silva, anchoring things on defense.
After taking over the goalkeeper spot almost by default two years ago, Silva has grown steadily more confident ever since.
"Now that I've had a lot of experience, I can tell the midfield to drop and they'll do it," she said.
Meanwhile, the Eagle offense has been focused on retaining (and gaining) possessions on ground balls.
"We need to pick up our groundballs," said Aleah DeHart.
The better able they are to keep possession of the ball, the better they will be at giving their offense a chance to work.
The Eagles have plenty of players who can help score goals, from Makenzie Bassham to Kristin Lago to Kailli Duffy to DeHart Ricki Swearingen and Tigard transfer Ashley Sellner among others.
The Eagles have not had much time to work everything out in game situations. For their non-league games, they only had a pair of scrimmages against Richland, and then swung into their league schedule Tuesday night against St. Mary's - never an easy team to start out with.
"We'll know where things stand after (that game)," said Bassham.
As they work out the kinks in their early games, both teams have a similar idea of what is going to be needed to be successful.
"Our midfield connection will be key," Bassham said of the girls team.
Those middies help both the defense and offense control the pace, which will be equally as key for the Eagle boys.
"We have to be careful on offense; we can't waste a possession because that's our time to catch a break for our defense and our middies," Andrew Thompson said. "We have to do a good job of that this year."
And if anyone gets out of line, both teams know where they can look to strengthen things out.
"She's like our ringleader," DeHart said of Silva in goal. "She tells us what to do when we are being stupid."
Even though the boys team spent plenty of early practices in the rain, sleet and snow, McCurdy was never cold, even though he is doing plenty of standing in the goal.
"This year I'm busy yelling at everyone," he said with a chuckle. "So I stay warm."
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Kiteboarders in action during the pro competition Friday at the 16th Annual Bridge of the Gods Kite Fest in Stevenson. All photos by Ben Mitchell. Enlarge