High school lacrosse in Rutland County is a lot like high school bowling in the county — not many teams, but the sport makes a big splash.
Fair Haven is the only school in the county with a bowling team, but the Slaters boast the state’s top bowler in Cody Seaver. The county has but three lacrosse teams but the sport is making a lot of noise.
A couple of years ago the Rutland High girls lacrosse program sent Logan Boyle into the Division I collegiate ranks when she signed to go to Marist on a scholarship. The 2017 edition of RHS girls lacrosse will also send a player into college lacrosse’s highest level as a scholarship athlete with Marina Rotella heading to Stetson University in Florida.
Rutland boys coach Rob Labate knows that the word is out there about his program.
“A number of college coaches have called me. I have heard from UVM, Wentworth, Ohio Wesleyan, Virginia Wesleyan and Franklin Pierce. I think Rutland is on the map, especially in New England,” Labate said.
Forget about New England. How about the world? Rutland sophomore Tyan Hayford is the 11th-best stringer in the world.
It might be hard to believe that they have a world ranking for people who string lacrosse sticks, but that is the case.
“It is an amazing accomplishment,” Labate said.
You would not think that stringing lacrosse sticks translates to the field, but in Hayford’s case, the stringer can play.
“ He is an incredible player. He has an ability to suck up grounders, He has a passion for the game,” Labate said.
There is also some excitement surrounding the county’s only other varsity lacrosse program. It’s just not as apparent.
The Otter Valley boys’ 4-12 record last season does not look like much, but if you peel away a couple of layers, it tells a story of an improving program. The Otters had won only one game the two previous years combined.
Coach Jesse Milliman calls it “a program on the rise.”
A girls JV team was in the gym going through drills before the varsity squad took the floor. There is hope it will materialize into varsity status someday.
“It has been a JV team since I have been here but they have aspirations to go varsity. We’ll see where it goes,” Otter Valley Athletic Director Steven Keith said.
The future looks robust for the boys varsity level.
“We have a seventh and eighth grade team run by Brandon Re and they have good numbers,” Milliman said.
Coach Meaghan Marsh has experience for that last line of defense. Ali Merritt was in goal all last season and returns as a junior.
There is plenty of scoring punch at the other end with Rotella and Alyssa Sabotka. Sabotka also plans to be playing college lacrosse next season at Division III St. John Fisher.
Other seniors are Mariah Forte, Nicole Denno, Lauren Cozzens, Brianna Arduca, Elizabeth Anderson, Anna Ploof and Hillary Kamyk.
Juniors include Kaitlin Rowe, Elizabeth Wideawake, Kennedy Birdsey and first-year player Sophie Tannen.
Returning sophomores are Maggie Schillinger, Francie Ettori and Brianna Beauchamp.
New sophomores are Caitlin French and Elise Magro. Logan Kinsman will be the lone freshman.
“ Logan and Elise will help us in the midfield,” Marsh said.
Being successful on the draws is a key piece of winning lacrosse and Forte should be a big boost in that area.
“ Mariah has a lot of potential on draws,” Marsh said.
Marsh sees strengths up and down the field.
“I would say we have a lot of talent on offense and a lot of intelligence on defense,” Marsh said.
Denno is a key to that high defensive IQ.
“She just has the mind for it. She is a leader back there,” Marsh said.
The goal is well stacked as there are four goalies in the program through the various levels and that will keep goalie coach Mike Rowe busy.
The Raiders were in the gym as assistant coach Jerry Couture demonstrated a shooting technique. “Over the top and SNAP that ball,” he said with great emphasis on the word ‘snap’. The backdrop was banners on the wall proclaiming Sam Conway and Rob Reis as Gatorade Players of the Year and another banner listing state football state championships in 10 different years.
Now, the helmeted gladiators of spring want a slice of the glory. Rutland has never won a state title in boys lacrosse — never been to a state final.
Make no mistake, though, lacrosse is alive and well in Raider Land.
“There are a dozen players at every grade level (9-12) for the first time since I have been here,” Labate said as he prepares for his fourth season. “There are about 70 kids in the program.”
There were significant graduation losses, but Labate has a group he believes in and is anxious to see what the team can accomplish once the season begins on April 7 at BFA- St. Albans. That game could shift to Rutland depending on field conditions.
Cam Wilk is a senior but he will be making his varsity debut in the goal. The program did not have a goalie at the JV level last year so Wilk went down there where he acquired experience.
“He is explosive on his clears and the pass is right on point 99 percent of the time,” Labate said.
John Gatto will be a long stick and the backup goalie.
“He has put in a lot of effort,” Labate said.
“We have a really strong defense with Braden Arnold, Dylan Atlas and Tyan Hayford.”
The midfield will be manned by the likes of Jared Miglorie, Dawson Cole and Aiden Reilly, who is making the switch after playing attack last season.
The attack will be headlined by Cam Slenker, Joe Torres and Ben Davine.
Those trio has something special going for them.
“Those three kids have played together since fifth grade. The chemistry is really something,” Labate said.
The Raiders were able to get on the turf at Castleton University’s Spartan Stadium for a three-way session with Middlebury and Queensbury, N.Y.
Labate was happier with the results than the players.
“They were disappointed they didn’t score more goals, but it was their first time out. They were very coachable. We would say something and it would be fixed like that,” Labate said.
OTTER VALLEY BOYS
Milliman is honing his team for the opener on April 10 at Mount Abraham and it is a pretty young roster after fairly heavy graduation losses.
“We have a nice young group of players,” Milliman said. “They love the game.”
He calls midfield player Tyson Cram “the driving force” of the team.
“He is a coach on the field,” Milliman said.
Other midfielders will be Collin Parker, Noah Smith and Ethan Sulik-Doty.
Hayden Gallo and Zach Scarborough will be the cogs on the attack.
Kim Kittler, Tyler Peterson and Kameron Strickland will comprise the heart of the defense.
Alex Stevens returns in the goal.
“He’s made some strides,” Milliman said.
Other players who will contribute are Cody O’Connell, Justin Tremblay, David Soulia and John McKeighan.
It is hoped that Rex-al Bautista, coming back from an ACL injury, might be able to join the team in May. Getting him back for the playoffs would be a boon to the Otters’ chances.
Bautista was a second team All-State selection.
“ He is a phenomenal defender,” Milliman said. “I will put him on anyone in the state and my money is on Rex-al.”
The home opener is slated for April 21 against Randolph.
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