MaggieConnolly stepped forward in the wide semicircle of shooters at practice early Saturday morning, and the Winchester High senior captain focused on the net.
Connolly sprinted in from the left side and ripped a righthanded shot that bounced off the turf before flying over the shoulder of goalie Megan Miranda.
Jogging back to the line, Connolly smiled with satisfaction. Winchester coach Suzanne Ontso, however, was not overly impressed.
“Instead of coming straight down with your follow-through, finish across your body,’’ said the coach.
Ontso, the face of the Winchester High girls’ lacrosse program for the last 18 years, runs a tight, disciplined practice session. And her approach has certainly paid off. The Sachems went 18-3-2 last season and reached the Division 2 state final before losing to Hopkinton, 18-15.
Success, though, never comes easy.
“We’ve set the bar high for ourselves,’’ Ontso said. “We push our girls to be the best, and they get excited when they achieve what they set out to do. If you finish a long run and you can sprint at the end, you didn’t run hard enough. You can’t get any better unless you push yourself.’’
On Saturday, Ontso made sure that every drill and water break was timed to a T, while offering constructive criticism and encouragement.
Her Winchester High girls have the determination, look, and talent of a squad ready to make another title run.
In the first two games of the season, the Sachems allowed just over five goals per game and scored 14 for an unbeaten start.
“We practice like we play,’’ Ontso said. “Being consistent is really important for us, but at the same time, I let the girls be as creative as possible. We don’t run plays, but make sure they think freely on the fly.’’
Ontso, a former attack at Ithaca, is known for her tough love, not thinking on the fly, according to Connolly.
“She always makes sure we put in 100 percent to whatever we do,’’ said Connolly, who will play at Gettysburg next year.
“A lot of people listen to our practices and say: ‘You really like your coach? I feel she’s always yelling at you.’ Well, that pushes us to be the best we can be, and we’ve made it to the state championship two years in a row.’’
At 8 a.m., the Sachems started off their practice with throwing, passing, and shooting drills, then broke into separate groups for scrimmage, working on teamwork, their strong suit.
“Our teamwork is what really makes us special,’’ Connolly said. “There are definitely people who stand out, but we wouldn’t be anything if we didn’t work together.’’
Senior captain Gabby Bush agrees.
“What makes us the best [is that] we all want to make everyone else better,’’ Bush said. “Because of this, we don’t have a weak link.’’
The Sachems have no problem piling up the points against conference foes. Their scoring is led by junior Megan Hennessey, who scored 69 goals as a sophomore. The Harvard recruit earned Under Armour All-American honors after her 120-plus point output last season.
Hennessey is not alone as a scoring threat for an attack that averaged 15 goals per game last season. Connolly and Bush are capable scorers, too.
Ontso focuses on every player maximizing her potential.
“She knows what we’re capable of and doesn’t settle for anything less than what she believes we can do,’’ Connolly said. “Our defense has been strong, and we have a new goalkeeper [Miranda], which is going to be really important down the stretch.’’
“We move the ball really well and spread out the offense,’’ Bush said. “And we work together and communicate well, too.’’
As the Lady Sachems battle an even tougher schedule than in previous springs, Ontso is confident that leadership will guide her experienced team back to the state tournament.
“Our seniors are really setting the tone,’’ Ontso said.
Hockey experience will help Billerica
The Billerica girls have a new force between the pipes in Elizabeth Darrigo.
The senior was in net for the Billerica High girls’ hockey team this winter, stopping over 300 pucks as the Indians secured a berth in the state tournament.
“She made some great saves against us and really demonstrated some great techniques, as well,’’ Central Catholic coach Phil Rowley said after a 12-3 win.
“You could tell that even though she hadn’t played goalie in lacrosse, her experience on the ice helped her out,’’ he said.
Billerica hockey coach Tina Carrabba is not surprised by Darrigo’s seamless transition.
“Her hockey experience will help her a lot, especially with angles and understanding plays and ball movements that are similar to puck movements,’’ Carrabba said of her captain. “I knew she was trying out, and I’m so glad she made it. She’s a great leader for them to have.’’
Even though Darrigo will share time with senior Kira Trufino, coach Ashley Martel says she likes what she sees.
“She still has a lot to learn, but you can see from her footwork and just the way she knows how to block and save shots in positions, it definitely helps, especially on outlet passes,’’ Martel said. “We have a tough schedule this year, so we’re going to have to play well together, and [Darrigo] will certainly help.’’
Ryan MacInnis can be reached at email@example.com.