GLOUCESTER TOWNHIP – Until a couple of months ago, Triton High School junior Noelle Kelly had never before gone through a lacrosse practice or a scrimmage, nor had she even so much as picked up a stick.
“Honestly no, beside this year,” said Kelley when asked if she had any background at all in lacrosse.
Yet Triton coach Kate Boesch projects that Kelly, a varsity field hockey player in the fall, will be one of her best players in the upcoming season.
The reason is simple, really. When Triton begins its inaugural season, virtually none of the Mustangs players will have any experience at playing the game.
“Everyone is pretty much brand new,” Boesch said. “We don’t have any standouts yet. But I think in a couple of weeks we might have some players start to show potential.”
The same is true at the other high schools of the Black Horse Pike Regional School District. Triton, Highland and Timber Creek will each be fielding first time teams in both boys and girls lacrosse.
In each case, the teams are starting right in playing a varsity schedule.
It will be a baptism under fire.
“Not one of our girls have ever played before,” said Timber Creek coach Erica Hoffman. “Maybe some of their siblings have played and they learned a couple of things from them. But for the most part they’re all brand new. So it’s going to take a lot of teaching.”
The situation is slightly different at Highland where boys coach Jeff Black says a number of his players have at least a little bit of experience playing at the youth level.
"We're trying to teach skills and fundamentals," Black said. "The good thing is we have the youth program, which is essential. We have a lot of kids coming in from that. The funny thing is my younger guys have more experience than some of the older guys."
One, freshman Alex Wilson, is looking forward to being in on the ground floor of getting his high school program started.
"It's great because I love playing lacrosse," said Wilson who added he has five years experience playing for Gloucester Township Lacrosse. "It's the only sport I really liked playing."
Wilson says a lot of his teammates lack experience, but that they're quickly picking up the nuances of the sport.
"They're picking it up fast," he said. "They're decent. They're not good and they're not bad. They're right in a good spot."
The creation of the programs was the product of the cooperation between the district's youth recreational programs and the board of education.
Frank Torcasio, the district athletic director for all three high schools, served as the middle man.
“The Rec program approached me about the possibility of doing it,” Torcasio said. “I know lacrosse is growing in the area, so I went to the superintendent and told him about what I was thinking of doing. We started to research it, and the (school) board was on board with it.”
Torcasio made the pitch that the district was losing students who play lacrosse to the non-public schools who have offered the sport for several years.
“We are just trying to keep our kids at home,” he said.
It’s often been said that lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in South Jersey and the Black Horse Pike decision would tend to serve as confirmation.
The addition of those three schools should vastly bolster the number of players participating in lacrosse this season. According to Torcasio, the combined participation numbers maybe as many as 200 players.
“It took off,” he said. “We’ve had great numbers turn out. And it really hasn’t hurt any of our sports. No one said their numbers are really down.”
The reason for that is the sport of lacrosse tends to draw field hockey, soccer and football players, all of whom play in the fall season.
Triton's Kelly is just one example of those who decided that playing lacrosse was a worthy endeavor.
“I’m a field hockey player and I wanted to try something different,” she said. “(Lacrosse) is kind of like field hockey – the pace and stuff – and I just like it a lot.”
She says the addition of the teams has also bolstered school spirit.
“Now we have a lot of fans coming out and a lot of people are on board with it,” Kelly said. “They like it a lot.”
The coaches know they will be in for a challenge, starting at the ground floor and playing a varsity schedule against teams that will have vastly more experienced players.
While they would like to win as many games as possible they know building a good record may be tough for a while.
“Our goals are to kind of play together,” said Boesch, a former player at Cinnaminson High School and Rowan University. “We want to learn the basics and have fun.”
At Timber Creek, Hoffman is just looking forward to getting that program to begin on the right foot.
A former player at Sterling High School and Washington College, she has been pleased at the progress the team has made in the first couple of weeks of practice.
“As a first-year coach this is more than I could have ever asked for,” she said. “It’s a great experience to start my own program. It’s a great experience to work with Timber Creek and the fact that the girls are here every day, willing to learn, wanting to be here is something I’m very happy about.”
Tag(s): Home Schools Tri-County Conference Olympic Conference Timber Creek Highland Triton Don Benevento Girls Lacrosse Olympic Conference Boys Lacrosse Olympic Conference Timber Creek Boys LAX Tri-County Conference