Friday, March 25, 2011/lk
Now is about the time of year every high school student dreads. Spring break is coming to a close and all that lies ahead are tests. Whether it be finals, SATs or ACTs, tests loom on the horizon.
The Hood River Valley boys and girls lacrosse teams are not worried, though. They have mastered at least one subject: lacrosse prep.
After years of trying to turn the corner, the Hood River Valley girls appear to no longer have a need for the grading curve after blasting Tigard 18-8 in their season opener last week.
The Eagles spent all of last season developing a fluid offense based on pick-and-roll plays. It's significantly different from the pass-the-ball around the perimeter and look for an open run or shot that many girls teams use and it took the Eagles a while to get used to.
It appears they have gotten used to it.
"We called four plays and we scored on three of them," Alicia Everett said of the Eagles' opener against Tigard.
The Eagles will have a new look this season, but it will be with many of the same players.
HRV lost only one player to graduation from last year's team, but it was a big one. Forward Morgan Nance, the team's leading goal scorer, is now playing collegiately at Mesa State in Colorado.
Nance was the focal point of HRV's offense last season, but she was also the focal point of most team's defenses, and typically drew a crowd of defenders whenever she got the ball.
HRV coach Peter Nance, her father, intends to rely on a more balanced attack this season. No one will be able to fill Morgan's shoes, but they won't have to. Numerous goal-scoring threats coming off multiple screens will mean defenders have to keep their eyes on more than one attacker.
"In many ways it's a different team," Nance said. "We had a dominant player last year and this year it's going to be more of a team attack."
The team has added 16 freshmen to the mix this season, and unlike in previous years, they already have significant lacrosse experience under their belts. That means they can simply jump into learning the offense and not spend the first week learning basic lacrosse.
The group of upperclassmen is also battle-tested and badly wants to turn the team into a winner.
"All the senior girls have been playing for six or seven years," said Margaret Gleasman.
Gleasman will be among the players the Eagles hope will contribute to their rapid attack offense, with other key returners including Everett, Alea DeHart, Makenzie Bassham and Kristin Lago.
"We picked up right where we left off last year,' Gleasman said. "It took us forever last year to perfect it."
Everett takes over from Nance as the quarterback, of sorts, on the field this year, calling plays and adjusting the defense.
She said she has already had an easier time of it than her predecessor considering how far ahead the Eagles are from where they started last season.
"I am so thankful I don't have to be mean," Everett said with a laugh, glad that she doesn't have to do to much to keep the team in line.
The offense is in place, the Eagles have passed their first test and now they are hoping that it leads to much harder coursework - like the state playoffs.
"These people are really committed to working to do well," Everett said of her teammates. "I think it is going to be a great year."
The Hood River Valley boys team may not have gotten all the right answers in some tough practice tests against Southridge and Beaverton to start the year, but coach Mac Jackson thinks the team has learned a lot about itself.
The Eagles have a team that is a blend of old and new, working in some new players at key positions - such as middy defense - but have some all-state-caliber players to pick up the slack.
Jesse Keopaseuth leads the way on offense, and kicked off the season with a seven-goal effort in a loss to Beaverton Friday.
At the other end of the field, goalkeeper Malcolm McCurdy has a year of experience under his belt and will try to help some of the new defenders along.
The Eagles opened their season against two of the top teams in the state in Southridge and Beaverton and suffered close losses to both.
"In some ways we are still kind of a young team," coach Mac Jackson said. "I don't think we've realized you've got to keep your foot on the pedal."
After the spring break the Eagles figure to have a bit of a different lineup as players return from vacation and a few others become eligible to play.
"We're still trying to build that continuity and figure things out," Jackson said.
It's figuring out that continuity that has proved to be the biggest challenge for the Eagles in the first few weeks of practice.
"We have the one of the best close defenses in the state but we have a bunch of sophomores at D middy and they are still learning," McCurdy said.
That close defense will be anchored by the likes of David DeHart and Chris Dirks, while senior Woody Johnson will help stabilize the midfield difference.
The HRV goalkeeper said he has seen improvement from the new defenders just in the first weeks of the season.
"They are smart and they work hard," he said. "At practice they ask hard questions and point out everything."
On the offensive end the Eagles have several returners led by Keopaseuth. While Keopaseuth has turned into one of the state's most dynamic goal scorers, he will have plenty of help around him in the forward and attacking midfield.
Eric Nance, Brendan Kerr, Andrew Thompson, Ryan Foster and Hudson Knoll all proved to be capable goal scorers last season and figure to continue to grow this year.
"We just need to start working together and read each other and know where we're going," Keopaseuth said. "A lot of people are still new so they don't know where to go ... we just need to spread out and work together."
One week into the season the coach and the experienced players like what they are seeing.
"I think it's been a short week but we're progressing," Jackson said. "It's been short so far … we need to settle down a little bit and be less emotional through the ups and downs of the game and develop some consistency."
With a jamboree over the weekend and a tournament in Seattle this week, Jackson hopes his team gets better prepared for the rest of the season.
The Eagles have a long run of making the state playoffs, and Jackson would like to see that continue this year.
"I'd like to see more of a game where we are thinking all the time out there and are consistent in knowing what we are doing and executing," he said.
With experienced players around to mentor the new ones, Keopaseuth believes the team is in prime position to take the next step.
"People are getting it," he said. "I've got to hand it to them."