Girls’ lacrosse: John Stark/Hillsboro-Deering hangs on for 12-11 win over Merrimack Valley, advances to D-II quarterfinals

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 05-31-2023 12:05 PM

PENACOOK – Just 20 days ago, John Stark/Hillsboro-Deering’s odds of qualifying for the playoffs looked bleak. The General Cats had just lost 18-4 at Windham, falling to 3-6 on the season.

Since then, the team’s won five of its last six, including Tuesday’s 12-11 victory over Merrimack Valley in the first round of the Division II girls’ lacrosse tournament. In a matchup between the eight and nine seeds, the latter prevailed, just barely.

JSHD led 11-7 after a back-and-forth first half and withstood a surge from the Pride who tied the score at 11, but could not find the back of the net to take the lead.

Kaycie Rhodes’ goal for the General Cats with 9:46 remaining in the game proved to be the difference.

Rhodes led all scorers in the game with eight goals; MV’s Alyssa Brodeur led the team with four. Here are three notes from the first round playoff matchup:

Speed of Rhodes and Riley Davis too much for MV to contain

Virtually every time JSHD generated an offensive chance, Rhodes or Davis were right in the middle of it. Rhodes found the back of the cage seven times in the first half and scored her team’s only goal in the second; Davis scored the first goal of the game, finished with two and continually put her team in position to find success.

“That is not abnormal,” head coach Samantha Weaver said. “They just both can make their shot out of nothing. You're like, ‘Why're you taking that shot?’ and all of a sudden they get off some random shot, and it hits the back corner of the net. They're so dynamic and super speedy and can change their speed on the dime.”

That speed from the duo helped set the tone for the game. Although MV outplayed the General Cats in the second half, that first half effort proved to be enough.

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“It was a lot of heart plays today,” Weaver said. “They really came out to play.”

Draw controls will be key for General Cats against No. 1 Hanover

On Thursday, JSHD’s season comes down to a matchup with a Hanover team that’s lost just once all season – and that was against Division I Pinkerton. The Bears dominated all season, including the first time they played the General Cats, an 18-4 win. 

But if JSHD wants to have any chance of staying competitive, winning control of the draw will be key. Tuesday served as Exhibit A: In the first half when the General Cats played their best, it centered around controlling possession; in the second half when MV won more draw controls, the General Cats were outscored 4-1.

“We definitely weren't winning as many draws, so we definitely had to step up our defense in order to get the ball back, and our ride was key for that,” Weaver said of what transpired on Tuesday.

Against Hanover, it’ll take that combination of controlling possession and stout defense to have a shot.

After quadrupling last year’s win total, 2023 a sign of progress for the Pride

Head coach Kylee Yam finished her first season last year with a 2-12 team. Turning around a year later reaching the playoffs and finishing 8-7 indicates a sign of major progress even though Tuesday’s narrow defeat surely stung.

Her players lost their composure in defensive transitions and a couple injuries quelled the Pride’s momentum on Tuesday, Yam said, but it was a game that could’ve gone either way. Just the fact her group found itself in this position though, competing in the postseason, speaks to how far they’ve come.

“From day one to now, they’ve changed hugely,” Yam said. “We learned how to communicate on defense, we learned how to transition, we learned to relax on attack and wait for the right moment instead of forcing it all the time which really helped. I think what I'll remember most is the major improvement from all the girls.”

The team graduates five seniors – Abby Forbes, Nora Navoy, Amanda Parrotto, Emmaleigh Stinson and Raechel Stevens – but this season only has Yam more optimistic about what the future holds for Pride girls’ lacrosse.

“Looking forward to next season,” she said. “Hoping to continue our growth.” 

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